Visitors might pass right by without noticing, but eco-friendly practices are a top priority at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, which hosts hundreds of events and conventions a year. In fact, sustainability has become integrated into nearly every aspect of the venue.


In particular, the convention center’s caterer SAVOR Long Beach continues to make strides in staying environmentally friendly, whether its using herbs from an onsite garden for luncheons and dinners, turning pallets into bars, composting tons of scraps to be used as fertilizer or recycling hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of materials a year.

One of the many ways that the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center diverts waste is by reusing materials, such as building a bar out of pallets seen here. (Photograph provided by SAVOR Long Beach)


“The volume of recyclables coming off of a cocktail bar is pretty intense,” said Veronica Quintero, regional manager for SAVOR, which also provides food and beverage services for the Aquarium of the Pacific.


She said eco-friendly practices are now a big part of the convention business with nearly 45 to 50 percent of organizations requesting that events be green or sustainable, adding that for some groups not meeting that requirement is a deal breaker.


The convention center, which has won state awards for its waste reduction efforts, is just one example of how sustainable practices are commonplace in Long Beach, said Leigh Behrens, recycling specialist for the city’s environmental services bureau.


She added that eco-friendly practices aren’t just promoted for residents at home but are used by city venues, facilities, businesses, restaurants and schools as well, so that sustainability becomes a part of everyday life.


“We like to promote the idea of walking the talk,” Behrens said. “Recycling and waste reduction aren’t just at-home activities. It’s really something where anywhere you are at – work, school, an event or a conference – you’re going to see those aspects . . . It’s something we value as a community.”


She noted that the City of Long Beach in 2014 had a 74 percent waste diversion rate, slightly under California’s new ambitious goal of requiring that 75 percent of all solid waste in the state be diverted through source reducing, recycling or composting by 2020.


Recycling is a major operation at the convention center, which uses three large bailers to bundle cardboard that is then picked up and hauled off to recycling facilities. The venue also recycles metal, e-waste and just about any other material used during events.


Jim Kuhl, Long Beach Environmental Services Bureau manager, said the city has worked alongside the convention center for years helping to find funding for sustainable projects, such as the cardboard bailers, adding that the center has surpassed expectations.


“It’s a city facility so we’re trying to help them minimize their [carbon] footprint,” he said. “They’ve taken it way beyond what we started with.”


During major events, such as the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, recycling is more important than ever. In fact, SAVOR works with local high school students who volunteer to recycle during such events. The partnership allows the convention center to give back tens of thousands of dollars in recycling profits to schools.


One of the convention center’s first eco-friendly projects more than a decade ago was installing a 750-kilowatt, 5,800-solar panel array on its roof that is considered one of the largest public facility solar panel systems on the U.S. West Coast, generating more than 1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity a year.


Charlie Beirne, the convention center’s general manager, said the venue is working with a contractor to keep the solar panels up to speed with new technology. He added that having such a large roof to generate energy from sunlight makes the system worthwhile.


The convention center now plans to start using its roof for another sustainable purpose – catching rain.


The convention center is creating a “rain-catch” system at the entrance of the Long Beach Arena in which rooftop gutters allow water to flow into barrels when it rains. The rainwater will then be used to water a nearby raised-bed garden as well as herb gardens and fruit trees located in other areas on site.

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center management met with Long Beach Environmental Services Bureau staff on a recent tour to showcase the convention center’s eco-friendly practices. Pictured, from left to right, are: Environmental Services Bureau Manager Jim Kuhl; SAVOR Regional General Manager Veronica Quintero; Convention Center General Manager Charlie Beirne; Convention Center Assistant General Manager John Braun; Convention Center Guest Services Director Anthony Ary; Environmental Services Bureau Recycling Specialist Elisa Calderon; and Environmental Services Bureau Recycling Specialist Leigh Behrens. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


Quintero, who has installed her own rain-catch system at home with 40- and 50-gallon barrels, said the convention center might be able to catch up to 400 gallons of rain water a day during heavy rains.


The convention center is also planning to purchase its own small composter that would enable food and produce scraps to eventually be used as fertilizer for the convention center’s landscaping, she said.


For large jobs, convention center staff members fill 40-foot roll-off containers with compostable material, such as orange peels and food scraps, which are then hauled away to a composting site in Lancaster.


In order to maintain a reduced carbon footprint, however, composting has to be done in large volumes since driving the waste so far to the site causes pollution, Quintero explained.

Convention center staff noted that the venue uses reclaimed water for fountains and for watering vegetation, while converting much of its plants to drought-tolerant landscaping.


During conventions, conferences and events, saving water is also a priority, Quintero said, adding that SAVOR no longer automatically provides water to guests, since a majority goes to waste. The caterer also stopped offering coffee from large containers since they require water-intensive washing.


In addition to using biodegradable or compostable plates and serviceware, SAVOR also uses sustainable food practices, such as incorporating only seasonal produce in dishes, Quintero said, adding that “farm-to-cocktail” is also popular for catering and entertaining.


‘Ocean Friendly Restaurants’


Restaurants in Long Beach have also heeded the call to become more environmentally friendly by continuing to integrate greener practices into their food as well as their facilities, supplies, equipment and overall business plans.


For the past four years, the Long Beach Chapter Surfrider Foundation has given out “Ocean Friendly Restaurant” awards to restaurants and food establishments as part of a campaign to encourage businesses to not use Styrofoam or plastic for takeout containers.


The nonprofit has different criteria for silver, gold and platinum level awards, ranging from not using Styrofoam takeout containers to proper recycling and trash disposal practices to not using any plastic at all.


Seamus Ian Innes, chair of the Surfrider Foundation Long Beach Chapter, said plastic and Styrofoam are both devastating to the ocean habitat because the materials “last forever” since they don’t biodegrade, adding that they also emit toxins and end up being eaten by sea life, which ultimately ends up in the food that people eat.


The ultimate goal, he said, is to encourage people and businesses to stop littering, adding that most of the plastic and trash that is washed into the ocean from the Los Angeles River comes from street gutters and factories up stream.


So far, the nonprofit has bestowed 28 restaurants with the award, including McDonalds, which no longer uses Styrofoam. The first restaurant to receive the platinum award is BO-beau kitchen + roof tap in Downtown Long Beach, which uses paper bags for takeout while using cardboard and clam shells for serving food with reusable bamboo utensils, Ian Innes said.


BO-beau and the Surfrider Foundation Long Beach Chapter are co-sponsoring an event at the restaurant, located at 144 Pine Ave., tomorrow, October 14, at 6:30 p.m. to coincide with Rise Above Plastics awareness month.


During the event, the restaurant will be recognized for its eco-friendly efforts. In addition, the event will include a Trash Art Expo in which students and artists will be displaying art made out of trash picked up on the beach.