San Diego Convention Center

San Diego, California

Insightful direction advances a convention center’s goal of continuous sustainability improvements

Opened in 1989, the 2.6 million-square-foot San Diego Convention Center (SDCC) is located on sparkling San Diego Bay in the heart of a vibrant downtown. Abundant, flexible space and five-star service make SDCC a national destination for major conventions, trade shows, meetings and special events.


  • The Challenge

    The City of San Diego has a landmark Climate Action Plan to cut the city’s carbon footprint in half by 2035. As a facility of 2.6 million square feet that hosts approximately 160 annual events serving more than 825,000 people, SDCC has a major impact on the city’s carbon reduction goal. SDCC set initial project goals to create a healthy indoor environment, reduce energy use, use environmentally friendly building and office materials, and conserve water. The organization relied on our expertise to help them achieve these goals and verify their efforts through third-party certification.

  • Our Approach

    We began our sustainability consulting work by ushering SDCC’s team through the LEED certification process. In addition to guidance through the process, we advised the center on improvements to help the facility that led to its LEED Silver certification in 2011. Initial certification was only the beginning, however.

    Building upon on our work, we helped SDCC progress toward increased sustainability over the subsequent six years. In 2012, we performed existing building commissioning (retrocommissioning) as a cost-effective way to improve building performance, reduce energy usage, lengthen equipment life, and enhance indoor environmental quality and occupant comfort. We identified multiple initiatives for improved environmental performance, including equipment upgrades that would meet their energy-reduction goals. We conducted a detailed cost analysis for equipment replacement, and researched local utility incentives to offset the expense. Upon implementing select measures, SDCC realized an energy cost savings of $151,000 per year, resulting in a simple payback of 3.5 years.

    We also assisted SDCC in replacing equipment reliant on CFC refrigerants to more environmentally friendly refrigerant options. This was particularly important, as the center contains more than 100 refrigerant-equipment containing items for a total of 6,000 pounds of refrigerant. Now, less than 1% of SDCC’s refrigerant contains CFCs, and the few remaining pieces of equipment with CFCs are scheduled for replacement within the next 5 years.

    Mercury (found in lighting) is harmful to fish, wildlife, and humans, making it important to reduce this element in the environment. In 2011, we began encouraging SDCC to remove all their mercury-containing fluorescent lamps and purchase LED lights to work toward a mercury-free facility. Over time, SDCC replaced 11,650 lamps with LEDs in the exhibit hall, meetings rooms and offices. In addition to eliminating mercury in their lighting, SDCC enjoys the added benefit of highly energy efficient lamps.

    Working toward recertification under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance in 2017, we guided SDCC to create a Green Cleaning Policy and Program. We reviewed their material and product purchases and discovered their environmentally responsible purchases were at 37%. To improve this figure, we first identified products that didn’t meet certification requirements. Then we conducted research and suggested alternative products and opportunities for substantial improvements. By costs, 70% of the center’s cleaning products purchases now meet stringent sustainable standards and almost half the total 93 powered cleaning equipment items are considered green, which will continually increase as existing equipment is eventually replaced.

    Our guidance also identified water-saving improvements that drove SDCC’s plumbing fixture efficiency from 21% up to 32%. In total, 98% of all restrooms have been renovated to low-flow water usage. Because San Diego is an arid region, this water conservation measure earned the facility an additional LEED point under the regional priority credits.

    Green Building Strategies

    Water Efficiency

    • 32% water savings
    • Water-efficient fixtures and low-flow plumbing
    • 8 primary building meters and 5 sub-meters monitor water consumption patterns

    Energy and Atmosphere

    • ENERGY STAR equivalent rating of 84
    • LED lighting throughout
    • Building automation system tracks energy use
    • Less than 1% of refrigerants contains CFCs

    Materials and Resources

    • Sustainable Purchasing Policy
    • Solid Waste Management Policy
    • 79% waste recycling diversion rate
    • Reduced mercury in lamps

    Indoor Environmental Quality

    • Green Cleaning Policy with 70% sustainable products purchased
    • Indoor pollutant source control

    Sustainable Sites

    • Environmentally sensitive landscape practices
    • Drought tolerant plantings

    Relevant Certifications

    • LEED-EB: O&M v3 - Gold
  • The Outcome

    Guided by our advice over the past several years, SDCC achieved a prestigious LEED-EB: O&M v3 Gold certification in 2017. Its improved energy efficiency earned the facility an ENERGY STAR equivalent rating of 84, which is 34 points above the national median and marks an amazing accomplishment. It is also a rare feat for a large facility in the U.S. to be completely mercury-free, and SDCC’s enormous size makes its zero-mercury environment all the more impressive. The change to water-efficient plumbing fixtures allowed the facility to log in 1.5 million fewer gallons of water in 2017 than in 2016, which is critically important in the Southern California environment. Encouraged by its success, and under our guidance, SDCC is now pursuing certification under APEX/ASTM for Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. With its continued advancement in sustainable measures and strategies, SDCC is a key player in the city’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint.