Broward County Convention Center's Sustainability Guru talks about its 'green' efforts

Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center's sustainable programs manager Julia Johnson is shown amid water-smart landscaping at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Sustainability Guru

By Arlene Atchell, Sun Sentinel

It's been a little more than a year since the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center became the first convention center in Florida to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) "green" certification.

At the time, it was also one of only three convention centers nationwide to earn LEED Gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council for an existing building.

Since then, the Fort Lauderdale convention center has been focused on maintaining and improving its sustainable initiatives to requalify for the eco-friendly seal when its current certification expires in 2017.

At the helm of the recertification initiative is Julia Johnson, 57, sustainable programs manager, who was hired in July 2012 to make environmentally-friendly efforts part of the center's daily operations for employees and visitors.

"Her background and the credentials she brings measures up very nicely with that of any other sustainable coordinator in any other building," said Mark Gatley, the center's general manager.

The Sun Sentinel recently asked Johnson about her role and the center's LEED recertification quest. Responses have been edited for clarity.

Q: When did the center receive LEED Gold and what did that involve?

A: The certification was awarded in July 2012 after a nearly four-year process. To qualify for the green designation, the 21-year-old facility did an overhaul of several systems. That included revamping its landscape design with less water-dependent turf grass and plants, and replacing older and less energy-efficient lighting with newer technology to reduce electricity costs. It also installed new fixtures to cut water consumption in restrooms and added other eco-friendly enhancements throughout.

Q: What does your job entail?

A: Tracking and staying on top of the different sustainable initiatives we do, such as recycling. Here we focus on diverting things from the landfill, for example, by donating food that hasn't been put out to be served and sending the least amount possible to the incinerator. I reinforce our commitment to reuse, re-purpose and recycle products that we source or others bring in. I also track expenses, monitor utility bills and review purchase orders to ensure we're meeting our sustainable goals. I'm constantly training employees on our green initiatives.

Q: What experience do you bring to the job?

A: I'm a LEED accredited professional with a specialty designation in building operations and management. I was heavily involved in the original certification project and back then worked with Sustainable Options, a Georgia-based green building consultant contracted at the time to audit the center's existing energy use and eco-friendly practices. I continued to work with the facility throughout that LEED certification process.

Q: When will the recertification start?

A: We'll probably submit the application in early 2017and it'll take about three months to get a response. There may be questions after and we'll have an opportunity to address them before a final decision.

A: What new eco-friendly initiatives are on tap for the center?

A: Some of our chefs have suggested building a greenhouse on-site to grow micro-greens, herbs and tomatoes and we're looking into that. If the convention center expansion and hotel project happens, current plans call for building it to at least meet LEED silver certification, which will add even more sustainable initiatives.

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