Search This Blog

Sunday, January 12, 2020

GreenBuild walks the zero-waste talk

In late November 2019, a global entourage of prominent industry professionals converged on Atlanta for the annual GreenBuild International Conference and Expo (GreenBuild) hosted at the Gold LEED-Certified Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), the largest LEED-Certified conference center in the world.

GreenBuild is the biggest annual event for green-building professionals worldwide to learn and source cutting-edge solutions to improve resilience, sustainability, and quality of life in our buildings, cities, and communities. A U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) event, GreenBuild aligns with the USGBC mission of market transformation through its LEED green-building program.

Beginning with the first conference in 2002, GreenBuild strives to set the highest sustainability-industry standards for hosting a prominent national conference with a global reach.

On September 7, 2017, the USGBC unveiled TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency), the new brand identity for its zero-waste rating system. TRUE helps businesses and facilities define, pursue and achieve their zero-waste goals through project certification and professional credentialing. The RiA Magazine article, TRUE: setting standards for a zero-waste economy, introduces TRUE and validates the importance of third-party certifications.

The 2017 GreenBuild conference hosted in Boston achieved the TRUE Zero-Waste-Event Certification as well as the 2018 GreenBuild hosted in Chicago. One of the GreenBuild RFP (request for proposal) parameters is the hosting event facility works in tandem with the GreenBuild staff and contractors on achieving TRUE Zero-Waste-Event Certification.

In response to industry requests for zero-waste standardization and third-party validation, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) launched the Zero Waste Facility Certification (ZWFC) in March 2013. As the first zero-waste certification program in the nation, the ZWFC established protocol and defined parameters for zero-waste claims.

Tim Trefzer (GWCCA) reunites
with Stephanie Barger (USGBC)
In October 2016 the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) acquired the USZWBC to integrate the ZWFC into the global Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) community that drives sustainability across all sectors.

The ZWFC joined a family of prominent certifications administered by the GBCI: the PEER standard for power systems, the WELL building standard, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Parksmart, EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiency) and the GRESB benchmark, which is used by institutional investors to improve the sustainability performance of the global property sector.

As the home to LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Certification, the USGBC is a recognized global standard for sustainable building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

The ZWA Blog article, USGBC Empowers Zero-Waste Industry: USGBC & USZWBC join forces, details the monumental industry announcement.

From its January 2012 inception through the October 2016 acquisition, the USZWBC was integral to the Elemental Impact (Ei) Era of Recycling Refinement important work, accomplishments, and successes. During the organization's tenure, Ei served as the USZWBC and its annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) media partner.

GWCCA Tim Trefzer reunites with
 CleanRiverRecycling Solutions
CEO Bruce Buchan
Ei was instrumental to Atlanta hosting the 2014 NZWBC and orchestrated the local-flavor portion of the excellent program. The Ei 2014 NZWBC page gives an overview of the conference plenary panels as well as the break-out sessions. Related Zero Waste in ACTION Blog article links are listed.

Thus, the 2019 GreenBuild Conference was a reunion with Ei Partners and good friends from the Ei Era of Refinement. Ei Founder Holly Elmore and USGBC Global Director, Zero Waste Stephanie Barger, who was the USZWBC Founder & Executive Director, were thrilled to reunite and spend a lovely lunch catching up. Long-time Ei Partner CleanRiver Recycling Solutions hosted an expo booth filled with their impressive recycling bins.

Zero-Waste Practices
In 2009, the Zero Wastes Zones launched at the GWCCA in an acclaimed press conference led by the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 Acting Regional Director. As an industry pioneer, the GWCCA is a pro at implementing zero-waste practices and eager to work on conference-driven practices focused on reuse, reduction, and elimination of waste.

According to Ei Regeneration in ACTION Chair, Tim Trefzer, GWCCA Director Sustainability:
Event managers now look to venues for guidance in sustainability-best practices. GWCCA, with relationships throughout the community, is well-positioned to support whichever causes are important to clients. While this is encouraging, it’s equally important to involve all stakeholders involved in executing events to make it truly work and be successful.
For events focused on achieving zero waste, GWCCA draws on its decade-long expertise as an industry pioneer in the zero-waste arena.
Zero Waste is a Team Sport
For zero-waste success, teamwork is required among the event managers | owners, event-support contractors, the event facility, exhibitors, and attendees. The USGBC was diligent with exhibitor-contract and attendee-registration provisions where zero-waste protocol and expectations were clearly communicated.

Exhibitors and attendees were expected to bring reusable beverage containers; no single-use beverage containers were permitted on the showroom floor. Bartenders were instructed to not give attendees empty, compostable wine cups for use at the water stations. At the USGBC booth, complimentary steel cups were handed out with the slogan "Better buildings are our legacy."

GreenBuild purified
water station
Throughout the the exhibit hall, the GWCCA provided purified water stations with five-gallon water bottles on easy-to-use dispensers.

There was nary a single-use plastic water or beverage bottle in sight within the show.

Greenbuild provided reusable three-bin-recycling centers including recycling, compostables, and landfill bins; the bins were used at consecutive events. Volunteers traveled from across the nation to attend the conference and aid attendees at the centers with proper material separation.

As an estimated 25 - 30% of single-stream recycling is landfill-destined due to overall stream contamination, material-source separation is a tenet of zero-waste best practices. Great care was taken by back-of-the-house-event staff to further separate and clean the material before eventual sales in the commodity markets.

Attention to detail is a necessity for successful zero-waste events. At Greenbuild's request, the event-services company's signage was printed on recyclable corrugated cardboard, instead of other landfill-bound options. In the foodservices area, the GWCCA served condiments via pump stations, loose items, and pitchers, preventing trash and saving dollars.

Learning Experiences
Even with the best intentions, zero-waste events always present learning experiences where trash is accidentally generated for various reasons.

Exhibitor-provided cup generated
trash at a zero-waste event
While photographing a GreenBuild recycling center, Holly along with Tim noted an exhibitor coated paper-beverage cup lacked a BPI Certified Compostable label; thus, the cup contributed to trash at a zero-waste event.

One of the principles for creating clean recycling streams is "when in doubt, throw it out."

UL Environment & Sustainability's cup snafu showcases the importance of recycling and compostable labeling. It is possible the cup was lined with compostable PLA plastic, rather than non-compostable petroleum-based plastic. Yet without a compostable label the cup was landfill-bound.

Another learning experience related to inconsistent and inaccurate labels on the reusable recycling bins. The larger label in front indicated plastic bottles #1 - 6 and yogurt cups were permissible in the bin. Below are the related concerns:
1> Plastic bottles (#1-6) instead of only #1&2:
  • In general MRFs (material recovery facilities) are set-up to only separate #1 & 2 plastics via optical-sorting mechanisms. Thus, the remaining plastic bottles are landfill-bound, with an expensive stop at the MRF
  • #6 plastic = polystyrene (PS.) Bottles are PS vs. EPS (expanded polystyrene i.e. Styrofoam.) Though many grocery stores offer EPS-recycling bins for consumer use, in general, PS is not recycled at this juncture. Thus, #6 bottles are a contaminant in recycling-feed stocks.
2> Yogurt cups – most yogurt cups are #5 plastic (polypropylene - PP)
Inaccurate & inconsistent
recycling-bin labels
  • As stated above, most MRFs only separate for #1 & 2 plastics. Thus, the highly recyclable #5 cups are a contaminant and landfill-bound.
  • Often, yogurt cups contain ample food residuals in them. Thus, there is a high probability of food-residual contamination on the entire stock collected in a bin with yogurt cups.
  • Preserve's Gimme 5 program accepts PP cups yet HIGHLY encourages only clean cups are placed in their bins at Whole Foods and beyond.
In addition to the inaccuracies on the larger label, the bins included two labels with conflicting instructions. The smaller Recycle Across America (RAA) label aligned with the above concerns and indicated only #1 & 2 plastics were permitted in the bin.

TRASH: a gum wrapper brought to
a zero-waste event creates trash
Upon learning about the recycling-bin inconsistencies and inaccuracies, GreenBuild took immediate action to remedy the scenario. For the next conference, the event-services company was instructed to only use RAA labels on the GreenBuild bins and remove or cover-up the inaccurate labels.

On a smaller scale, Holly and Tim found gum wrappers and other attendee-generated trash on the floor as they walked the exhibit hall.

It is important for event participants, whether attendees or exhibitors, to understand their individual impact on events committed to zero waste.

The Ei FB album, 2020 GreenBuild Conference, gives a pictorial recap of Holly's GreenBuild visit hosted Tim.

Since the 2009 Zero Waste Zones launch, the industry made tremendous strides in creating event-zero-waste standards and protocol. Yet zero waste is a maturing industry filled with many opportunities to fine tune event practices. Industry leaders like GreenBuild, who walks the zero-waste talk, are instrumental to creating standards based on integrity and success.

No comments:

Post a Comment