The Greenest Event of Them All Part 7: Getting There

Fuel Cell Bus

Fuel Cell Bus

Let’s face it, there is no easy road to follow when talking about transportation. Event organizers face a trifecta of transportation constraints: permanent infrastructure, semi-permanent infrastructure, and temporary transit solutions – with only the latter in the full control of the event organizer.

One reason to select a LEED certified venue or neighborhood (yes, they have those too), which I spoke briefly to in Part 4, is LEED developers often gain points toward certification by ensuring access to and support for public transit. This means LEED buildings are often located near infrastructure such as rapid transit hubs or bus stations, have pedestrian-accessible sidewalks, and include showers for employees commuting by bike (or a crowded subway). A sporting event with many visitors, like a large office, requires a lot of logistical thinking around transportation. Choosing a venue located near rapid transit, and where visitors can walk and/or bike is the first option for those looking to green transportation.

Not all organizers have the power to choose their venue, however, and if you’re hosting anything other than the Olympics you likely won’t be funding the construction of a new subway line anytime soon. However, if the event is recurring – say, a yearly or seasonal competition at a downtown convention center or university campus – you may be able to work out semi-permanent infrastructure solutions. Universities do this all the time, of course. Colleges across the country have influenced city governments to move bus-stops to roads near football fields and performance centers, increasing mobility of visitors and athletes. They have also partnered more recently with companies such as Zip Car, to provide vehicle time-sharing options to commuters.

Don’t bow your head in dismay if the above options are unavailable to you. Hosting a one-time event on a sub-Olympian budget? Temporary infrastructure is perhaps the most important solution. Work with your city/municipal government, and they can guide you in locating bicycle racks, providing increased security measures (for bicyclists and pedestrians), and drawing visitor maps outlining directions by foot or bicycle. If you are impacting a significant portion of the local municipality, you may be able to reroute a city bus to provide a temporary transit solution. Lastly, many event organizers capitalize on motorcoaches (which can save 64% of fuel compared to driving the same distance), old school busses, or encourage athletes to carpool the day of the event. (The downside to motorcoaches is their singular departure and arrival schedules, when visitors may want to arrive and depart at various times throughout the event).

Prices for providing public transportation do not have to be outrageous. However, there will be a cost, and more non-drivers means less revenue from the parking lots. One option would be to include the cost of bus or transit in the ticket price. While raising the cost of admission, this has the positive effect of not making the consumer feel extorted by making an additional payment for transit or parking. Another option is to charge for personal parking based on number of occupants in the vehicle. Besides encouraging friendly socializing and tailgating, if fewer parking spaces are needed overall, there might be more room left for selling those pre-game hot dogs.

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The Greenest Event of Them All: Part 5, What goes in must go out…

Barge and waste

The recycle bin often stands as the unsung hero of an event. While the main focus of the audience might not be on waste – and indeed, it should not be – handling of the waste is one of the most visible signs of addressing sustainability.

The first critical step of waste management is to know what your waste footprint will look like. Are you expecting to serve food that provides organic material for composting? If so, you can break out the compost bins. Are there large amounts of cardboard packaging from shipping/receiving that can be reused? As organizer of the event, you will likely be asked to choose between bidding contractors, each of whom will provide different services and quote various prices. You might have a preference for a certain landfill – say, methane-to-energy – or prefer a company that plans to recycle 85% of the waste.

Secondly, once you have a rough idea of the event footprint, be sure you understand exactly where the waste is going. It is easy to envision a public-relations disaster if that 85% is not being reused as you thought. For example, methane-to-energy is a term used for landfills that produce methane gas from decomposition of organic material in the fill. That methane gas is then captured by pipes in the landfill, and burned to produce energy. From a carbon point of view, this is a very efficient process, as the methane (a greenhouse gas) is burned and reused as heat. Waste-to-energy, on the other hand, denotes burning all solid waste at the disposal site…and that doesn’t look so good from a carbon standpoint. As you may have guessed, some contractors still do not distinguish between the two terms.

Thirdly, it is critical to measure the waste produced. Not all waste contractors keep track of truckloads or tons of solid waste, they simply bill for the duration of the event. If you are hosting an event of significant size, disposal companies might not even have had previous experience organizing for such a project. All of which means if you want to track and report your “waste sustainability”, you must be proactive with the measurements you need. For example, sanitary landfills must report and record the amount and nature of solid waste by the ton, and you can ask your waste management company in advance to provide you with this data. Also record the amount of waste diverted to recycling, compost, and other reuse.

Now that we’ve covered how to manage waste from the back-end, let’s turn our attention to what the guests will see. As I said before, know what your footprint will look like. If you will have food and can legally compost (see your local municipality for compost rules) then you will definitely want to provide compost bins at each waste station. Bins can be as simple as a lid-less cardboard box with a plastic bag lining the inside that can be removed when full.

Educate your staff and have clear labeling for visitors on how to use the compost and recycle bins. It is important to list what food can be included (organic waste, peels, rinds, etc.) and what may be recycled. I have seen events with up to six bins at each station; one for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, mixed paper, white paper, compost, and trash.

Sound like a lot of work? To keep your job easy at the end of the day, then, minimize the use of waste BEFORE it gets to the bin. Limit give-aways. Purchase only what is absolutely needed for the event. Try for all-electronic registration and documentation. If you have to use paper, use FSC certified, print double sided, and use the greatest recyclable content your budget will allow.

Follow these steps, and you have tackled one of the biggest components to hosting truly sustainable event.

The Greenest Event of them all, Part 3: Setting the Stage – Accounting for Temporary Energy

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

What’s a big difference between hosting the entire Snowboard World Championships and an event such as the Men’s Parallel GS at the Olympics? If you guessed about 20,000 people, you’re right. While the former might draw 2,000 people in total, one Winter Olympic event will accommodate 10 times as many people on average…and Summer Olympic events are 2-3 times larger still. And all these people require expert planning for a huge increase in energy use – heating, electricity and/or air conditioning – which places a considerable financial and environmental load on the existing generating capacity.

But wait, don’t large stadiums fill this many people all the time? A few NFL arenas routinely accommodate over 80,000 spectators, and many sports boast giant ball parks, yet these stadia are built connected to the power grid and normally don’t require hundreds of propane tanks or diesel generators to operate on a daily basis.

But athletic events which occur occasionally (such as Championships), as well as premier events which overfill their venues, require planning for temporary energy.

Financially, the use of generators is a mixed bag. They allow the event manager flexibility to deploy backup power and heating when and where it is needed, but can be logistically challenging and expensive. And some events require backup power. The consequences of a lighting outage in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies would be a gigantic reputational blow – so much so that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has demanded triple or even quadruple redundancy in some venues.

Environmentally-speaking, it pays to minimize the use of generators as much as possible. Diesel generators in particular are less efficient that the large power plants behind the electrical grid. According to the GHG protocol, it takes 375 liters of diesel to contribute one ton of CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere. And an event such as the Torino Olympics in 2006 burns around 8,000,000 liters of fuel.

For 2010, Vancouver has considered several solutions for reducing generator use. The Games’ urban location and cooperation with BC energy giant BC Hydro has made one solution possible, a decision to install dedicated hi-voltage lines to large temporary venues from various substations within the city. While this may be impractical for other events to replicate, Vancouver has also worked with contractors to minimize the use of generators where possible, from reducing the number of backup heating generators (heating takes less time to be noticed by spectators, as opposed to lighting) to eliminating the need for warm-start generators.

Yet possibly the most important step that Vancouver is taking to reduce fuel consumption is actively tracking and reporting the amount of energy used. In the event-planning industry, it is usually tricky to tease out kilowatt usage from financial receipts – and the financial costs themselves are not always disclosed. Therefore, ensuring contractors and vendors provide energy reports along with the billing is critical to accounting for and reducing the environmental footprint of temporary energy.