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Small and Sustainable Convention Centers

In much of the U.S., April brings spring, making it a fine time for green meetings.

With Earth Day celebrated on April 22, meeting planners might consider using sustainable convention centers. A number of convention venues have attained Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and many are in second-tier and smaller convention cities.

Here are five sustainable convention centers in smaller cities.

By the way: With the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020, look for ways to get meeting attendees involved in the monthlong Great Global Cleanup. About 100 million people are expected to participate. Sign up for updates about volunteer opportunities at

Madison: A Water Saver

Long before green became more than a color, Frank Lloyd Wright designed sustainable buildings. The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin, is among his designs. Although it wasn’t built until 59 years after Wright drew the plans in 1938, its design is timeless; its position on Lake Monona, reflective.

Working with the University of Wisconsin’s We Conserve program, the center diverts 20 tons of food waste from landfills each year. Like other sustainable venues, Monona Terrace keeps finding ways to be greener. By upgrading bathroom fixtures and installing an industrial-style dishwasher, it brought water use 46 percent below LEED’s benchmark.

Portland: A West Coast LEED-er

Everyone looks to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland for green meeting ideas, and no wonder. It is one of two centers in the country to achieve LEED Platinum certification. Always innovating, the center has found an unusual new purpose for 10 tons of carpet that is being replaced during a $39 million renovation. The carpet will absorb toxins in the Puget Sound. Each year, the center donates about 40,000 pounds of food and, because of low-flow plumbing, saves 1.2 million gallons of water. Its many community partnerships mean there’s always someone who can use leftover decor, construction materials and swag. Meeting there requires adhering to some rules — such as no helium balloons and only recyclable signage — which are all outlined in a downloadable guide.

Virginia Beach: Saving Resources

The Virginia Beach Convention Center demonstrates that sustainability pays off in many ways. The center is architecturally arresting, from its shimmering glass front to its soaring prefunction area. About a mile from the beach, the center was the first in the country to earn LEED Gold certification.

It recycles just about anything — paper, cardboard, metal, glass, plastic and cooking oil — these are just a start. Styrofoam is banned, and water stations minimize the use of plastic bottles. The center buys local produce and has an on-site garden. Across the street, the Virginia Beach Sports Center is being built using LEED guidelines. It is expected that when it opens in late 2020, the sports center will sometimes work in tandem with the convention center when it hosts large athletic competitions.

Fort Lauderdale: Beauty at the Beach

Most convention centers are plunked in a concrete landscape, bordered by sidewalks, plazas and parking lots. Not the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 17 acres, next to the Intracoastal Waterway. Its bucolic setting has inspired sustainability efforts. The center irrigates native plants with a water-saving microdrip system. Energy-efficient lighting not only saves money but also creates less heat in an already hot climate. Also impressive are the center’s recycling efforts. In 10 years, its recycling rate climbed from 8 percent to more than 78 percent.

Las Cruses: Preservation in the Desert

In an environment as punishing as the desert, resources are precious, so from the start, the Las Cruces Convention Center in southern New Mexico set out to be sustainable. It saved trees on its site instead of uprooting them and used native plants that need no watering to landscape. It uses multiple energy sources, including wind and solar. A local market is the center’s composting partner; sophisticated systems monitor and control indoor temperatures and lighting. Its careful use of resources earned the Las Cruces Convention Center Gold LEED status shortly after it opened in 2011. Now, the small convention center, which borders the New Mexico State campus, is expanding by 30 percent, doubling breakout rooms so it can better compete for statewide conventions.