Downtown Houston convention center maintains ‘green’ course
HOUSTON – With apologies to Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being green.
And when you’re a convention center that dwarfs the world’s largest ocean liner, the barriers to being environmentally sustainable only multiply.
With 1.8 million square feet under roof and an operating schedule that varies with daily events, staff at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center knows all too well the challenge of being energy efficient.
Nevertheless, the Houston First-managed facility cleared every hurdle in the painstaking task of being recertified as a LEED Silver building.
The George R. Brown earned its original LEED certification in 2011, under the requirements set for existing buildings. To retain that status, the George R. Brown had to meet recertification criteria for energy savings, CO2 emissions, waste recycling and indoor environmental quality.
Of note, the GRB was able to reduce water usage by 25 percent during the measuring period in part by installing four new chillers and more efficient hardware fixtures throughout the convention center.
In addition, the GRB was able to recycle 900 tons of construction materials, diverting it from area landfills. This reuse of steel, concrete, and granite tiles resulted in a savings of $2 million
Wanda Adams, sustainability manager of the GRB, said neither certification nor subsequent recertification is a lead-pipe cinch.
“There’s nothing automatic about recertification,” Adams said. “We improved from where we were in 2011 and when this current certification period ends in 2021, we will have had to have performed even better. It’s not a suggestion; it’s a requirement of recertification. We need to be even more efficient tomorrow than we are today.”
David Osterhout, the GRB’s director of operations, credits day-to-day attention to detail, as well as budget planning, for reducing the center’s “carbon footprint.”
“You can’t possibly meet LEED requirements by just adding up the numbers at the end of the year and crossing your fingers,” Osterhout said. “Reducing, reusing and recycling have to be on your radar screen at all times.”
Osterhout credits some of the energy reduction to the acquisition of a new building automation system. BAS is the automatic centralized control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting and other systems.
“We have activity at all hours of the day at the George R. Brown,” Osterhout said. “But our BAS sensors detect differing work loads and respond accordingly. It removes the imperfect human element and makes us more energy efficient.”
Bettering the bottom line through reduced energy consumption is the right thing to do, according to Luther Villagomez, chief operating officer for Houston First and the top executive at the GRB.
“But it’s also a competitive advantage,” Villagomez said. “Meeting planners and tradeshow executives that plan green meetings increasingly want to do business with convention centers that are environmentally responsible.
“Becoming more energy efficient and reducing our long-term energy use is a prudent, bottom-line action step,” he added. “Our clients love it, too.”
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing independent verification that a building is designed to improve performance.
About Houston First Corporation
Houston First Corporation operates the city's finest convention and arts facilities to position Houston as a world-class destination. Houston First owns Hilton Americas-Houston and manages 11 city-owned buildings, plazas and parking facilities. Properties include the George R. Brown Convention Center, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Wortham Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. For more information, log on to HoustonFirst.com.
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