Scottish venues serious about green credentials

An aerial view of south-east approach to the new AECC.
An aerial view of south-east approach to the new AECC.
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Green is the colour to be in the events world and Scotland’s major venues are aiming to be among the market leaders. The news that the multi-million-pound exhibition and conference centre currently under construction in Aberdeen will become home to the largest fuel cell installation in the UK is the tip of the iceberg in the move towards running energy-efficient venues.

The low-emission fuel cells at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) at Bucksburn will generate electricity from hydrogen fuel and oxygen and are to be supplied by UK energy engineering specialist Doosan Babcock.

The installation will provide a total electric output of 1.4MW and will be on a par with the largest in Europe.

“We see ourselves as the energy capital of Europe and we want to make sure that what we are providing within the city is as energy efficient as possible,” says Jenny 
Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council.

“The exhibition and conference centre forms a major part of our infrastructure.

“It is important that when we do have investment in infrastructure, we are setting that up to be as energy efficient for the future as it can be.”

In December 2015, SMG Europe was announced as the preferred bidder to manage and operate the venue and already there are events both approved and in the pipeline.

The first conference to book in at the new AECC was the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Conference which will take place in 2020. “Organisers are very keen to be seen to be green,” says Scott Ramsay, senior project officer at 
Aberdeen City Council, with responsibility for the new AECC site project.

“The more green we are encourages people in the oil and gas industry and beyond to come and use Aberdeen as a venue and bring repeat business in future years.

“The key driver for Aberdeen City Council was to make the AECC the most fuel efficient and sustainable venue in the UK.

“We wanted to achieve that through the planning, the design stage, the construction and in the operation of the venue.

“We made it sustainable by producing the power on site so we don’t have to rely on the grid. It will be a self-sustaining conference centre.”

Once open, the exhibition centre site will be connected by good transport links to Aberdeen Airport and to the train line at Dyce, as well as major bus routes and an ever-
expanding cycle network.

An energy centre on site will provide power for the conference centre as well as hotels which are part of the development.

“All the stone and timber from the existing buildings that are on the site has been recycled and reused on site,” adds Ramsay.

“We are using the granite, for example, to make a bridge feature.”

The story is the same across Scotland: conference venues are setting agendas for reducing their carbon footprint.

The SEC (Scottish Event Campus) Centre in Glasgow – formerly the SECC – has published online its social commitment which includes using environmentally friendly and biodegradable products for cleaning and reviewing emerging technologies to identify where further improvements can be made.

The Green Business Tourism Scheme celebrates businesses that have worked hard to reduce their environmental impact and lists six Scottish venues as “green” destinations for conferences and events, including a solar-powered castle and hotels offering “green” delegate packages.

At the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), sustainability has been a priority since it opened in 1996.

“Every event held at the EICC benefits from the sustainable processes that are ingrained into our business process,” says EICC chief executive Marshall Dallas. “We give clients the opportunity to make their events more sustainable. We can go so far as to measure the carbon emissions associated with their events and then provide them with the opportunity to offset some or all of that.

“We work with the Forestry Commission and the offset is done by planting trees in the Scottish Borders.”

A dedicated “green team” comprised of a representative from every department within the EICC meets quarterly to discuss and implement ways of reducing the venue’s impact on the environment.

The focus on sustainability may be gathering pace generally speaking, but Dallas says the core values are nothing new. It’s a case of organisers realising there’s more to being environmentally friendly than saving water and paper.

“One more recent trend that we have observed is an increase in the demand for 
locally-sourced produce for delegate lunches and gala dinners,” he says.

“In response to this demand, in November 2015, ahead of the Scottish Business Awards, the EICC signed up for the Scottish Food and Drink Pledge, which is a commitment to sourcing ingredients locally wherever possible.”

The EICC introduced its “plan-it green” initiative ten years ago to promote its eco-friendly credentials.

“We found it an effective way of communicating our sustainable commitments which extend to sourcing and purchasing 
environmentally sensitive products locally, with products including organic, fresh and sustainable food,” adds Dallas.

Why it matters: emission statistics

– Eight of the ten warmest years recorded in Scotland have occurred in the 21st century. The average temperature in 2015 was 7.58C (0.55C higher than the 1961-1990 average), a decrease of 0.87C from 2014, which was the warmest year on record.

– Between 2005 and 2014, the amount of Scottish waste sent to landfill dropped by 
42 per cent. Over the same period, biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill in Scotland decreased by 51 per cent.

– Pollutants have decreased between 1990 and 2014, including ammonia (13 per cent), carbon monoxide (75 per cent) and sulphur dioxide (90 per cent).

– In 2008, 57 per cent of respondents to a survey by the Scottish Government thought climate change was an immediate and urgent problem. In 2015, that figure decreased to 50 per cent.

SOURCES: The Scottish Government and Perceived Immediacy of Climate Change: 2008, 2013-2015

Tips for planning a green conference

– Make sustainability a top priority from day one.

– Ask the question: what can be reduced, reused or recycled?

– Make sure the food at the event is sustainable by using local suppliers and keeping “food miles” low.

– Look at whether the date of a conference needs to be printed on banners and materials for the day. If it doesn’t, leave it off so you can reuse the materials at a future event.

– Communicate your green goals to delegates. This will encourage them to think about ways they can reduce waste, recycle and save energy on the day.

– Reduce plastic waste by replacing single-use cups or bottles with branded water bottles which can be refilled.

This article appears in the SPRING 2017 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.