It's less than half an hour after the end of a restaurant industry trade show, and the Oregon Convention Center is busier than the floor at any trendy restaurant.
Exhibitors are striking their displays, technicians are rolling up carpets and, in the far side of the exhibit hall, volunteers are organizing leftover food.
Sorting gallon-size cans of tomato sauce and cartons of plant-based milk may not jump out as obvious ways to make a building environmentally friendly. But as the Oregon Convention Center seeks to bolster its green reputation, it's looking across its operations to find ways to improve its environmental friendliness.
Volunteers with the Oregon Food Bank sort through donated food items after a restaurant industry trade show at the Oregon Convention Center on Earth Day, April 22, 2013.
The 1 million square foot center, which is owned and managed by Metro, is one of 20 convention centers of its size with certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The center was certified as LEED Silver in 2008; it's in the midst of a $75,000 project to bump that up to LEED Gold certification. There are 10 convention centers in the United States with Gold certification, one step below the top-tier Platinum certification that only one convention center in the United States has achieved.
The Oregon Convention Center isn't going to reach that Platinum level anytime soon – it's got a number of hurdles that keep it from reaching the top tier of environmental friendliness. The lights that illuminate its spires at night cause light pollution, for example, and the exhibit halls don't allow much natural daylight inside.
So to improve its environmental friendliness, says OCC sustainability coordinator Erin Rowland, the building has to improve its efficiency. That takes us to the sorting.
Oregon Convention Center sustainability director Erin Rowland holds a chart, distributed to exhibitors, showing what food can be donated instead of thrown away.
Rowland says the OCC is aiming for 75 percent of the center's waste to be diverted away from landfills by next year. The center is at about 70 percent now.
"You'll walk around and see there's still room for improvement, but each time, we try to get better," Rowland said.
Where the OCC doesn't have skylights, it has staffers reminding exhibitors how to avoid tossing waste afterwards. At the restaurant trade show, a gathering for restaurateurs and food suppliers for the Pacific Northwest, volunteers reached out to exhibitors to let them know about the opportunity to donate food – even perishable food – instead of tossing it.
The Oregon Food Bank took canned or preserved items; St. Vincent de Paul received perishable food for immediate use.
The on-the-ground efforts aren't all that the OCC is doing to improve its green reputation. Its climate control systems are calibrated to ensure minimal energy usage while ensuring customer comfort. The rain garden on the center's south side isn't just pretty to look at – it's ensuring healthy rivers. And the center is saving energy by using low-energy light bulbs, reducing energy by as much as 50 percent.
Food is sorted based on its shelf life.
All that environmental friendliness can translate to another kind of green, Rowland said.
"As more event planners are looking to plan green meetings and be proactive in the green industry, they're looking for facilities that meet certain requirements," she said. "LEED is an easy way to ensure that their attendees have the experience they're looking for."