The Savannah International Trade &Convention Center has been awarded LEED Gold certification for Existing Buildings by the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first convention center in Georgia to obtain gold level certification, according to trade center general manager Sherrie Spinks.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building rating system for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of sustainable buildings.
The trade center follows in the footsteps of the Georgia World Congress Center, its sister site in Atlanta, which earned LEED Silver certification in 2014.
Part of the LEED certification rating system is validating sustainable best practices already in place at a facility, and improving in other areas beyond energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction, Spinks said.
LEED also forces facility managers to look inward at all operations and resource consumption.
The Savannah team, along with sustainability consultants and engineers from Sustainable Investment Group, a national LEED consulting, training and services company, undertook the certification process more than a year ago, focusing on sustainable policy implementation, a comprehensive energy audit and various upgrades in an effort to earn the 60 points required for Gold-level certification.
When the effort came up five points short of gold, Spinks lobbied the board to pay the $5,000 needed to purchase the additional credits.
“We have the option, through the U.S. Green Building Council, to purchase those 5 points for $5,000 — which is nothing — and obtain our Gold LEED certification within the next several months,” she told the board in April, noting that the designation would be an important tool in marketing the trade center.
“Fifty percent of our customers actually ask on their request for proposals if we are LEED-certified and, if so, on what level,” she told the authority board in April.
“If we do this, we will not only be the only convention center in the state of Georgia to have Gold LEED certification, we’ll be one of a handful of convention centers across the country to go gold.
“It also shows to our customers, employees and the community that we are committed to sustainability and supporting our environment.”
Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli agreed.
“Savannah does not compete for convention business with any of those cities (with LEED Gold-certified convention centers), which makes us stand out that much more,” he said, in urging fellow board members to appropriate the $5,000.
“For a facility and destination of this size in this part of the country to be the only one with this certification does, indeed, help our marketability when talking with meeting-planning professionals,” he said, adding that anything that gives the trade center a competitive advantage over its regional competitors should be considered.
The board agreed, unanimously voting to appropriate the funds.
“We are all very proud of our team and this accomplishment in our first application for LEED certification,” Spinks said.
“We will take the things we learned through the process and continue to improve our operations.”
The trade center’s LEED certification comes only three years after the Georgia World Congress Center began management of the property.
“Convention centers sometimes have difficulty comparing operational efficiencies due to the unique nature of the industry — from event frequency to size or type,” said Tim Trefzer, LEED-accredited sustainability manager at GWCCA.
“The LEED rating system provided us with a baseline for sustainable operations and maintenance, and we at GWCCA and the on-site team in Savannah are ecstatic to have met the stringent environmental criteria of a LEED Gold building.”
Marinelli said Visit Savannah will emphasize the new certification in its marketing to organizations and meeting planners.
“As we look down the road to a larger building and more hotels, we will be competing for more and larger national conventions and that’s where this will really make a difference,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
During the LEED certification project’s performance period, sustainability statistics at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center included:
41 percent of building occupants use alternative commuting options
32 percent reduction in water use
ENERGY STAR® equivalent score of 77
100 percent of energy usage for 2017 and 2018 is offset by Renewable Energy Certificates (wind power offsets)
99 percent of materials purchased for recent carpet and ceiling tile replacement met sustainability criteria of recycled content and low-chemical materials
81 percent of debris generated by the replacement was diverted from landfill and recycled
94 percent of janitorial cleaning and paper products purchased meet sustainable criteria.
Located on Hutchinson Island, the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center is a 330,000-square-foot waterfront complex featuring 100,000 square feet of divisible exhibit space, 50,000 square feet of meeting space, a 25,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom and a 367-seat auditorium. Built in 2000, the convention center is in the design phase of an expansion that will allow it to attract larger groups to Savannah.