Making sustainable choices when planning a meeting or conference is no longer as simple as ensuring an event has recycling facilities or guests are informed about carbon offset initiatives. Sustainability is now an integral consideration for everything from the location of your gathering to partner hotels and restaurants visited.
By working with sustainably responsible vendors, these choices are a way to show off your organization’s principles and personality, and assure attendees that conscientious decisions are being made.
Toronto and many of these green initiatives can be further customized for meetings and events to help companies meet their own sustainability goals.
In the 2023 Sustainable Cities Index from media and research firm Corporate Knights, Toronto was one of five Canadian cities in the top 15 on the list. Toronto’s City Council has committed to reduce community-wide carbon emissions by 2040—one of the most ambitious plans in North America.
Here are some of the many entrepreneurs and business leaders in the city innovating with exciting developments in energy consumption, minimizing food waste and eco-conscious experiences.
1. Westin Harbour Castle knows small changes can make a big difference.
“If you want to get a client, it’s not enough to be carbon neutral. You have to be working towards carbon zero,” says Lucy Vu, executive assistant to the Westin Harbour Castle’s general manager. The hotel uses 100-per-cent green energy in its lobby, and is working to expand that to its meeting spaces. Guests will notice water filters in their rooms, with reusable bottles on hand to use during their stay or for purchase (these can be personalized with a logo from an event or company).
The hotel’s head chef also oversees a rooftop garden, planted with herbs, fruits and flowers that are used by the property’s restaurant, catering and bars, and help promote the growth of the hotel’s bee population—an important support for the species in the downtown core.
2. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre leverages its location to minimize energy use.
With over 700,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space spread across two buildings, there are some unique characteristics that help the team achieve sustainability goals. The south building benefits from being almost entirely underground.
“It’s fantastic from an energy point of view, because it requires a lot less energy to heat and cool,” says Vivian Fleet, vice president of operations. And they use deep-lake water cooling technology from Enwave for efficient temperature control. In the north building, massive windows mean visitors can take advantage of natural light making lighting costs lower.
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) also has a great initiative to help conference organizers manage waste from events—whether its bags, food or furniture. “We work with local organizations to donate as much as we can,” Fleet says, including Habitat for Humanity and the Toronto District School Board.
3. Avling lets guests get up close to its regenerative roof-top farm.
This brewery and restaurant in the Leslieville neighbourhood boasts a 4,000-square-foot working farm on its roof that supplies chef Laura Maxwell and the brewery with seasonal ingredients.
“I work with our farmer, Micheline Lalonde, and her team to design menus based on what’s been planted and what is ready to harvest,” Maxwell says. They are also developing on-site wastewater capabilities to use brewery wastewater on the farm. Importantly, Avling makes the farm accessible to the public through events and workshops, which include hands-on experiences making seedlings, creating floral bouquets or herbal infusions like vinaigrette or chilli oil.
4. Exhibition Place embraces green energy of all types.
There is a 20-year history of sustainability at the Exhibition grounds, home to several conference and events spaces. The first urban wind turbine was installed here, and has been in operation for two decades. The Horse Palace, a heritage building that houses a riding academy as well as equestrian events, has a solar rooftop, which has doubled its footprint since the first instalment.
Other buildings on the grounds have green roofs that collect rainwater for reuse, cold roofs, featuring white membranes that reflect the sun’s rays and prevent heat from being absorbed into the buildings or are powered by geothermal energy. “We are making a commitment to be net zero by 2030,” says Alexandra Serrano, marketing and communications manager.
5. The Bentway sets an example for creative adaptive reuse.
Canada’s only urban conservancy, the Bentway is a public space on reclaimed land that sits underneath the Gardiner Expressway. What was once sprawling unused space is now a venue for large-scale art projects, cultural events and pop-up dining as well as roller skating and ice skating in the summer and winter respectively, all of which can be tailored specifically to organisations for private events. It was also designed to contribute to a healthier environment through strategic plant life.
“We have saline-resistant plants that take the water, slush and salt from the Gardiner above and remediate or treat it before it all goes back in to the ground,” says Anna Gallagher-Ross, senior manager of programming. The stormwater is then directed into experimental gardens on the site.
6. 1 Hotel takes design cues from the local environment.
Along with being a LEED gold certified building—heating and cooling systems are controlled based on light, occupancy and ambient conditions to ensure energy use is efficient—1 Hotel Toronto’s design is guided by biophilia, the principle of connecting nature with the indoors. There are 3,000 plants on the property, and lobby furniture is made with reclaimed local trees.
“The pieces show the longitude and latitude of where the tree was in the city,” says Steven Dagenais, director of group sales. Stones that feature as design accents were sourced in Muskoka, Toronto’s cottage country, and the statement art piece above the lobby bar was created by a local artist using local flora.”You have a little bit of Trinity Bellwoods in it, a little bit of High Park,” Dagenais explains. It’s a uniquely Toronto space that connects guests with the city around them.
Perhaps most exciting about these developments is that they show off what’s unique about Toronto and many of these green initiatives can be further customized for meetings and events to help companies meet their own sustainability goals.