5 Environmentally Friendly Convention Centers for Hosting Green Meetings

These sustainable event venues have received the APEX/ASTM Sustainable Meeting Standard certification.


It’s been over a decade since the Events Industry Council (EIC) conceived its Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) Panel on Green Meeting and Event Practices, which in 2013 published the last of nine sustainable event standards in partnership with international standards body ASTM International. Since then, the meetings industry has come a long way toward reducing its environmental footprint -- thanks in large part to meeting venues that have embraced sustainable business practices.

And yet, it remains difficult to find venues that are as green as they say they are. Although many venues talk the sustainable talk, far fewer actually walk a sustainable walk.

For that reason, EIC’s APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards continue to be relevant for meeting buyers and suppliers alike. Although EIC is in the process of replacing them with a new set of standards that are designed to be simpler and stronger, they remain the gold standard for meeting venues that want to demonstrate and validate their commitment to sustainability. Among the eco-friendly criteria that help a venue meet these standards are:

  • Maintains energy-efficient practices throughout the building, performing energy audits, using LED technology and generating renewable energy on-site
  • Taking steps to ensure high air quality, from incentivizing attendees and workers to reduce their carbon footprint through alternative transportation options, ensuring air flow and providing electric-vehicle charging stations
  • Measuring waste and recycling regularly setting aggressive targets for waste diversion, providing a composting program and eliminating single-use plastics

Among the facilities that have taken on this challenge to strengthen their sustainability is Detroit’s Cobo Center, which announced this week that it has achieved recertification to the APEX/ASTM Sustainable Meeting Standard for venues. Awarded at four different performance “levels,”  the standard recognizes meeting venues that are as good for the environment as they are for meeting groups.

Cobo first attained APEX/ASTM certification in 2015 and was the ninth facility in the United States to do so. The 723,000-square-foot center qualified for certification and recertification thanks to a number of green initiatives:

  • Exhibit halls are equipped with induction lighting
    • That lighting uses 40 percent less electricity 
  • Air conditioned by pumping grey water from the Detroit River through chillers 
    • That process sends cool water to various air handlers 
    • Uses less electricity than conventional air-conditioning units 
  • Energy-efficient escalators that run based on occupancy/event needs 
  • Low-flow restroom and kitchen equipment 
  • A recycling program 
  • A living green roof (pictured)

More recently, the Cobo Center Green Committee -- which meets several times monthly to promote sustainability practices and green initiatives -- organized a group of local area agencies that can use materials left behind by events, including wood, metal, carpet, plants, clothing, food and miscellaneous attendee giveaways, all of which are donated for reuse and upcycling.

“We continue to make strides in improving the sustainability of our offerings,” said Cobo Center General Manager Claude Molinari. “Getting recertified to the APEX/ASTM Green Meeting Standard signals that our efforts are truly world-class.”

Four More APEX/ASTM Green-Certified Venues

Every year, more meeting professionals come around to green ways of thinking and meeting. And so do more meeting venues. Here are four of them, each of which is certified to the APEX/ASTM Sustainable Meeting Standard for venues:

San Diego Convention Center

Committed to the environment since its opening in 1989, the San Diego Convention Center was one of the first in the country to institute a recycling program, in the early 1990s. It has continued to expand and refine its sustainable business practices ever since, culminating in 2018, when it achieved Level 3 APEX/ASTM certification for efforts such as:  

  • Replacing all 1,208 light fixtures in its exhibit hall with LEDs
  • Recycling 100 percent of the cardboard that goes through its facility
  • Composting food scraps
  • Donating unused and unspoiled food to the San Diego Rescue Mission


Colorado Convention Center (Denver)

Because Coloradoans spend so much time outdoors playing in the Rocky Mountains, sustainability is in Denver’s DNA. In fact, the city in 2013 became the first to earn APEX/ASTM certification in four separate areas: destination, meeting venue, A/V, and food and beverage. As for the Colorado Convention Center, it was the first center in the world to be APEX/ASTM-certified when it achieved Level 1 certification in 2012. And when it was recertified in 2015, it did one better and achieved Level 2. Along with a dedicated sustainable programs manager, the facility has:

  • Its own 300,000-kilowatt solar array
  • Ample LED lighting
  • Recycling and composting programs
  • Water-efficient faucets
  • On-site bike-share stations


Oregon Convention Center (Portland)

Thanks to its pro-environment policies and progressive population, Portland is synonymous with sustainability. And so is the Oregon Convention Center, which in 2014 became the first-ever center to achieve APEX/ASTM Level 4 certification, and it remains the only such center in the U.S., having been recertified at that level as recently as 2017.

Among the venue’s many green offerings are: 

  • Four charging stations for electric vehicles
  • A rain garden that cleans storm-water runoff from its roof
  • Energy-efficient air handlers
  • An extensive waste-diversion program
  • One of the largest solar arrays on a convention center in the U.S.
  • Water-efficient bathroom fixtures
  • A sustainable purchasing program that targets environmental inefficiencies in its supply chain


McCormick Place (Chicago) 

When it achieved APEX/ASTM certification in 2013, the Windy City’s McCormick Place  became the largest convention center to do so. Since then, it has continued to garner attention for its environmental efforts, which include:

  • Offsetting 100 percent of its electricity usage with clean wind energy
  • Reserving parking spots for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles
  • Offering filling stations for reusable water bottles
  • Cultivating a 20,000-square-foot rooftop garden (the largest in the Midwest)
  • Provides 8,000 pounds of produce every year for use in catering and restaurant dishes


      The garden also is home to 30,000 honeybees and even yields hops for use in a locally sourced beer.