After gaining a greater understanding of how our everyday actions impact the environment, many people decide to strive for an eco-friendly lifestyle, swapping conventionally grown produce for organic, switching to nontoxic landscaping products, or incorporating recycling programs in their homes or offices.
Naturally, the eco-chic seek green event venues when it comes time to plan a corporate retreat or other important event. In fact, a number of studies indicate that environmental concern is taking the tourism and events industry by storm. A recent TripAdvisor survey indicated that 79 percent of travelers globally “think it’s important that accommodation providers have eco-friendly practices.” Nearly three-quarters of meeting planners say they have “green” policies in place for at least some of their meetings.
The impact of such eco-focus has significant potential. The United States hospitality industry spends more than $7.5 billion on energy every year. Even a 10 percent reduction in energy usage would result in a yearly savings of $750 million, in addition to creating a greener, more sustainable environment.
While green initiatives are still growing, Texas already offers plenty of venues that meet eco-friendly criteria. Here are three of our favorite green venues, all beautiful spaces that strive for eco-friendly design and sustainable use of resources.
discoverygreen.com | 713.400.7336
Discovery Green, a 12-acre urban oasis, opened in downtown Houston six years ago. Formerly an undeveloped, unattractive expanse of concrete, the park has become a vibrant community hot spot attracting 1.2 million visitors to its 600-plus free events (like flea markets and concerts) each year.
The park’s architects committed to design using the highest environmental standards, achieving a Gold rating from the LEED Green Building Rating System based on criteria like site sustainability, water efficiency, and materials and resources used in construction. Just a few of the eco-friendly design elements Discovery Green has put in place include using electricity from 100 percent clean and renewable wind sources, using solar power to help generate electricity, using significant amounts of regionally or sustainably harvested forests, and offering a bike- and public transit-friendly location.
The park’s buildings are light and airy, designed to capture maximum access to natural light. And the lush green grounds are landscaped using green maintenance products. Even 1-acre Kinder Lake which offers recreational opportunities like kayaking and remote-controlled boat rental—is filled with as much recycled groundwater as possible.
The park contains a number of areas suitable for large events. Several lawns offer elegant space for tented outdoor events. Maconda’s Grove provides a quarter-acre of loblolly pine-shaded crushed granite event space. Nearby bocce courts provide an opportunity for sophisticated recreation, while two verandas offer shaded space.
“There are really so many beautiful spaces in the park,” says Jenni Bowman, Discovery Green’s event coordinator. “Waterside Landing [a lawn bordering Kinder Lake] offers an amazing waterside location and the best views of downtown, giving it a really urban feel.”
The park offers a casual, family-friendly dining spot called The Lake House, as well as an upscale restaurant, The Grove. The latter strikes a vibe of natural elegance, blending harmoniously with its green surroundings while dishing out fine cuisine using ingredients from its rooftop herb and tomato garden. The Grove uses eco-friendly materials made from corn, sugarcane or coconut fiber and sources local ingredients like Texas cheese and Gulf Coast fish.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER
wildflower.org | 512.232.0200
During her tenure as first lady and beyond, Lady Bird Johnson went to great lengths to protect and preserve our nation’s native plants. Appropriately enough, her namesake venue— the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin—is a sustainable oasis sure to elevate the ambiance of any event.
The center, designed to showcase the native plants of Texas, contains more than a dozen different gardens, demonstration beds, meadows and a wetland pond. A new 4.5-acre family garden provides a space for children to explore the natural world. A new classic arboretum allows visitors to learn about the diversity of Texas trees.
Throughout the center, the use of native materials creates a serene landscape. In fact, the center is piloting the Sustainable SITES Initiative, which provides a national rating system for green landscapes. Components include a 70,000-gallon rainwater collection system, topsoil reuse, solar panels and an invasive species management plan.
The Luci and Ian Family Garden can facilitate up to 400 guests on the play lawn. And the Texas Arboretum provides space for up to 200 guests on the event pad. The library, which offers a spectacular panoramic view of the wildflower meadow, provides an ideal locale for executive board meetings, as well as small luncheons or dinners. The warm and inviting space allows up to 70 guests.
For events in need of presentation space, the stone walls and wood ceiling of the auditorium create an ambiance of rustic elegance while providing modern amenities like a rear projection video system and tiered, padded seating with flip top desks for up to 232 guests. Near the auditorium, classrooms provide ideal meeting venues for smaller group breakout sessions.
One of the most impressive event spaces at The Wildflower Center is The Visitors Gallery, which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a wildflower meadow and accommodates up to 200 guests. The adjacent courtyard offers space for 300 more. Composed of stone, glass and wood, the gallery evokes a feel of Hill Country elegance. “I like using the gallery for events,” says Wildflower Center Facility Rental Manager Samantha Elliott. “With floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, it offers a really pretty view of the Savannah Meadow.”
SABOR A PASION
saborapasion.com | 903.729.9500
Tucked off of a country lane on the outskirts of the Northeast Texas town of Palestine is a tranquil retreat called Sabor a Pasion, boasting handcrafted design and international cuisine. Headed by chef Simon Webster—who trained at the New Zealand Culinary Institute before embarking on a continent hopping career that eventually led him to East Texas—the facility has emerged as an East Texas culinary hot spot.
After purchasing a country home and property in Palestine a decade ago, Webster set to work transforming it into a multifaceted venue. Today, Sabor a Pasion includes a restaurant, bed-and breakfast, event center, wedding venue, catering headquarters and vineyard.
Set on 25 acres of wooded rolling hills, the property includes a vineyard with nearly 1,000 grapevines as well as nine raised vegetable beds from which Webster sources ingredients for the property’s restaurant (called Restaurant Aubergine) and catering clients. To round out his selection of local ingredients, Webster visits local farmers markets and sources lamb from neighboring ranchers. The property also has a recycling and composting program in place.
Appropriate for the refined country ambiance, Webster crafted many of Sabor’s facilities himself. The wood-framed ballroom, topped with a tin roof, can accommodate 200 guests. The dining room has space for up to 40, and a Tuscan-style patio with handcrafted brick oven and farmhouse table holds 14 for intimate dinner parties or executive conference sessions.
Many guests choose to hold their events in the vineyards, which can transform even a modest event into something quite memorable. A rustic pergola draped in twinkling lights sits among the vines as an elegant centerpiece.
Recently, Webster built two cabins, complete with vineyards, to enable the property to accommodate up to 14 overnight guests. The cabins feature handcrafted touches made by a local potter. “The cabins face east, so you can sit on the porch at sunrise with your coffee and the vines in front of you,” Webster says. “It’s like your own little vineyard.”