Bureau Buzz

The Three Faces of Sustainable Cities

written by | Posted on September 1st, 2011

Cleveland Medical Mart Convention Center

Cleveland Medical Mart Convention Center

We checked in with three different geographical destinations—coastal, mountain and an urban convention district—to see how various cities are educating groups about sustainability.

The world’s largest provider of environmental technology, Siemens AG ranks cities around the world on their level of sustainability every year. In June, they listed San Francisco as the greenest city in North America.

“Sustainability, green, organic—those types of things are trendy, and businesses that stay current stay busy,” says Lysa Lewin, vp of convention sales for San Francisco Travel. “And we lead the trend because our city government has mandated that trend.”

The mayor’s office has banned plastic grocery bags citywide and plastic water bottles in all city buildings. For low impact transfers, the entire downtown core is easily walkable with public Muni and BART systems extending into many of the landmark areas around the bay, such as the historic Ferry Building, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

The private sector is following suit. Virgin America’s new T2 terminal at San Francisco International opened in April as the first LEED Gold terminal in the U.S.—with a visit by Sir Richard and the Virgin Galactic spaceship. The terminal’s F&B lineup includes “Slow Food” vendors such as Cowgirl Creamery, Napa Valley Farms, Equator Coffee and The Plant Café Organic. All T2 vendors use compostable utensils and containers.

On the hotel front, the super susty Trace restaurant opens this month at W San Francisco, promoting a “Green is Glam” experience. We like the “Ecolicious” bar menu featuring all organic food, cocktails, beers and wines. And in February, the 500-room InterContinental San Francisco adjacent to Moscone Convention Center was awarded LEED Gold status.

“We have people who care about the environment, that’s the most important thing,” says Lewin. “Social responsibility is the spirit of San Francisco.” She recently attended a press event at the bayfront Ferry Building (seats 400 upstairs) noting all of the farmers markets and sustainable businesses.

“It’s what’s hip and what’s new right now, and these are all businesses popular with locals too. So people who come to San Francisco on business can enjoy that local experience, versus meeting in a tourist trap.”

Denver’s strategy is reinventing itself as a leader in sustainability through unparalleled educational experiences and infrastructure upgrades. For example, a former weapons manufacturing facility reopened this June as the 13,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

“We took one of the most polluted spots on earth and converted it to one of the few urban spots in America where nature is reclaiming the land, returning it to a natural state,” says Tiffany Hoambrecker, associate director of convention services for Visit Denver. “This is not a national park. It’s a refuge for 330 species that have been re-introduced. A group with strong ecological or wildlife interests will appreciate seeing the prairie as it was when it was crossed by covered wagons.”

For such a group, a day could begin with a 1/2-hour presentation by a ranger at the new $7.5 million information center. The facility is dedicated to detailing the reintroduction of buffalo, bald eagles, hawks, deer, etc. A group of 50 could host a session at the center or take a guided bus tour across 10 miles of trails to view what 10 years of effort has achieved.