The Real Deal: Cisco’s All-In Effort to Deliver Sustainability to GSX

2017 Changemaker Dannette Veale is behind the program that diverted 71 percent of the GSX waste from landfill in its second year.

MeetingsNet’s annual Changemaker list recognizes 20 outstanding meetings professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find all the profiles here.

Dannette Veale
Manager, Digital Practice & Experience Strategy, Global Sales Events & Talent Cisco Systems Inc.
For successfully and enthusiastically managing an ambitious sustainability program

Making Change
Sustainability is part of our DNA at Cisco. In 2014, our 17,000-person Cisco sales conference, the Global Sales Experience or GSX, transitioned from a hybrid meeting to a live meeting in Las Vegas. The first year of the live GSX, we only had 18 weeks to plan, so our sustainability efforts started in earnest in 2015, the second year. I volunteered to head up our sustainability efforts and brought on MeetGreen as a partner.
We began by using the ISO 20121 event sustainability framework to formalize our policy and management process. To better understand areas of sustainability opportunities, we surveyed event vendors about their sustainability practices, then identified objectives and metrics to define and measure success. This process led to an event sustainability strategy that would guide future event planning.

We set baselines in 2015 and spent a lot of time on educational efforts. In 2016, the conference diverted 71 percent of waste from the landfill, reduced event signage by 39 percent, improved the use of recyclable paper signs, and cut foam core use by 85 percent. The community impact included sending 2,791 kilograms of post-event material and championing a pilot food donation program resulting in 324 kilograms of food to a Las Vegas-based community group. Among our strategies: clings that aren’t PVC-based, printing signage on fabric that can be stretched over boxes and columns, sourcing rigid boards that are more compostable than foam core, and using digital signage (fueled by the solar array at Mandalay Bay). Our community donations actually went down in the second year because of more accurate meal counts and the increased use of reuseable materials.

What’s Next?
Food donation is complex, involving training hotel staff, as well as issues around storing, packaging, and transporting food. There is a lot of resistance, but I’m super happy that MGM has agreed to a food donation program at its Aria property, and has committed to exploring the program’s expansion to all its properties and the convention centers. In 2017, we will try some other tactics such as an “ugly fruit day,” serving blemished, but perfectly good fruit, and this year I’ve finally sold them on a beef-free day to raise awareness of the benefits for the planet of water-conscious choices.

Managing Change
One of my favorite quotes is from Einstein: “If at first an idea does not seem absurd, then there is no hope for it.” To make change you have to be a champion of your ideas and be willing to be vulnerable—not everyone’s going to like them. And you have to be tenacious. If you don’t make it happen one year, then maybe the next.

Think Different
As part of Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, we’ve worked to connect attendees at the GSX conference with the company’s outreach, including its Connected Caring program, which links popular artists such as Keith Urban with patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital via Telepresence, and Connected Conservation, which uses Cisco technology to help stop rhino poaching. In 2017 the focus will shift to Connected Education with some very exciting programs that I can’t talk about yet!

Role Model
My boss at Cisco, Alex Sapiz, senior director, global sales events and talent, is awesome. She’s the champion of disruption. With meetings, it’s easy to get complacent because something works, but then your events won’t be as effective. She pushes us to “think wrong,” which allows us to keep shaking the rug every year.


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