Green Chattanooga Convention Center Features

This document details the major programs and content of the Chattanooga Convention Center’s green initiatives. The process of “being green” is an ever-evolving one. This is more of a “snapshot in time” as we travel down the eco-friendly path rather than a finite list of all of our programs.

The Convention Center, like most businesses, started with the basic – recycling paper back in the mid to late 90’s, well before expansion plans were ready to get moving. Initially most “green efforts”, recycling and others you will see mentioned here were limited, not by desire, but by the difficulty in “closing the loop”. We have always desired to minimize our impact on the environment but 10 to 15 years ago the main obstacle was not collecting items to recycle – it was finding someone who could take your recycled goods and process them and get them back to a state where they can be used again – thus closing the loop.

As an agency with many pressures on a tight budget, we were limited in our scope of our green initiatives back in the mid 90’s because without a partner to “close the loop”, even recycling of basic items was not cost effective.

Having said that the story does have a happy ending. The last decade has seen a virtual explosion of interest in closing the recycling loop and there are now also many more opportunities to purchase goods in the marketplace that are produced with recycled materials as a part of the “new” product.

That’s a brief overview of how we got where we are – now the details. I have taken the liberty of breaking the Convention Center’s Green Initiatives into three broad categories – Day Lighting, Water Treatment and Recycling.

Day Lighting

Day lighting - One of our biggest (and most noticeable) efforts. Natural light floods the public spaces/lobby areas via clear story atriums. The ceiling in the lobby is over 45 feet at the crest, allowing a lot of opportunity to let light in through glass on both sides of the high walls.

Also, all 7 meeting rooms on the front (Carter Street side) of the facility have atriums that allow natural light into those meeting spaces. The ceilings in those rooms are also designed with a curved ceiling to catch and reflect the natural light down into the space.

Our 101,000 square foot exhibition hall was one of the first in North America to utilize day lighting on such a grand scale. Within the hall are seven huge roof monitors that extend almost the entire width of the 240 foot wide hall. Each monitor is designed with a "south facing" opening that is filled with a 9 foot tall clear story glass panel, allowing a great amount of natural light into the hall. The interior surfaces of all the monitors are painted white, again to reflect and bounce the light around. Each monitor is also equipped with several layers of white linen that hang vertically in the monitor. This prevents a direct shaft of sunlight (which would be distracting to guests) from ever entering the space. The exterior roof is also white, again to catch and bounce light into the roof monitors and from there into the exhibition hall.

This serves multiple purposes. First - natural light is more aesthetically pleasing to attendees and has been shown to enhance attention spans and overall "comfort" at meetings. Artificial lighting just can't match Mother Nature! Secondly - there is a reason for the aforementioned "south facing" monitors. They are angled in such a way that in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky in the northern hemisphere the sun’s light, and much of the heat that comes with it, does not enter the south facing monitor directly. Since the sun is high in the northern sky, most of the light entering the monitor is light that is reflected off of the exterior white roof surface. This allows most of the light in, but as it is reflected light most of the heat that comes with it in the summer is left outside, thus providing light that reduces our need for artificial lighting, but not ramping up the heat load that would require greater expenditure of electricity for cooling – a win win.

In the winter months, the reverse holds true. When the sun moves around to the southern part of the sky on it’s course in the winter – the monitor captures direct sunlight that is reflected into the exhibition space. Any heat that accompanies the direct light, via the “greenhouse effect” that is provided when sunlight passes through glass is a welcome addition in the winter months – again reducing the need for us to burn as much fossil fuels in heating the facility – another win win.

Water Treatment – We often refer to this as our “hidden jewel” at the facility because much of this green initiative is out of public view and does not get as much attention as it probably should. Every business in Chattanooga is well aware of the problem of storm water runoff in any metropolitan area. Federal mandates require that runoff must be treated before entering the areas waterways. This puts a huge strain on the area’s water treatment capacity during a time of heavy rain. All business property owners in Chattanooga are required to pay a fee related to the development of infrastructure to aid in developing solutions to this issue, whether by increasing treatment capacity, building water retention areas, etc.

The Chattanooga Convention Center has one of the largest roof spans in the downtown area. It is estimated that the Center’s roof receives approximately 5 million gallons of water on an annual basis predicated on the area’s average rainfall per annum. All of the water that falls on the roof of the Convention Center is routed not to the street and then to the sewer but to a large underground cistern that was buried in 13th street adjacent to the facility during the expansion project. The cistern runs the length of the street next to the facility on the south end of the building. Rainwater goes to the cistern, from there it is pumped to a water tower the City erected on 17th street. As this water has never touched the street and mixed with oils, dust and other contaminants it is relatively clean and with a minimum of filtration can be used for irrigation. The City can use the water in the tower as a source for irrigating the vast quantity of public landscaping that the City has put in place through numerous street improvement projects over the last decade.

Recycling Programs

Recycling Programs – Last but certainly not least we will list the many recycle, recover, reuse initiatives that the facility is involved in:

PaperAluminum CansCardboardLeftover FoodCompostable Disposable Wares

The recycling of paper and aluminum cans is probably old hat in many businesses now. We have been recycling those for years. Approximately 18 months ago we took the plunge in purchasing a cardboard compactor and added that to the list. These three items would be, if not impossible, at least more difficult without our partnership with the Orange Grove Center. They provide an avenue to “close the loop” that we mentioned earlier as being so critical to any sustainable recycling program. We and the entire City are indebted to their efforts in this area.

The Convention Center derives about 60% of our revenue from a robust food and beverage department. I never dreamed how much of our “raw materials” (produce, canned goods, etc.) arrive at our loading dock in cardboard boxes, until we started counting one week rather than just disposing of them in the regular trash. Needless to say, we began working a plan to budget funds for a compactor as soon as we could.

Leftover food use is a program that we joined that is administered by the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. As the Convention Center does not run a restaurant, we buy and cook food on an event by event basis. Often event planners will “over guarantee” their meal numbers as the worst nightmare you can have at a large meal (and we are usually talking hundreds or even thousands) is run out of food! That being the case we now have a program in place whereby much of the leftover food (unserved, kept in hot boxes, etc.) is now picked up by the Chattanooga Food Bank and used immediately – often within hours, to feed those who are using the services of that fine organization. Again – a partnership with another “Loop Closer” that gives us another win win.

The use of compostable wares is a fairly recent development. Prior to July of 2008 most all of our continental breakfasts, mid-morning and afternoon breaks went out to the customer accompanied by either china and glassware and stainless flatware, or depending on the nature of the event, disposable plastic variations of plates, cups, utensils, etc. The plastic we used, of necessity, is a high grade durable “heavy duty” type that looked nice, performed well but as it was good quality it was also relatively costly on a per person basis, not to mention that it went to the landfill where it will be sitting long after we are all gone.

Beginning in July of 2008, customers of course can still use china and glassware. The use of these items is considered “green” by most as they are reusable, however some folks do question the use of water that accompanies the washing process. We have switched (and are switching continually) to eco-friendly products in all phases of the facility’s operation including in the dish room and in housekeeping areas with regard to the solutions used for cleaning, etc.(and that is considered “green” as it is reusable). Having said that, if a customer prefers an alternative that will not use so much water we can now provide them with their breaks as before, but now they go out with disposable plates, cups and utensils.

The major difference is that now those disposable items are all 100% compostable material. The plates are paper/plant based. The cups are either paper or a clear “plastic like” cup that is 100% corn based. The utensils also may look like plastic knives and forks, but they are made 100% from potatoes.

We now have adjusted our operating procedures at all breaks so that we have 3 separate type of containers in each “waste area”. One container for aluminum cans, one for the compostable items and one for all other trash (of which there is not much of when using the other two). The compostable wares go into the container marked for those items. But the story doesn’t end there. The trash bags that we use in that container are themselves compostable!! Those bags are now routed to a trailer in our loading dock, separate from our regular trash dumpster. When the trailer has a sufficient load a call is made to Crabtree Farms – a local farm only a scant 4 miles from the Center (as the crow flies). This farm has partnered with us as they want and need good compost material – and now we can provide it. All the sorting is done on the “front end” as the customers dispose of their items (with an observing eye from Convention Center Staff, just to make sure there is no cross contamination) so this process is relatively easy. As the bags and everything in them is compostable, they simply back the trailer up to the area they are currently putting compost in, and throw bags and all into the pile. Another partner in “Closing the Loop” and yes, another win win.

We do plan on switching from 40% “post consumer recycled content” paper towels in our restroom to 100% “post consumer recycled content” paper towels, but full transition won’t occur until March of 2009 as we will be using current stock before purchasing the new paper - but it is an example of what I mentioned earlier – that this is an evolution and we are continually looking for ways to enhance our “Eco-friendliness”.


This completes a summary as of December 2008 with regard to where the Convention Center stands with regard to many of its green initiatives. This document will continue to be updated as we incorporate changes into our operating procedures in conjunction with new developments in the industry.

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