Going green

Convention centres are making a significant impact on net zero carbon goals set by the business events industry and country governments

As sustainability continues to be in the global spotlight, the exhibitions industry is showing up as a strong enforcer. In 2022, more than 400 organisations in the exhibitions industry – many of whom are UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry members) members – signed the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge.

According to UFI’s 2022/23 president Michael Duck, the pledge “has been very enthusiastically followed”. He attributed the adoption to most companies being asked by their shareholders about their plans on meeting sustainability targets.

Large-scale venues such as convention centres, where exhibitions are usually held, are leading the push for sustainability.

Early commitment
In 2015, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), kickstarted its sustainability journey, becoming the first organisation in Hong Kong to receive the three-year ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management System certificate, and was recertified in 2018 and 2021.

Monica Lee-Müller, managing director, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) (HML), noted: “HML was one of the founding signatories of the Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge, launched in November 2021 during COP26 by the exhibition and event industry, committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Think Before Plastic campaign at HKCEC

“In November 2022, the Net Zero Carbon Roadmap announced that plans were to become concrete action at COP27. This roadmap sets out a common framework for stakeholders to make their net zero journey together. All signatories are making plans to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050.”

Sustainability has also been a continuous journey for Singapore Expo since 2011, and efforts were significantly accelerated in the past year.

Chua Wee Phong, chief executive (venues), Constellar, which manages the facility, said: “We have been moving from sustainability as a competitive advantage to a necessity.

“In our conversations with international organisers, it has become a criteria for deciding where they hold their events, so the venue needs to make a compelling business case together with our vendors, suppliers and partners where sustainability becomes an operating value in the entire supply chain.

Opened less than a year ago, Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre is taking serious steps towards its environmental obligations, with an agreement with Toitu Envirocare to acquire certification as a net carbon zero organisation.

For now, the venue is working to establish “an accurate benchmark of operations to not just know where we are at, but where we need to head in the future”, said general manager Ross Steele. Attention will turn to net carbon zero operations by the end of the next financial year.

The venue’s ultimate goal is to “bring clients and suppliers along on the journey and look at ways to work with them to minimise the impact of the events we host – something we are well supported in with Otautahi Christchurch’s own commitment to reaching net zero emissions”, Steele added.

He said: “For us, sustainability and sustainable operations go beyond just measuring waste and offsetting carbon emissions. It’s about legacy – what we leave behind for future generations, and how we instil values that will ensure we are not only environmentally sensitive but leading the way in this area for years to come.”

Hardware modifications
Efforts to become more sustainable usually start with improving building energy efficiencies.

Currently, HML is replacing its chillers with more energy-efficient and low GWP (global warming potential) sea water-cooled units. When completed, there will be an estimated saving of 2,500 tonnes per year of carbon.

HML is also retrofitting the conventional kitchen ventilation system and will have new capability to adjust exhaust fan speed per demand. This should save 220,000 kWh/year, representing approximately 157 tonnes of carbon emission, equivalent to planting 6,826 trees.

Installation of Solar Panels at Singapore Expo

Other efforts include the replacement of HKCEC’s 12 sets of air handling units in its exhibition halls to save a 200,000 kWh of energy per year.

Automation is also utilised at HKCEC, where robots perform water-saving cleaning services, cutting down monthly water usage by up to 6,000 litres.

As for Singapore Expo, its convention wing is already BCA (Building and Construction Authority) Green Mark Platinum-certified, hence the venue is aiming to achieve Platinum status for its 10 exhibition halls by this year.

“To bring sustainability to the forefront of our venue experience, we will be focusing on two key areas: implementing a systematic energy efficiency plan, as well as developing a food and waste management strategy to help our clients and partners reduce their carbon footprint at events,” revealed Chua.

He added: “Our intention is to make Singapore Expo self-sufficient, and replace conventional energy consumption with renewable energy through the installation of the largest single-site solar rooftop installation in the country.”

Expected to be completed by this October, Chua said the energy generated could power the equivalent of 4,000 public housing units of 66m2 each for a year.

“This is a key step towards realising our vision of Singapore Expo achieving net zero carbon by 2024, and becoming Asia’s first net zero carbon emission MICE venue running on clean energy,” noted Chua.

joint efforts
Recognising that achievements are greater with more hands on deck, convention centres have forged partnerships in their net zero carbon journey.

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is transforming the Kuala Lumpur City Centre precinct into a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) hub. It does this with partners in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre Business Events Alliance (KLCCBEA), which comprises on-site hotels, the shopping mall, and Malaysia Airlines, to offer an end-to-end sustainable experience to organisers and guests.

The KLCC Precinct donates old footwear to be made into playground mats

In 2022, the centre signed the first public-private MoU with Urbanice Malaysia, a government agency tasked to localise the United Nations (UN) SDGs for Malaysia’s urban and rural development, provide strategic assistance for a sustainability roadmap, and develop a blueprint for sustainable events.

It also seeks joint efforts in food and general waste management, sustainable sourcing, and energy saving.

“In 2019, we partnered with Food Aid Foundation where clients can give away excess food from their events to the needy. Most recently, we invested in our own food waste composter to help us minimise our overall food waste,” general manager Alan Pryor said.

To encourage delegates and visitors to recycle plastic and aluminum, two reverse vending machines were placed onsite to reward each recycling act with points that can be redeemed for lifestyle and recreational experiences.

Meanwhile at the BuildTech Asia 2023 in March, Singapore Expo piloted a waste measurement methodology involving various stakeholders to help identify waste drivers and boundaries.

Employee upskilling in line with developing a framework for sustainability reporting by 2025 has also been identified for action, as has sustainable travel to the venue. This includes plans to develop one of the largest electric vehicle charging hubs in eastern Singapore to reinforce infrastructure and partnership support.

Constellar will also be engaging its F&B partners and clients to look into managing food waste, as well as implementing urban farming on the rooftop of its convention wing by October 2023.

Similarly, HML is actively promoting sustainable and low-carbon menu options to banquet organisers, and has been supporting Food Angel’s Food Rescue Programme since 2011 by inviting organisers to donate unconsumed food from their events to Food Angel.

To motivate event organisers and visitors to recycle waste, Lee-Müller said public and back-of-house areas were equipped with recycle bins for paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metal.

“Since last year, HML’s recycling programme has extended to include plastic wrapping film, which is used extensively for transportation and delivery of exhibits.

“We target to collect wrap waste from 70 per cent of exhibitions for recycling by June 2023,” she added. – Additional reporting by Karen Yue

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