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Saturday, August 19, 2017

What Can Be Done!

In 2010 Elemental Impact (Ei) was formed as the home for the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ), a program launched in 2009 within the Georgia Restaurant Association umbrella. The ZWZ epitomized the Ei mantra:
Ei is a creator, an incubator. 
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done. 
Ei brings the possible out of impossible. 
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.
ZWZ Participants were true pioneers as the nation's forerunner in the commercial collection of food waste for compost. With the tremendous media coverage - a CNN story and New York Times front-page article - the pioneers were recognized as heroes!

When the National Restaurant Association purchased the ZWZ in 2012, the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) emerged as Ei's central Recycling Refinement focus through 2016. 

Under the ZWZ, best-operating practices were established for back-of-the-house food waste generated in commercial kitchens. The SFCI addressed front-of-the-house food waste, recycling, and trash collection where the consumer source-separated material.

SMAT members at a pre-season
Falcons game
In 2014, Ei announced post-consumer food waste collection for compost or a state-permitted destination other than landfill was the prime SFCI focus. The Sustainable Materials ACTION Team (SMAT) formed to support post-consumer food waste projects, ranging from compostable packaging education, post-game food waste collection, and a post-consumer food waste compost pilot at a state-permitted composting facility. In addition to the SFCI, SMAT supported the EPA Scaling Up Compost in Charlotte, NC Grant.

By 2016 numerous sporting event facilities, venues, outdoor festivals, and other food-related businesses achieved zero waste, including post-consumer food waste. Thus, Ei's post-consumer food waste-related work was complete.

In addition to post-consumer food waste, the SFCI Pilots were active in the Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template, plastic film recycling pilots. and milk jug recycling programs.

Ei Soil Health Platform

With the July 2017 Soil Health platform announcement, Ei evolved from a focus on Recycling Refinement and food waste collection for compost to Soil Health, with the Water Use | Toxicity and Product Stewardship platforms remaining in strong supporting roles. The ZWA Blog article, Soil Health: regenerating the foundation of life, announced the Ei Soil Health platform. 

In alignment with the new Ei focus, Georgia World Congress Center Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer joined the Ei Leadership Team as the new SFCI Chair.

Tim on a farm tour
Instrumental in the Soil Health platform development, Tim participated in the 2017 Ei Farm Tours documented in the ZWA Blog article, The Power of ToursInspired by the tours, Tim teamed with Levy Restaurants GWCC Executive Chef Matt Roach and GWCC Grounds Operation Manager Steve Ware to identify an on-campus mini-farm area. The intent is to use regenerative agriculture practices at the on-campus mini-farm to produce food for the employee dining facility. 


With the November 2017 decommissioning of the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) stepped forward as the SFCI Event Venue Pilot. Within the state-owned GWCCA umbrella is the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), the fourth-largest convention center in the nation and the world's largest LEED Certified convention center. In addition to the GWCC, the GWCCA manages Olympic Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta and the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center.

The SFCI - Georgia Dome page showcases the accomplishments during its 2012 - 2016 tenure as the SFCI Event Venue Pilot.

As host for the 2009 acclaimed ZWZ launch press conference, the GWCCA is a committed sustainability leader with an impressive list of accomplishments:

  • GWCC earned LEED Silver in 2014 making it the world's largest LEED certified convention center and is actively working towards LEED Gold (anticipated Fall 2017).
  • GWCCA-managed Savannah International Trade and Convention Center earned LEED Gold in July 2017, making it the first convention center in the State of Georgia to achieve Gold LEED status.
  • GWCCA diverted more than 14 million pounds of material from landfills since 2008; the GWCC received the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge 2016 Waste Diversion Award.
    Atlanta Better Building Challenge
    2016 Waste Diversion Award
    photo courtesy of the GWCCA
  • GWCC reduced water consumption by 41% since 2008 through the installation of new irrigation, restroom fixtures, and chillers.
  • GWCC is approximately 28% more energy efficient than similar buildings.
  • GWCCA uses janitorial paper and cleaning products that meet sustainability criteria, including recycled content materials and|or reduced harmful chemicals. (86% of the products meet the criteria)
  • GWCC’s 1,900-solar panel canopy located in the marshaling yard produces enough energy to power 89 Georgia homes annually.
  • GWCCA employees donated 1730 lbs. of clothing, recycled 152 lbs. of batteries and electronics, and donated nearly 500 meals worth of food to the Atlanta Community Food Bank during the 2016 holiday season.

Customized lighting installed
via the performance contract
photo courtesy of the GWCCA
In 2015 the GWCC entered into a $28 million energy-savings performance contract to upgrade old, outdated equipment with a collaborative financing plan. The GWCC performance contract is the largest stand-alone project in Georgia and the largest in the country for public assembly venues.

GWCC equipment upgrades cut energy consumption by at least 39%, saving in excess of $2.5 million in the first year alone. During the October 2015 through April 2017 construction period, GWCC achieved the following impressive stats:
  • $1,827,241 of energy costs saved.
  • 17,810,772 kWh of electricity saved (enough to power 1,781 homes in Georgia).
  • 13,704,856 gallons of water saved (the amount of water in more than 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
  • 18,481 therms of natural gas saved (average annual usage of 26 Georgia homes).
  • 578,277 pounds of construction waste recycled (the equivalent weight of 18,504,864 empty soda cans).
Event Venue Challenges
Event venues face unique challenges when embarking on energy-savings, zero waste, and other sustainability programs. The following details several of the challenges:

Typical booth at a trade show
  • Event contracts – Facility sales departments often book events years in advance; by event time, contract provisions may not complement facility sustainability practices. Common practice includes one waste haul per exhibit hall within the contract price; thus, there is no financial incentive to reduce event waste.
  • Third party contractors - Most conferences contract with a local event management company for equipment rental along with delivery, set-up, and tear-down. Event team communication of sustainability practices often does not reach the subcontractors; thus, specified tasks do not happen.
  • Move-out timing - Contracts include a tight post-event timeline for the staff to clear out the exhibit hall. Due to the time-sensitive urgency, the staff focuses on "clearing out" in the fastest manner possible; often recyclable material ends up in the waste container, versus separated for recycling.
  • Government-owned facilities – Many conference centers are owned by local and state governments with bidding processes required for service and equipment contracts. 
  • Event day driven – By their nature conference centers experience high-level activity followed by slow or dormant time.
With the plethora of event venue challenges, the GWCC successes to date are impressive. 

What Can Be Done

Years ago, the GWCC stepped forward as an industry pioneer with a commitment to bring the possible out of impossible. As the SFCI Event Venue Pilot, the GWCC continues to showcase the power of What Can Be Done

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