The South is making strides toward sustainable hospitality.
From the use of LEED-certified green buildings and renewable energy sources to rooftop gardens, composting and food-rescue plans, meeting venues throughout the region are taking tangible steps to reduce their environmental impact. Here are five sustainability initiatives meeting planners should know about.
Fayetteville Public Library
Fayetteville Public Library has a long history of sustainability. The original Blair Library building was the first registered LEED Green Building in Arkansas. It features solar panels on the roof that generate 6% of the building’s required energy. The glass windows allow in plenty of natural light, and daylight harvest sensors dim the light fixtures.
The library underwent a major expansion in 2021 and now offers eight event and meeting spaces and 21 study rooms. The Event Center has more than 8,000 square feet of space with a theater capacity of 700, banquet capacity of 400 and open capacity of 1,300. The Ziegler Reception Room is located next to the Event Center and pre-function space, and is perfect for smaller meetings or receptions of up to 60 people.
The J.B. and Jonelle Hunt Family Gathering Glade is an outdoor space that features a 200-person amphitheater that can host concerts, movies or forums. A 16-station teaching kitchen is a great space to host culinary courses or demonstrations.
The building’s expansion resulted in a 70% reduction in energy leakage, a 66% improvement in energy usage and a 50% reduction in lighting wattage per square foot.
LEX FOR GOOD Sustainable Business Program
In Lexington, Kentucky, VisitLEX operates the LEX For Good Sustainable Business Program. This initiative keeps track of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and meeting and event venues that are actively pursuing sustainability initiatives and have implemented measures such as energy efficiency, waste management, recycling and native plantings. If these businesses meet certain criteria, they are featured on the VisitLEX website and gain access to training and coaching with Bluegrass Greensource, an environmental education partner.
Meeting planners wanting to host a more sustainable meeting can choose from different venues that are part of the program. Central Bank Center, which completed a $300 million expansion in 2022, is LEED-certified and pays for large event recycling among other efforts. Its catering company is dedicated to using local foods and flavors. The facility features 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, 16 meeting rooms, 11,000 square feet of flexible event space and a 24,300-square-foot ballroom.
Airlie Hotel and Conference Center
Warrenton, Virginia’s Airlie Hotel and Conference Center got its start as a three-story Greek Revival mansion in 1899. After the original mansion burned down, it was rebuilt as a two-story manor house in 1924. Airlie House remains on the property and is used as a wedding and event space. The 150-room hotel opened in 2017, along with eight four-room cottages. Airlie can host groups of up to 280 in its 17 meeting spaces.
The largest space is 2,557 square feet and offers views of Lake Stanley and the gardens. The LEED-certified pavilion is shaped like an octagon and features a 360-degree covered veranda for amazing views of the surrounding landscape. A permanent tent next to Swan Lake is a perfect spot to host a barbecue or picnic with a firepit and lawn games.
The property has a legacy of embracing sustainability, from its first organic garden to the founding of Berkshire Farm, a 20-acre facility that harvests 20,000 pounds of produce a year. That produce is served at Airlie’s on-site restaurant, Harry’s, and is shared with the community and local food banks.
The Butterfly Garden, which was dedicated on Earth Day in 1995, features 46 varieties of native plants that are known to attract butterflies. Instead of driving around the property, guests can use bicycles, which reduces emissions. The facility recycles everything from grease to lamps and composts kitchen scraps in its organic garden.
Airlie is also a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat, with buffer zones around lakes and ponds to keep wildlife safe.
Greenville Convention Center
Greenville, South Carolina
The Greenville Convention Center in South Carolina has embraced sustainability throughout its operations, from using environmentally safe cleaning products that help reduce pollution in area waterways to hand towels that meet EPA standards for post-consumer wastepaper content and biodegradable bathroom tissue that is made from 100% recycled paper.
In the kitchen, all leftover food is donated to local charities and food banks. Food waste is composted locally and turned into a soil amendment to promote sustainable agriculture and landscaping in Greenville and its surrounding communities.
The convention center works with local waste contractors to compact paper and cardboard products and divert recyclables. It also conserves energy by implementing dark days and upgrading to energy-efficient vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dryers.
With 280,000 square feet of exhibit and event space, the convention center can accommodate groups up to 25,000.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, is a LEED Platinum hotel that was designed and constructed using guidelines of the LEED Green Building Rating System. It uses 39% less energy than a conventional hotel by using efficient materials and the latest construction technology. One hundred solar panels cover the rooftop to heat water, and geothermal energy is used to power the restaurant’s refrigeration equipment, which saves water.
Proximity reduced its water usage by 33% — saving 2 million gallons of water the first year — by installing high-efficiency Kohler plumbing fixtures. Regional vendors and artists provided materials to reduce transportation and packaging, and the hotel uses low-emitting VOC paints, adhesives and carpets to reduce indoor air contamination.
The hotel has 7,300 square feet of meeting space and 147 guest rooms, including 10 suites. The Weaver Room is the largest event space, featuring 12-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.