You might think the country’s greenest concentration of diverse event spaces and attractions is somewhere like environmentally-minded Seattle, proudly progressive New York City, Colorado or the high-tech San Francisco Bay Area.
Surprise! It’s right here in Atlanta, featuring a roster of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structures anchored by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) 220-acre downtown campus.
It includes the planet’s largest LEED Gold certified convention center, the most sustainable sports stadium in the world, Georgia’s only LEED certified sports museum, and the largest urban greenspace developed in the U.S. in the last quarter century.
These environmentally-friendly venues – the 3.9-million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS), the three-story, 94,250-square-foot College Football Hall of Fame, and 21-acre urban greenspace that is Centennial Olympic Park – serve as the eco-hub of Atlanta’s green public assembly venues, surrounded by other nearby LEED certified venues and attractions.
LEED certification is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it’s an internationally-recognized designation awarded to facilities that employ sustainability strategies, including indoor air quality, energy and atmosphere, sustainable sites, water efficiency, material and resources. It is tiered system, from LEED Silver to the highest level, LEED Platinum.
Note: Google Maps has not updated its images to show Mercedes-Benz Stadium replacing the Georgia Dome.
The GWCC first obtained LEED Silver in 2014, and was upgraded to LEED Gold in late 2017.
MBS, owned by the GWCCA, but operated and managed by the Atlanta Falcons/Arthur Blank organization nabbed LEED Platinum certification in November 2017, in its first year of operation. It is the first professional sports stadium in the world to achieve LEED Platinum status. Blank built the first LEED Gold building – the Arthur M. Blank Family office in Buckhead, and MBS’s sustainable design was born from his vision.
The College Football Hall of Fame, adjacent to the GWCC’s Building A, was awarded LEED Silver in Dec. 2015.
“Many people don’t realize that we own the land beneath the College Football Hall of Fame and that we own Mercedes-Benz Stadium and, as such, we required a certain level of LEED certification to be included in each building’s development,” said Trefzer.
Across the street from the GWCC and MBS, lies Philips Arena (owned by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority and operated by the Atlanta Hawks), which became the first NBA arena to earn LEED certification for an existing building.
On the perimeter of Centennial Olympic Park, are two attractions also boasting LEED certification:
World of Coca-Cola – LEED Gold, awarded March 2008; and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights – LEED Gold, awarded Dec. 2014.
When you add them together, that’s a concentration of six major LEED certified venues – hosting an aggregate millions of annual visitors – all within an area that’s easily walkable – and accessible via MARTA rail, which connects directly to the world’s busiest airport.
“The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and buildings within its campus area represent a unique eco-hub. With its strong mix of public facing venues that attract a variety of audiences, from sports fans attending Atlanta Hawks games to tourists visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, this hub offers the opportunity to champion Atlanta’s growing role as a top-tier sustainable city,” said Stephanie Stuckey, Chief Resiliency Officer for the City of Atlanta. “Moreover, these facilities being LEED certified improves the overall comfort and visitor experience. I applaud the GWCCA for being a leader in sustainability and encouraging its neighbors to join them in creating a green hospitality district.”
What began as a campus-wide recycling, composting and energy conservation program a little more than a decade ago has evolved into a robust sustainability strategy that is at the head of the class in the meetings and events industry, while also now thoroughly ingrained into the Authority’s culture.
And at the center of this evolution is the Authority’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Tim Trefzer, who appeared recently as a guest on Atlanta talk radio station WGST 640 AM’s “Green Guy Show.” On the show, Trefzer, who was hired as the Authority’s first sustainability manager in 2010, discussed how the GWCC recently upgraded from LEED Silver to LEED Gold, the Authority’s role as an ecologically-minded economic engine for Atlanta and the Peach State, the organization’s status as a sustainability leader and catalyst for the green building movement. Download the Green Guy podcast here.
“It’s important to note that thinking holistically about our impact helps make our operations more efficient, reduces our risk, and builds our brand value,” he said.
On-campus electric vehicle charging stations, thousands of solar panels installed on-site, waste diversion policies, green cleaning practices and sustainable procurement – these are aspects of the Authority’s strategy in reducing its carbon footprint.
Many of the results are tangible:
Sustainability is part of the Authority’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platform, and it’s not simply because the organization is committed to being good neighbors to the community, and stewards of Mother Nature, it also makes sound business sense.
Going green saves green ($) in the long-run.
A guaranteed Energy Savings Performance Contract the Authority entered into with Trane is a prime example. Spending $28 million to upgrade the GWCC’s lighting, HVAC system and replace outdated equipment is expected to reduce annual utility costs by 39 percent. The savings are also expect repay the cost of installing new equipment.
In addition, plumbing fixture upgrades mean the GWCCA is saving 32 percent more water than required by building code.
For meeting planners and show managers, LEED certification and environmental awareness are often on the check-list in the modern events marketplace. “I feel now it’s an expectation – just like Wi-Fi,” said GWCCA Sales and Service Manager Adeola Sekunbi, “We have clients come to us and say, ‘this is our recycling plan – how are you going to implement it?’”
Booking events such as Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at the GWCC (Nov. 20-22, 2019) – a three-day convention boasting 20,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors – likely wouldn’t be a reality without LEED certification and a sustainability plan in place.
In addition, mega-sporting events that the GWCCA complex bids on, such as the recent College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship, include sustainability criteria in their RFPs (requests for proposal).
Since the campus was awarded the CFP and its ancillary events, and will host the Super Bowl in 2019 and the Men’s NCAA Final Four in 2020, “one could infer that our leadership in sustainability was a contributing factor,” said Trefzer.