The path to sustainability is paved with great partnerships

The Oregon Convention Center (OCC) is well on its way to becoming the most sustainable event venue in the nation.

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In 2004, we became the first convention center in the world to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, as an existing building, from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). We are one of only two in the country to achieve LEED Platinum, and the first and only convention center to be awarded the highest level of sustainability certification by the Events Industry Council (EIC).

But we couldn’t have done this alone. These achievements are a direct result of the priority we’ve placed on partnership and collaboration.

Partnering with our Clients

We are the only U.S. convention center that attempts to educate its clients upfront about the many ways an event can impact the environment and benefit our community. This begins with our contract and the included Waste Diversion Policy, which is designed to call out the roles and responsibilities each partner owns in making an event more sustainable.

The policy outlines what actions should be taken before, during, and after an event. Clients are provided a standard list of items that are not recyclable in the Pacific Northwest and therefore shouldn’t be brought into the building. Following an event, clients are asked to place all recyclable items into the sorting receptacles we offer. Because collecting, sorting and processing everything requires a lot of coordination — and cooperation — the policy also specifies who is to complete each task.

It has been two years since we implemented the policy and today 94% of our events are in compliance. This encouraging response is largely a result of engaging each client at the beginning and then guiding them forward from wherever they stand on their path to sustainability. Some planners might come from places where composting food scraps is the norm, while others are used to hosting events in venues that don’t offer even the most basic recycling programs. Several of our clients have really taken our sustainability mission to heart. Food Services of America (FSA), for one, has pledged to work toward running zero waste events in our facility, and we’ve matched their efforts by assigning staff to help with recycling and composting, conducting waste sorts, and measuring material streams.

Partnering with our Community

Working with clients to divert materials away from the waste stream has created some exciting opportunities for recycling and reuse within our local community, and OCC’s relationships with local nonprofit groups have been strengthened as a result. Portland is fortunate to have so many great organizations that are committed to the triple bottom line of sustainability. Together we are helping to keep things out of the landfill and getting them into the hands of folks who can find a purposeful use for them.

Each year, OCC and its catering partner pacificwild donate tens of thousands of meals to Blanchet House, a nonprofit social services organization in downtown Portland. Their nearby location on the other side of the Willamette River allows them to respond quickly to our kitchen’s call, so nothing goes to waste. Blanchet House is the largest provider of meals to hungry Oregonians in the state and they tell us our post-event food donations are a huge contribution to their mission.

Any electronics we collect are donated to FreeGeek, a local nonprofit that sustainably reuses technology. Located in SE Portland, they offer free computers to the public in exchange for community service, as well as classes and workshops on a variety of digital skills. Whether it is equipment no longer needed because of internal upgrades, unclaimed lost and found items, or computer hardware that has been left after an event, we know that FreeGeek will get this technology into appreciative hands.

Our newest partnership is with B-Line, the local company that delivers Portland Roasting’s sustainably-grown coffee to us via its fleet of tricycles. We’ve arranged for them to take away bags of styrofoam on their backhaul and transport these to Agilyx, the only facility in the area that recycles it. Though we do our best to keep materials like this from entering the building in the first place, some still find their way in. This collaboration with B-Line offers the most sustainable recycling solution possible.

Collaboration with our partners has shown us that we can accomplish so much more when we share common goals and work toward them together. These partnerships help us do great things for our fellow Oregonians and we are honored to give back as much as we receive.

Ryan Harvey is LEED Green Associate and Sustainability Coordinator for Oregon Convention Center