Name: Wanda Adams
Title: Sustainability Manager
Locations: Jones Hall, Wortham Center, George R. Brown Convention Center
Years in Current Position: Four
Primary Responsibilities: “My primary responsibility is to have the excitement of showing up to work every day and documenting my to-do list on things I need to accomplish on that day. My typical day is the normal checking of messages, reading over e-mail, and finishing tasks that were not completed the previous day. Also, looking at the events calendar to see what events are being held that week. I check on what food will be left over from an event. We try not to throw away any unused food.”
Organization’s most significant sustainability-related accomplishment: “Our most significant sustainability related accomplishment would be earning our LEED Silver Certification in 2011 and 2017 and donating over 150,000 pounds of food to our local homeless shelters.”
Organization’s most significant sustainability-related challenge moving forward: “Earning LEED Gold and making sure we properly educate our partners around sustainability—our janitorial staff, for example. We try to do the best we can. So far it has been a smooth process.”
HOUSTON—Four years ago, when Wanda Adams began her job as Sustainability Manager for Houston First’s Jones Hall, Wortham Center, and the LEED Silver certified George R. Brown Convention Center, she brought a significant amount of recycling knowledge with her. Her previous job was Community Outreach Coordinator in the Recycling Division for the City of Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department. There, her main role was to increase education awareness around recycling to the residents of Houston.
As the very first Sustainability Manager for Houston First, she created the Houston First Recycling Program. The organization’s recycling diversion rate is currently 40 percent.
“We have 21 recycling containers that our visitors can use,” Adams says. “We also have recycling containers outside the building. We have a webpage dedicated to recycling where we encourage the various divisions within our organization to have green meetings without the use of paper. Our facility is outstanding because we make sure we educate our janitorial staff on the proper ways of disposing our waste. We coordinate with our partners on recycling batteries, paper and plastic. We provide water stations for attendees so they can refill their bottles instead of using plastic. We use all biodegradable products for our events. We recycle badges. We purchase green products for cleaning. We have a material recovery program, where we donate registration bags and conference material. My plan for this year is to incorporate ink cartridge collection and recycling. We want to provide the best green meeting space.”
Team Approach to Sustainability
Adams says Houston First’s recycling success is the result of a team effort. Facilities services and corporate affairs team members meet weekly. Adams also meets with the marketing team weekly.
“As a team we make sure we complete all action items needed for our LEED recertification,” Adams says. “We make sure we are purchasing those products that meet green standards. We also meet to try to come up with innovations around sustainability. The most important part of our meeting is planning our education programs that engage our staff on recycling and how to be more environmentally friendly.”
Other green initiatives at the George R. Brown Convention Center include sensor-based faucets and toilets in public restrooms and four bee hives on property. The honey is harvested to make lip balm. “We have been discussing a green roof,” Adams says. Also, local schools will be invited to participate in Earth Day activities.
Adams say meeting planners considering the George R. Brown Convention Center for a meeting ask about green initiatives about 50 percent of the time. A printed fact sheet and another on the center’s website details the center’s green initiatives. “We are excited to inform our potential clients we have a LEED building and are leading the way in green meetings,” Adams says, adding that she participates in a call with other convention center sustainability managers around the country each month.
Making Sustainability Fun
When asked what she enjoys most about her work, Adams said, “One of my greatest rewards is partnering with local organizations—whether we are donating food or materials. I also enjoy making sure that the needs of our clients are met when it comes to being sustainable. The thing I enjoy most is being able to educate employees about sustainability and making it fun.”
Not all convention centers have a Sustainability Manager, but Adams says it is important. “Since my employment we have created a website to engage and educate potential clients around our sustainability efforts,” she says. “I led the creation of the recycling program. Our food donations have increased because of the personal relationship with our food and beverage partners. Being able to engage staff on why protecting the environment is so important. I encourage everyone that we can all do our part. We earned our LEED Silver recertification in 2017. It is very important to have a full time Sustainability Manger. I have realized that one person cannot do it all. I appreciate the team effort among all our partners, our event services staff and our event managers.”
Adams says her interest in sustainability goes back to 2006 when she was hired as the Recycling Community Outreach Coordinator for the City of Houston Department of Solid Waste Management. “The persons who inspired me the most are the former Mayor of the City of Houston—Mayor Bill White—and our current COO of Houston First Luther Villagomez, who hired me to work at the George R. Brown Convention Center.”
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.