When Vancouver won the competition to host the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games thoughts immediately turned to construction, and one of the most awe-inspiring initiatives has to be the redesign of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Center (VCAEC). Currently hosting the international broadcasting and media hub for the Winter Olympics, this waterfront building is not only beautiful and functional but is environmentally sustainable, boasting a green electricity program, a seawater heating and cooling system and the largest "living roof" in Canada populated with 40,000 plants and grasses.

The VCAEC, which opened in April 2009, cost $883.2-million from a funding partnership between Province of British Columbia, Government of Canada and Tourism Vancouver and tripled the size of the previous convention center to cover 1.2 million square feet. It hopes to generate more than $2 billion in economic activity and to boost Vancouver's tourism industry. The convention center boasts Canada's largest ballroom, up to 52 flexible meeting rooms, an exhibit hall larger than the Olympic opening ceremony stage at BC Place and already hosts more than 350 events a year due to its strong commitment to technical and culinary excellence. During the Olympics it will be home to 7000 broadcasters and technicians producing live international coverage of the games.

The VCAEC is the also first convention center in the world to be awarded Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) by the Canada Green Building Council. LEED® is a third-party certification program and an internationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. It promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health:

  • 1. Sustainable site development
  • 2. Water efficiency
  • 3. Energy efficiency
  • 4. Materials selection and
  • 5. Indoor environmental quality

“While the West building was to have been designed to a LEED Gold standard, the resulting quality of its design, construction and operations warranted a Platinum designation, making us a leader in environmental sustainability in our industry,” says Ken Cretney, General Manager of the Vancouver Convention Center. “We are committed to doing our part in reducing the facility's carbon footprint and to create a healthy environment for both our staff and guests.” adds Cretney.

The VCAEC is dedicated to sustainability and works closely with clients to ensure the highest standard of sustainability is met. Initiatives include a six acre "living roof", the largest in Canada and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America. This roof is home to more than 40,000 indigenous plants and grasses and its own colony of bees.The roof additionally employs a sophisticated drainage and rainwater recovery for irrigation which has successfully reduced potable water by 72.6%.

Additional green initiatives include:

  • an extensive recycling program which recycles on average 180,000 kilograms of material annually and almost 50% of the waste generated
  • green electricity generated from renewable sources
  • a seawater heating and cooling system that takes advantage of nearby seawater to produce cooling for the building during warmer months and heating in cooler months
  • a restored marine habitat built into the building foundations
  • use of fresh local ingredients, avoiding disposable kitchenware and donates leftover food to local charities
  • 83% of the waste was diverted from landfill
  • natural light and ventilation maximized throughout the building
  • local BC wood products used throughout the building

It comes as no surprise that the VCAEC has been showered with awards and among other accolades won the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC Award for Innovative Marine Habitat Design in 2006, and was designated a Powersmart Convention Center by BC Hydro. It has also been awarded a "GO GREEN" certificate from the Building Owners and Managers, the Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award from the Council of BC Tourism Associations and Tourism BC, as well as being the Silver recipient of the global meetings industry IMEX and Green Meeting Industry Council’s Green Supplier Awards. The Vancouver Convention Center is also the only convention center to be a repeat winner of the prestigious International Association of Congress Centers’ award for 'Best Convention Center' most recently this year. High praise indeed!

“We are setting the bar for high standards of service that convention visitors encounter when they meet in Vancouver,” said Convention Center chair David Podmore. “Unique features like a marine habitat and living roof serve to keep Vancouver top-of-mind among meeting planners looking to bring business to our city. It’s a remarkable building in so many ways,” he adds, “the men and women who helped to design and build this waterfront expansion have combined form and function to create something very special. It’s a truly unique public asset in which we can all take a great deal of pride, because it’s as much for us as it is for our visitors, and that’s not always the case with modern convention centers in other cities.”

“One of our distinct selling features as a destination is around green practices and stewardship of the environment,” said Tourism Vancouver chair Geoffrey Howes. “Vancouver is renowned for its approach to sustainability and the convention center is a leading example of these practices. It’s a message we proudly take to the international marketplace, and one that is embraced by our meeting planner customers.”

One thing is clear, there is a passion that unites those involved with the Vancouver Convention Center and they have set an Olympian record in their commitment to the environment. The VCAEC is truly a shining example of sustainability and goes a long way to support the assertion that the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games are "the greenest Olympics ever".

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