GWCCA leading the South in hospitality and sustainability

Sustainability and the hospitality industry haven’t always gone hand-in-hand. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed the convention industry the second most wasteful industry behind only building and construction.

This was attributed to the carbon footprint resulting from the sheer amount of air travel, electricity, and food waste, among other resources, that are byproducts from meetings and events. After hosting the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in 2005, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) went on a journey to reduce its environmental footprint by beginning a recycling program and exploring whether the 3.9-million-square-foot convention center could achieve the stringent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standard.

Today, GWCCA and the hospitality industry are cited as leaders in the movement of businesses focused on improving society.

From left to right: Charlie Cichetti , Principal, Sustainable Investment Group; Rhiannon Jacobsen, U.S. Green Building Council VP of Market Transformation and Development; Shane Totten, USGBC Georgia Chair; Tim Trefzer, GWCCA Corporate Social Responsibility Manager; and Shelby Buso, USGBC Georgia Director.

Following a day-long workshop on regenerative building design at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens earlier this month, USGBC Georgia Director Shelby Buso presented the LEED Gold certified Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) the 2018 Georgia Green Award for Building Performance (pictured above). GWCC’s sister facility, LEED Platinum certified Mercedes-Benz Stadium, was given the Georgia Green Award for Community Impact. These two GWCCA properties in Atlanta, as well as the Savannah Convention Center (SCC), which is managed by the GWCCA, contributed to nearly 25 percentage of the gross square footage of LEED certified space in Georgia in 2017 and this achievement contributed to Georgia being named one of the top 10 states for green buildings.

Later in October, SCC hosted the Savannah Resiliency and Hospitality luncheon at which I spoke about the importance of the industry adopting resilience as part of business planning.

Resilience, which is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, is the most recent example of a business strategy that goes beyond simply the financial bottom line. In addition to supporting long-term success by improving profit, community, and the environment, resilience is essential in the hospitality industry for the service it provides in times of crises.

Following the luncheon, the USGBC honored SCC’s Assistant General Manager Stephen Hall and Director of Operations Ronnie Hickman for the building’s LEED Gold certification with a formal plaque ceremony. Hickman noted that environmental considerations were incorporated when they chose to install 100 percent recyclable carpet made in Georgia and repurposed furniture from the Georgia Dome. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention SCC’s important role as an emergency shelter and recovery facility following 2017’s Hurricane Irma and its impact on Savannah.

Simply put, the hospitality industry is just as important to sustainability as sustainability is to the hospitality industry. The impact of this movement would not be nearly as influential without mega-venues and global brands embracing better ways of doing business.

And for the GWCCA, we’re looking ahead to November 2019 when we welcome back the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo for the first time in 14 years. This time, however, the GWCC is the largest LEED certified convention center and is at the center of the greenest convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world.