Case Study: Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA (1996-2001)


San Francisco’s 1.2 million square foot Moscone Center hosts approximately two million visitors at more than 85 trade shows, meetings, and conventions annually. This convention center site covers nearly 20 acres in the heart of the city and features 442,000 square feet of exhibition space, seating capacity for 8,000 diners, and 160,000 square feet of meeting space. SMG, a private facility management company, has operated the Center since it was constructed in 1981.

Waste Prevention Opportunity

Prior to 1996, the Moscone Center disposed of more than 2,000 tons of waste annually. Most waste is generated from post-event move out activities.

Percentage of Waste Material Disposed in 1996 (tons*)

MaterialPercent of Total Disposal
Wood and other organics22%

* Total tons disposed in 1996 equals 2,000.

Strategy and Approach

SMG made a corporate commitment to environmental responsibility in all operations at the Moscone Center, with the intent to significantly reduce the facility’s waste, use resources efficiently, benefit the local non-profit community through increased donations, and lower facility’s waste removal costs for clients. Implementing waste reduction programs also ensures that the facility is assisting the City of San Francisco in its efforts to meet the State mandated goal of 50 percent waste reduction, and the City’s own voluntary own goal of 75 percent reduction by 2010.

In 1996, SMG hired consultants to perform a waste disposal characterization analysis and help develop a waste reduction plan. As physical space is an important planning consideration, all waste is analyzed by cubic yardage as well as tonnage. A key strategy was to closely involve all departments, suppliers, subcontractors, and unions from the beginning of the planning process. The resulting Waste Recovery Plan for Moscone recommended phasing-in program implementation. With tight event schedules due to an 80 percent occupancy rate and little space available for material processing and storage, coordination and cooperation is critical. While some worker groups were initially resistant to change, they realized quickly that reengineering processes for waste reduction also provided an opportunity to improve physical work conditions and lower worker injury rates.

Begun in 1998, the first phase concentrated on materials providing the greatest diversion in the shortest time with the least net economic cost–such as donations of leftover goods, and recycling of corrugated cardboard, pallets of excess literature, cans, and bottles. Waste Reduction was written into staff job descriptions, prizes and other incentives were used to generate interest, and a monthly newsletter was started to give recognition to workers and keep staff informed. An electronic monitoring system was installed on compactors to ensure fullness before emptying. SMG staff was able to secure more donation partners and expand the amount and type of excess materials donated. All show and event coordinators and managers are now routinely educated about the program, and at the close of each show exhibitors are given stickers to put on any leftover goods they select to donate or recycle. Clean-up workers simply set aside those items for separate pickup by the charity’s volunteers.

The second phase included diversion of contractor-generated materials such as carpet padding and pallets, and donation of decorations such as foam core signs. In the third phase, begun in 2000, dedicated project staffing was increased to full time. In 2000-2001, SMG used a grant from the City and County of San Francisco to purchase wood compaction equipment, which increased diversion of broken crates and pallets. The program also focused on collection strategies for loose mixed paper. Waste prevention was added through an emphasis on reusable food service-ware and an aggressive recycled-content purchasing program. During the 2002 Moscone West building expansion, demolition debris was recycled, resource efficient materials and design principles were employed, and dedicated recycling facilities were included in the layout.

Material Diverted from Disposal (tons) for Fiscal Year 2000-2001

MaterialPercent Diverted
Mixed Paper20%
Wood Scraps and Organics16%
Metal (excluding aluminum cans)5%
Bottles and Aluminum Cans3%
Carpet Padding3%

Program Performance

During the first phase of the program, Moscone diverted 440 tons of material from landfills, cut garbage volume in half, and donated 75 tons of recovered goods to local nonprofit organizations. Diversion increased to 800 tons of materials in 2000-2001 despite a decline in business. Overall in 2001, SMG reduced the Moscone Center’s waste volume by 75 percent and waste tonnage by 40 to 50 percent.

SMG is especially proud of the Moscone charitable donation program. In 2000-2001, donated goods became the third largest category of diverted materials with more than a dozen nonprofit organizations benefiting from roughly 200 tons of excess products and reusable materials; only cardboard and mixed paper were higher. In addition, many groups initially approached for donations of leftover material have expanded their giving to include cash donations or service projects benefiting the community.


One existing position was reassigned to full-time waste reduction duties at no additional costs and a Recycling Manager was hired to run the program. SMG received more than $100,000 in combined government grants to offset the initial investment in staffing and equipment. Savings cover the ongoing program expenses.


Through the implementation of waste reduction programs, the Moscone Center cut garbage disposal costs by more than half, relative to 1996 despite a 12 percent rate increase.

Recognition and Publicity

SMG has received three annual business waste reduction “WRAP” awards from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, including a “WRAP of the Year” award in 2001. The Moscone Center also received the 2001 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) in the category of Environmental Economic Partnerships. The award recognizes creative cooperation among the public, private, and/or nonprofit sectors that achieve both environmental and economic results.

The success of its waste reduction programs allows the Moscone Center to distinguish itself from competing convention and meeting facilities. Many professional and business associations now include environmental and social goals in their charters and believe the Moscone waste reduction and donation programs generate a positive atmosphere at their convention. Also, thorough record keeping allows Moscone to demonstrate waste reduction savings to potential clients.

Future Plans

Moscone’s goal is to reduce overall waste disposal by 80 percent by volume through more systematic collection methods, greater outreach to the ten employee unions, adding recycling bins to more areas, and piloting a plant and floral waste diversion program. SMG Moscone is also working with its parent corporation to design waste reduction programs for other SMG managed facilities around the nation.


Recycling Manager
The Moscone Center
747 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 978-3425 or (415) 974-4087