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Beyond Talk: Executing the Sustainability Journey

Stacey Sanchez, CMP, CMM, built an award-winning event sustainability program once. Now she’s out to do it again.

MeetingsNet’s 2022 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2022 Changemakers list here. 

Stacey Sanchez, CMP, CMM

Senior Director of Firm Events, DLA Piper

For launching an award-winning sustainability program that included both environmental and social components

Beginning in 2017, Stacey Sanchez took global accounting association PrimeGlobal on a sustainability journey. As director, global events, she started by reducing the carbon footprint of the organization’s meetings, then introduced purposeful teambuilding and United Nations sustainability goals, and eventually earned recognition as “Sustainable Association of the Year” from International Accounting Bulletin for two consecutive years (2020/2021 and 2021/2022).

This spring, Sanchez took a position as senior director of firm events at global law firm DLA Piper. At her new job, she brings to the table much of what she learned from making event sustainability a priority over the past five years.

Her efforts at PrimeGlobal began with some simple math. “Once I actually understood how much waste one attendee could produce at a conference, it just blew my mind. Meet Green estimates that each attendee produces about four pounds of waste per day. Multiply that by, say, the 300 people we had at our largest meeting, and then by three days.” Those nearly two tons of waste got her thinking.

“I started researching to see where we could make a difference, and I realized that in all aspects of meeting planning you can make a difference,” she says. Working with chefs to source sustainable local food and partnering with LEED-certified venues were two early strategies that had an impact. And her advice for planners who are taking initial steps to reduce their meetings’ carbon footprint is to “choose a venue that’s passionate about sustainability.” A hotel or convention center that already has systems for, say, water conservation, composting, environmentally friendly cleaning, or donating meeting materials gives groups a head start.

Sanchez’s research into greener meetings brought her to a related realization: “Being sustainable also means having socially responsible business practices, like giving back to the cities where we hold our events.” To work that idea into PrimeGlobal’s meetings, she began to turn traditional networking events into what she calls “teambuilding with a purpose.” These included a variety of give-back activities like building prosthetic arms, putting together water filters for the Wine to Water organization, and constructing wheelchairs for veterans. “We had veterans come and receive the wheelchairs, which was so rewarding,” Sanchez says. “Members were so excited, they would look forward to what we were going to do the next year,” Sanchez says.

“Where it really changed for our organization,” she says, “is when leadership started to realize that adopting sustainability is more than just doing the right thing,” Sanchez said. “There’s a bottom-line business advantage to environmental and social initiatives and having sustainable practices. In fact, I’ve heard a couple members say, ‘That’s one thing that drew us to you; no other association is doing it.”

Sanchez says that sustainability gradually morphed into more of an organization-wide effort. “It became part of our business make sure that everything we were doing with events aligned with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. That was our framework.”

And even more rewarding, she says, was to feel the enthusiasm for sustainability flowing outward. “When our members started to see all we were doing, they were inspired to do their own initiatives internally.” Attendees would seek her out to learn more about the projects they were doing. “To me, that was the best; so gratifying and satisfying,” she says.

In late May, eight weeks into her new job, Sanchez was looking ahead to creating an event sustainability program at DLA Piper. She says the firm is currently working to reduce its carbon footprint on a corporate level, but has not yet implemented change on the event level. “There’s so much opportunity for us to really make a difference.” 

View the full list of 2022 Changemakers

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