Although the West Coast Green Conference & Expo in San Francisco occurred almost five months ago, it set some waste management standards that are worth noting. The expo, using a combination of composting, recycling and carbon offsets, successfully diverted 96 percent of its garbage from landfills.
The conference, held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, drew 126 presenters, 256 exhibitors and more than 8,900 attendees. While the average conference or trade show will produce 100 to 200 cubic yards of landfill waste in a matter of days, West Coast Green's mere six cubic yards of garbage for almost 9,000 attendees has event-planners across the country asking how the expo did it.
To compensate for the show’s electricity use, 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide was offset through the restoration of temperate rainforests on Canada's west coast. To compensate for the environmental impact of the show's 3,000 pounds of printed marketing material, West Coast Green contracted with www.Zerofootprint.net, a program which planted 15 trees and restored 16,000 gallons of water via a watershed restoration project in Rouge River, Canada.
All food sold at this inaugural event was certified organic and served with biodegradable plates, knives, forks, cups and spoons. Garbage stations were staffed by hundreds of volunteers who helped sort waste into the appropriate receptacle: compost, recyclables and landfill trash.
The expo’s focused waste management effort was also helped by the progressive cooperation of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, which participated in producing the show.
In addition to its success as a carbon-neutral event, the exposition’s more than 8,900 registrants made it the largest residential green building event in history. By concentrating on the USGBC’s emerging residential efforts, and forward-thinking builders and contractors, the show took up where past commercial green shows left off.
To compliment the event's green approach, the show's producers programmed 126 presentations around what they termed a “living system” design. This provided attendees with a large, comfortable “nap room” to unwind in, a “conversation café” for discussing new ideas and an “action hub” where groups could form to collaborate on the ideas they generated during the show. “Track Hosts” took notes at every presentation and posted their summaries in the conversation cafe for participants to review. An army of pumped- up conference volunteers helped direct traffic, filled empty seats in presentation rooms and made sure that waste was deposited in the proper receptacles.
“The idea was to tie everything together,” says Christi Graham, executive producer of West Coast Green. “Our goal was to equally serve the intellectual, inspirational and entrepreneurial pursuits of our attendees. This meant that equally important were the tasks of generating business for exhibitors, awareness for the public and momentum in the green building market. We designed the experience of attending to stimulate our attendees to make solid connections and take immediate action. Tapping into the brilliant potential of each person attending was what ultimately created such a powerful and wildly successful event.”
From the herbal soap and moisturizers in both the women’s and men’s bathrooms to the napping room for speakers to the action hub, this was a conference that will almost certainly be modeled throughout the trade show industry. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s speech captured the audience’s attention in the plenary room and in the exhibit hall, where it was projected on large screens.
(All carbon offsets were independently verified and conformed to the ISO 14064 standards. To learn more about West Coast Green, visit www.westcoastgreen.com or call (415) 383-5105.)
Emeryville, Calif.-based Jon Dougal has more than 30 years of experience as a leading proponent of and advocate for sustainable building. Dougal founded and was the former publisher and editor of www.iGreenBuild.com. He is currently CEO of Innovative Building Materials International, a bamboo-oriented materials purveyor.