When I attended a Green Meetings fam trip to Vancouver in June, sponsored by Tourism Vancouver, sustainability wasn’t just part of the program — it was the main event, and woven into my entire experience.
As I checked in to the DOUGLAS hotel in downtown Vancouver, I was asked if I would like to participate in their green initiative by reducing laundering requests during my stay. In exchange, they would plant a tree of my choosing. I picked a white fir. That was the start of many green things to come.
That evening, at our kick-off welcome reception at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, I was joined by meetings-industry journalists and meeting professionals who were attending the Sustainable Brands 2018 conference. We nibbled on sustainable seafood tapas as part of the progressive dinner, prepared by Ocean Wise, a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program created to educate consumers about sustainable seafood. Executive chef Ned Bell discussed the program’s history while overhead, large, blinking paper jellyfish along the ceiling displayed facts about plastic pollution.
After dinner, we went downstairs to “Vortex,” a new art installation by Douglas Coupland, created in collaboration with Ocean Wise. We walked around slowly, absorbing the huge wall of plastic debris displayed behind glass. Toothbrushes. Old toys. Countless plastic bottles. All of it had been taken straight from Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast. In the center of the room, Coupland had erected a massive boat filled with plastic debris, which also floated in the water all around the boat and around the four figures inside it. The message was clear, and grim — plastic could destroy our future.
After the welcome reception, I headed back to my room at the DOUGLAS and thought about that single white fir. On that day, at least I had made one good choice for the planet.
The next morning, at the Sustainable Brands conference at the double LEED Platinum-certified Vancouver Convention Centre, we heard a panel discuss tips on incorporating sustainability in the meeting-planning process. Miguel Naranjo of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, discussed UN climate neutrality and events, and introduced a new tool developed by the UN to measure sustainability. Paul Salinger, vice president of marketing for Oracle, talked about building a business case for sustainable events (read my takeaways from his talk at convn.org/selling-sustainability). And Yalmaz Siddiqui, vice president of sustainability at MGM Resorts, introduced a new game for group decision-making for sustainable events.
Our session ended with a surprise gift for every attendee — a reusable, glass straw. I tucked mine, which had a small, blue whale at the end, carefully in my belongings as we headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
As I crossed the suspension bridge with our group, my hands gripped each side of the rails while my knees quaked. I refused to look at the Capilano River, which seemed miles below, and ignored the children bounding across. I steadied myself for a selfie and bravely made it to the other side.
After the bridge, navigating the Treetops Adventure — which gave a squirrel’s eye view of the forest — felt like a breeze. We admired the ancient Douglas firs that loomed above us while guided by Doug McCandless, director of sales for the Capilano Group of Companies. At the end of our voyage, we were presented with certificates of completion.
We had some time to unwind before dinner at The Victor, located on the sixth-floor rooftop of Parq Vancouver — a new entertainment destination that includes the DOUGLAS and JW Marriott — overlooking a 30,000-square-foot rooftop urban park. After enjoying roasted mushrooms and Hokkaido scallops — an Ocean Wise sustainable choice — I headed back to the DOUGLAS, sated and sleepy.
Normally, business casual dress and yoga don’t mix, but our first stop in the morning at the convention center combined the two. Luckily, chairs were set up for us in the West Building’s foyer, and we were led through simple poses that were as soothing as our waterfront view of the North Shore mountains.
We then took a quick tour of the center, walking past Sustainable Brands conference attendees in the expansive, 150,000-square-foot prefunction space and down towards the exhibit hall lobby. We were whisked to the loading dock, where we got a backstage view of some of the center’s sustainability efforts in action. Employees sorted through large bags of recyclables, diverting waste from landfills. For convention center clients, the recovered waste is measured and recorded in a sustainability report. There was a lot of ground to cover — more than 466,500 square feet of flexible space — before we reached our chef’s table lunch. The meal included buttery, rich sablefish, an assortment of wines, and a honeycomb dessert inspired by the beehives on the center’s green roof. We even got a taste of some honey the bees recently produced.
The next part of our experience took a slower pace — an indolent cruise, compliments of Westcoast Sightseeing, around Coal Harbor on Vancouver’s first, zero-emission, 100-percent electric boats, with the beautiful skyline and mountains as a backdrop.
After enjoying some free time to explore on our own, we regrouped for dinner at the Nightingale with delegates from the Sustainable Brands conference. We shared a family-style meal, including seasonal vegetables, roasted half chicken, and salted caramel pot de crème as well as a lively conversation, as we speculated what the effect legalized marijuana — coming to Canada this fall — would have on business events industry.
Breakfast was a short walk to Honey Salt, within Parq Vancouver. I had an oversized helping of avocado toast and a juice shooter before taking a site tour of both hotels.
We explored the meetings’ facilities on the JW Marriott side, which includes 56,717 square feet of total event space, 12 event rooms, and 23 breakout rooms. On the DOUGLAS side, we explored the D6 Bar & Lounge. To my delight, the library by the pool table had a hidden door, which opened into a private enclave, often used for VIP gatherings.
Next up: an electric bike tour of Stanley Park, where we giddily coasted down sloping hills, stopping at certain points under our City Cycles tour guide’s direction. We learned about the history of the coastal First Nations and their legendary totem poles, the biodiversity of the rainforest, and the history of the 125-year-old park itself. We even did some serious trail riding, but in keeping with the trip’s theme, I hit the e-bike’s “eco” boost button and easily cruised along the seawall.
Having worked up an appetite, we ventured to Granville Island for lunch at Edible Canada. Our meal included Canadian staples with inventive twists — elk tartare and bison poutine — along with wines and beers from British Columbia. Later, we explored the public market and local stores nearby, as troubadours serenaded pedestrians.
We took the ferry back to visit the Vancouver Convention Centre’s living roof. The view was incredible — on one side, stretches of mountain, and on the other, a stunning city view. The ground, covered in indigenous plants and grasses, was lush and green. Beyond its good looks, the green roof serves a useful purpose: as home to honeybees, and as an insulator for the convention center, cooling the facility in the summer and reducing heat loss in the winter.
Finally, it was time for our last dinner in Vancouver. It was a short walk to Miku, where we enjoyed a chef’s selection of — you guessed it — sustainable Ocean Wise seafood, with the harbor glittering in the distance. Between bites of nigiri, I reflected on my past few days in Vancouver. It was clear that this was a city that took sustainability seriously. I thought about what I heard Salinger say during the conference session — that sustainability isn’t a one-off event, but should “be integrated into the planning process.” While he may have been talking about events, it’s clear that the city of Vancouver has taken that same approach to heart.
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