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Local Venues Make Big Sustainable Strides

By Anne Michaelson

Sustainability has shot to the top of many local businesses’ and venues’ priority lists in an effort to not only cut carbon footprints but also costs. And it’s paying off: Industry members, more often than not, are seeking out environmentally friendly meeting and event options. MNM+E caught up with some of Minnesota’s green leaders for the scoop on their practices and advice on how you can take action.

Waste Not, Want Not

“The first thing we focused on was waste,” says Jim Ibister, general manager of the Saint Paul RiverCentre and vice president of administration for the Minnesota Wild. “We slowly changed most of our containers to have an extra bin for compostable materials.” In order to make the switch, Ibister’s team made the decision that all café food items must go out on china or be compostable. “When the public came up to trash bins, we hoped to avoid the separation anxiety about ‘where does this go?’ and instead make it as easy as possible,” he says.

And their efforts haven’t gone undistinguished. In December, the Saint Paul RiverCentre and Xcel Energy Center earned three international sustainability certifications: LEED, Green Globes and APEX/ASTM, making them the first complexes in the world to receive all three designations. These certifications are putting Minnesota on the map: It’s the No. 9 state for LEED Green Building Per Capita in the nation on the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual list of the Top 10 States for LEED this past February.

Similar to the Saint Paul RiverCentre and the Xcel Energy Center, food was also a big focus for Hilton Minneapolis, whose Meet with Purpose initiative infuses wellness and waste reduction into meetings and events. “It’s really about mindful eating and mindful meeting,” says Kimberly Zoulek, director of sales and marketing, Hilton Minneapolis. “We’re focusing on minimizing food waste, portion control and healthy eating options.”

Slight shifts such as offering healthy, single-serving meals and swapping bottled water for water bubblers are some of the many ways Hilton Minneapolis is integrating environmen- tally friendly elements into their venue. “We’re looking for locally sourced products when it fits to minimize travel fuel, and make use of farmers markets,” says Dale Nelson, director of property operations, Hilton Minneapolis. “Our executive chef has an organic herb garden because we need certain herbs for dishes, but only a small amount. By growing our own, we eliminate buying in bulk.”

Seasoned sustainability veteran Chowgirls Killer Catering recently acquired an event space on the third floor of Northeast Minneapolis’ landmark Solar Arts Building, which lives up to its name. “We’re always looking for new ways to grow our commitment to sustainability—we already source our food locally, compost all of our waste and support as many local businesses as possible,” says Heidi Andermack, Chowgirls co-owner.

“One of the cool things about the Solar Arts Building is that the electricity is generated by solar panels, which is something that really fits with our values.”

Reason to Change

When it comes to going green, venues and businesses are making the change for environmentally friendly perks, low costs and importance to meeting and events attendees. “We’re trying to control cost, energy and waste disposal,” says Nelson. “If we can save energy by putting LED bulbs in, we’re putting LED bulbs in. The feel-good story behind sustainability and the good it does for the environment is a win-win.”

For Chowgirls, sustainability was never simply a switch, but rather a practice woven into day-to-day work. “There’s just so much waste everywhere that we should all be thinking about what we can do to be more conscious of what we take in, and instead reuse old things,” says Andermack. “It’s something that [co-owner] Amy and I are passionate about, it’s something our staff is passionate about and we find our guests are passionate about it, too.”

Leading the charge in making large events sustainable was a big draw for the Saint Paul RiverCentre and the Xcel Energy Center, whose events draw roughly 1.7 million visitors annually. “People are looking for ways to make their event greener, and we’re seeing more interest from people now to learn about what their event’s impact was on the environment and how much trash, compost and energy it used,” says Ibister. “It allows us to put a stake in the ground and say what we are doing is accepted, and it is a hugely great trend.”

Taking Action

Making strides in sustainability isn’t void of challenges, however. While some obstacles are minor, say, a lack of environmentally friendly cling wrap options for catering purposes, other challenges boil down to a team’s willingness—and passion—for change.

“One of the things that made us successful [in sustainability] was the inclusion of staff,” Ibister says. “With trash-handling, light bulb-changing or purchasing a new type of paint, not only were they engaged, but they were very prideful of it. The tide has changed, and now my staff asks, ‘Why don’t we do this?’” So, what are the easiest ways to integrate green practices into daily work and big meetings? “Print preview,” Nelson says with a laugh. “Don’t print 17 copies—print one and make sure it looks OK before making copies.” Also, recycling, composting, being more mindful of water usage, turning off lights and switching to LED light bulbs are other easy tweaks to make, says Nelson. “We should all work toward being more sustainable because it doesn’t require much more work,” says Andermack. “It’s just a different way of thinking.”

Green Meeting Spaces

Hilton Minneapolis
77,000 square feet of versatile function space
» 24,780 square feet Minneapolis ballroom
» 42,000 square feet of space by combining all three ballrooms
» 13,250 square feet of prefunction space in the ballroom foyer
» 3,400 square feet of indoor space, and 1,500 square feet of private outdoor space in the Gallery

Saint Paul RiverCentre
162,569 square feet total
» Kellogg Lobby (28,434 square feet) holds 1,500 in the Reception area and 750 in the Banquet area
» Grand Lobby (14,641 square feet) holds 300 in the Reception area and 150 in the Banquet area

Roy Wilkins Auditorium
76,483 square feet total
» Auditorium (44,800 square feet) holds 5,844 in the theater, 1,000 in the classroom, 3,500 in reception and 2,300 in the banquet space

Xcel Energy Center
17,000 square feet of total meeting space
» Arena Floor holds 1,700 in the theater, 1,100 in the classroom, 2,500 in recep- tion and 1,060 in the banquet area

6,500 square feet (Solar Arts Building)
» The space, nestled in a shared building with Indeed Brewing, boasts exposed brick walls, wood ceilings and floors, and space for up to 350 people. Although Chowgirls just recently began taking event reservations for the space, they’re already booking events into 2016.