As one of the most sustainable convention centers in the world, Portland’s LEED® Platinum certified Oregon Convention Center (OCC) is a proven leader in environmentally responsible practices. OCC is dedicated to not only minimizing the footprint of its facility, but to setting a new standard in sustainability for the entire convention industry to follow.
It won’t come as a surprise that the convention industry generates a tremendous amount of waste, particularly from event organizers. From banners to cardboard boxes, events require numerous materials that are typically left behind at convention centers and end up in landfills.
Instead of following traditional industry norms, OCC set out to develop a new, groundbreaking approach to event waste management and create a new standard.
“The convention industry’s static approach to waste combined with different recycling/composting opportunities in various parts of the country has made it difficult to collectively shift in a sustainable direction. With environmental and social responsibility woven into OCC’s core, we were not satisfied with sitting back and watching waste pile up,” says Cindy Wallace, OCC’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “We set out to develop an efficient, long-term solution to waste management built on close partnerships with our clients in the hope of establishing a new norm for our industry.”
In 2015, OCC introduced a first-of-its-kind Waste Diversion Policy to reduce event waste, encourage innovation and promote re-use. The creation of this policy did not come without its own set of challenges. Without any industry examples to reference, OCC started from scratch conducting in-depth research and discussions with internal staff and external partners to begin crafting a strategic approach.
Not only would the policy need to work from an operations perspective, it would need to be easily explained by the sales team and be seen as a positive benefit for show managers. This process took unwavering dedication and drive from champions at OCC working to bring the policy to life and change the industry’s approach to waste management.
Today, the Waste Diversion Policy is fully integrated into OCC’s contracts and operations, from beginning to end. Broken into four parts, the Waste Diversion Policy outlines what actions should be taken before, during and after an event to ensure that all material brought into the OCC can be recycled, donated, or taken back by the company that produced it. With the demands of collecting, sorting and processing items after an event, the policy educates clients up front and explicitly outlines roles and responsibilities. This streamlined approach makes it second nature for OCC and its clients to weave sustainable practices through every step.
OCC is the only convention center to explicitly call out a formal partnership between client and venue when putting on a sustainable event. In order to ensure the Waste Diversion Policy would be successfully implemented, OCC incorporated a waste diversion deposit into its contract. Similar to fees to electrical and water usage, OCC commodified waste by incorporating a deposit for waste and recycling. The potential for receiving a full deposit refund is high if show managers comply with OCC’s policy.
A point of particular pride for OCC is the donation aspect of its Waste Diversion Policy. Many items leftover after a convention can be donated, so OCC partners with local nonprofit organizations in need of those materials. For example, in conjunction with its catering partner, pacificwild, OCC donates ten of thousands of meals each year to the nonprofit social services organization, Blanchet House. Another partnership with local nonprofit, FreeGeek, allows used electronics to be recycled after an event. Through its partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, OCC has donated over 120,000 pounds of reusable goods and 46,600 meals to address food scarcity in the Portland area.
“Our Waste Diversion Policy was built on close collaboration with our clients. We’ve taken the guesswork out of waste management and use conversations about our policy to encourage and educate show managers on how best to implement sustainable practices,” says Wallace. “Clients appreciate the processes we have in place and the direct positive impact they can have on our city while they are here. Our hope is that these practices become standard as clients take them to future events.”
OCC has an ambitious long-term goal of reaching at least an 80 percent diversion rate. Currently, 94 percent of events hosted at the OCC are in compliance with its Waste Diversion Policy. In the past year, OCC has recycled more than 400 tons of materials and diverted 122 tons food scraps away from the landfill by composting.
“OCC isn’t just enacting policies to make a difference here in Portland, we are working towards changing the way things are done in the entire convention industry. We hope our proven success encourages others to follow our lead,” says Ryan Harvey, OCC’s Sustainability Manager. “Imagine the immense impact our industry could have if we worked together towards this common goal.”
For more information on OCC’s innovative Waste Diversion Policy, please visit oregoncc.org/waste-diversion.
About the Oregon Convention Center
The Oregon Convention Center is owned by Metro and managed by the Metro Exposition and Recreation Commission. OCC is a sustainably operated LEED® Platinum facility that hosts groups from around the world and brings millions of dollars into the Portland and Oregon economy.