Colorado Convention Center

In another step toward Detroit’s continued downtown renaissance, the Cobo Center—the city’s main convention center—announced it has been certified to an international sustainability standard. The Cobo Center achieved Level One certification to the ASTM Standard pertaining to the Evaluation and Selection of Venues for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings, Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences.

Thom Connors, regional vice president and general manager for Cobo Center/SMG, was thrilled with the venue’s accomplishment.

“Achieving certification to the industry’s global standard is clear proof of the Cobo Center’s commitment to sustainability,” he said. “We are proud to take the lead in advancing the city’s responsible environmental and social practices in the meetings industry and hope this will encourage others in making Detroit a more sustainable meeting destination.”

Currently undergoing a $279 million renovation project scheduled for completion in 2016, the Cobo Center offers 723,000 square feet of exhibit space and is the 19th largest U.S. convention center.

“Achieving certification to the ASTM standard doesn’t just stop with the Cobo Center,” Connors said. “This is a huge achievement for the entire city as we continue to promote it as a true destination city—not just in the Midwest, but around the U.S. and international markets.”

Green Minds Think Alike

The Cobo Center is just the latest in a growing number of venues, destinations, and other suppliers in the meetings and events industry that have successfully achieved independent certification to the ASTM Standards. In December 2012, Denver’s Colorado Convention Center (CCC) became the world’s first convention center to be certified to the sustainability venue standard. Earlier this year, the CCC went on to continue its commitment by attaining Level Two certification of the venue standard.

According to John Adams, regional vice president for SMG and general manager of the CCC, the certification brings multiple benefits to the venue and the city.

“We are proud to take a leadership position in advancing a positive environmental and social agenda for the event industry,” Adams said. “Being the first venue to be certified to the standard is clear evidence of our commitment.”

Kent Rice, executive director of Arts & Venues Denver, the city agency that owns the CCC, added, “The certification mirrors Denver’s reputation for environmental awareness. We’re proud that the staff of SMG at the Colorado Convention Center represents our city in providing real sustainability.”

Following the CCC’s lead, in 2013 Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center became the largest convention center in North America to be certified. In addition to being a boost to the center itself, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recognized the milestone as one that could have far-reaching effects throughout the state.

“We can all be very proud of this international honor for McCormick Place, which highlights how Illinois is on the cutting-edge when it comes to sustainability and the green economy,” Quinn said. “Here in Illinois, we understand that long-term economic development must be sustainable and respect our environment. This well-deserved distinction for McCormick Place will help attract even more conventions and trade shows, driving our economy forward and creating jobs.”

In addition to convention centers, sports venues are also jumping on board the sustainability train. In December 2014, the Saint Paul RiverCentre and the Xcel Energy Center Complex in Minnesota tripled up when they achieved LEED, Green Globes, and APEX/ASTM certifications.

“To [be] certified by three respected, independent environmental organizations feels truly incredible,” said IAVM member Jim Ibister, vice president of administration for the Minnesota Wild and general manager of the Saint Paul RiverCentre. “It’s certainly not the finish line; we want to continue making progress and share what we’ve learned to help others.”

The ASTM Standards aren’t just being embraced by domestic venues and vendors. Internationally, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre successfully achieved Level One venue certification in 2014.

Monica Lee-Müller, managing director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited (HML), noted that the certification of her venue added to the buy-in of an internal sustainability program by the facility’s staff.

“It is a strong evidence of the HML’s ongoing commitment to reducing our environmental footprint and acting in a socially responsible manner,” she said. “I am also pleased that the vast majority of our staff has shown favorable support to the company’s sustainability strategies.”

To date, other venues and tourism boards to achieve Level One certification to ASTM standards through iCompli include: Marina Bay Sands Singapore, Metro Toronto Convention Center, Orange County Convention Center, Vancouver Convention Centre, Travel Portland, Choose Chicago, Tourism Toronto, Visit Baltimore, and Visit Denver.

On the vendor side, Image Audiovisuals was the world’s first audiovisual production company to be certified to Level One of the AV standard. Image Audiovisuals, which has an onsite office at the Colorado Convention Center, was initially approached by the venue and encouraged to pursue certification with the hope of improving Denver’s perception as a tradeshow destination.

“We believe that the convention center and Denver itself will be perceived as a more attractive destination for exhibitions and events if all of its key suppliers are operating sustainably,” Adams said.

On the food and beverage side, Centerplate (Denver), Centerplate (Vancouver) and SAVOR… Chicago have all achieved Level One certification through iCompli. As with certification for a city’s venue, certified compliance to standards by associated vendors can also have positive impact on the entire city.

Industry associations as well have picked up on the importance of certification to the ASTM standards, as the Exhibit and Event Marketers Association in September 2014 became the first event and conference association to be certified.

About the Standards

The ASTM/APEX Event Sustainability Standards were launched in 2011 after a three-year development phase. These standards address nine sectors of the meeting and events industry as outlined below:

  • Accommodations
  • Audiovisual and Production
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Destination
  • Exhibits
  • Food and Beverage
  • Onsite Office
  • Transportation
  • Venue


Development of the Standards

Spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and their relationship with the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), the standards were developed in collaboration between APEX (the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange) and ASTM (an ANSI certified international standard development organization). As a result, the standards are referred to as the APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards.

Over the course of three years, a core development team including approximately 50 volunteers served in the capacity of panel members and committee members spanning the globe and the industry. This group included planners, suppliers, government representatives, non-government, and non-industry players. In addition, the processes has had input from more than 350 volunteers globally through direct input to committees, online feedback options, and city discussion groups.

Purpose of the Standards

The purpose was to develop voluntary standards that can be implemented to create a more sustainable meeting or event. The final standards

  • are measurable
  • are available in a tiered system to allow for different levels of engagement
  • address policies
  • hold the supplier and planner accountable for implementation
  • are intended to be complimentary to other meeting industry recognized standards


About Certification

In 2012, GMIC, the non-profit professional meetings association dedicated to promoting sustainable meetings, reached an agreement with iCompli, a division of global assurance provider BPA Worldwide, to develop an independent, third-party certification program to the ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Meetings Standards. GMIC developed a registry of certified organizations and established a practitioner group of industry experts to clarify certification issues and propose improvements to the standards. For its part, iCompli developed certification protocols for each of the standards and all necessary forms and documents to support the certification process.

“Adhering to sustainability initiatives is a great first step for organizations, but certification drives adoption of industry standards,” said Roger Simons, executive director of the GMIC. “We saw a real need in the industry for a certification program that industry participants could achieve and be recognized for their sustainability performance. We wanted an audit partner who not only knew our industry, but was willing to work with us to develop an affordable yet rigorous process. iCompli met those requirements.”

The benefits of a certified sustainability strategy based on international standards and guidelines are myriad, including reduced costs in the form of efficiency, waste reduction, productivity gains, risk mitigation, and higher employee retention. With a third-party certification, venues, organizers, and corporate planners can also differentiate themselves and better respond to customer requests and requirements.


Organization Name ASTM Category Location Level
Bowman Design Group Comm/Marketing Signal Hill, CA Level 1
Centerplate Catering Food & Beverage Denver, CO Level 1
Centerplate Catering Food & Beverage Vancouver, BC Level 1
Choose Chicago Destination Chicago, IL Level 1
Cobo Center Meeting Venue Detroit, MI Level 1
Colorado Convention Center Meeting Venue Denver, CO Level 2
Exhibit & Event Marketers Assn. (E2MA) Exhibitor Bend, OR Level 1
Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Center Meeting Venue Wanchai, Hong Kong Level 1
Image Audiovisuals, Inc. Audio Visual Denver, CO Level 1
Marina Bay Sands Meeting Venue Singapore Level 1
McCormick Place Convention Center Meeting Venue Chicago, IL Level 1
Metro Toronto Convention Centre Meeting Venue Toronto, ON Level 1
Minneapolis Convetnion Center Meeting Venue Minneapolis, MN Level 1
Orange County Convention Center Meeting Venue Orlando, FL Level 1
Oregon Convention Center Meeting Venue Portland, OR Level 4
PGA National Resort & Spa Accommodations & Meeting Venue Palm Beach Garden, FL Level 1
Saint Paul RiverCentre/Xcel Energy Center Meeting Venue Saint Paul, MN Level 1
Sands Expo & The Congress Center at the Venetian and the Palazzo Meeting Venue Las Vegas, NV Level 2
SAVOR… Chicago Food & Beverage Chicago, IL Level 1
The International Centre Meeting Venue Mississauga, ON Level 1
The Moscone Center Meeting Venue San Francisco, CA Level 1
Tourism Toronto Destination Toronto, ON Level 1
Travel Portland Destination Portland, OR Level 1
Vancouver Convention Centre Meeting Venue Vancouver, BC Level 1
Visit Baltimore Destination Baltimore, MD Level 1
Visit Denver Destination Denver, CO Level 1


Sustainability in the Proposal Process

In addition to a positive perception in the marketplace, certification to international standards can set an organization apart from the competition during the RFP process.

In terms of dollars and cents, sustainability is showing up more and more on RFPs. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace where there are a lot of players in the mix, venues, organizers, and vendors are looking for that one thing that allows them to stand apart from the pack. Sustainability initiatives are a good start, but getting certified to those standards can mean the difference between getting the contract or not. FM

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(Image: Kevin Williams/Creative Commons)