Bringing an event back to life in a physical environment after a pandemic is not easy!

The world has changed, there are new resourcing structures, fewer suppliers, and increased costs as well as stepping into the unknown; “is there still an appetite to return to physical events?”

These constraints did not hold me back. I was determined that 2023 was the year that I would truly drive sustainability throughout Cisco’s flagship event, Cisco Live EMEA. This is an award-winning event, with an audience of 14,000 plus in attendance, the perfect platform to showcase positive change, amplifying Cisco’s purpose to ‘power an inclusive future for all’ and align with Cisco’s goal to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040 across its value chain.

My vision was to deliver an environmentally conscious event that is fully inclusive and accessible.

I set the team two goals:

1) To reduce, recycle, reuse and repurpose across the event delivery with the goal of minimizing our environmental impact.
2) To showcase how Cisco can help participants reach their own sustainability goals.

I am passionate about making a difference, but it is one thing to make a difference personally, and it is quite another to ask suppliers, sponsors, customers and internal stakeholders to transform the way in which they work to promote positive behaviour that advances sustainability. Implementing change can be challenging, balancing expectations with the need to operate more sustainably is a challenge we are all facing on many different levels.

So, I hear you asking: how did you go about making this transformation?

We created a set of guiding principles, and we asked all stakeholders to adhere to them. Working together we were able to create a collaborative approach enabling us to reduce our carbon emissions whilst all the time raising awareness, educating, encouraging participation and creating best practices.

Sustainability was at the forefront of our decision-making process, and we worked closely with our suppliers to implement and drive sustainability best practices from procurement through to design, production, delivery, and waste management.  We made small incremental changes such as implementing a ‘no giveaway’ policy.  Partners and internal stakeholders were asked to refrain from giving away items within the exhibition space; previously these would have been used to incentivise participants onto their stands but instead they were encouraged to look at alternative methods such as gamification, both analogue and digital, the use of Food & Beverage items or offering content or further training in a digital format, allowing  a reduction in the amount of single-use items at the event.

Below are some of the ways in which we were able to make a positive impact and achieve my goal to reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose and generate data to measure progress:

1) Partnerships: Our event experience agency George P Johnson was fully supportive of these goals, and we agreed to add sustainability questions into their recruiting of suppliers to deliver the event, selecting suppliers that have a similar sustainability vision and working together in close collaboration. For example, we worked closely with our venue, The Rai, Amsterdam to share with us their sustainability initiatives and then collaborated together on how we could enhance and expand them. We also made changes that other events working at this venue can now benefit from.

2) Waste management: A waste management team, Ostrero, was recruited to work with us on our waste hierarchy. In partnership with the venue, all front-of-house waste was sorted into waste streams, enabling us to understand and measure the waste from the event and donate and recycle where possible. Moving forwards, we will be proactive in looking into new waste streams as well as approaching companies within the local community to understand what materials are needed and how we can help support them. It is important to understand how items are disposed of and track their full lifecycle.

3) Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: By reducing power at different stages of the event delivery and powering off whenever possible, we were able to reduce our energy consumption. 100% of our power was from renewable sources including solar panels on the roof of the venue.

4) Sustainable Transportation: We encouraged the use of public transport for participants, and they took advantage of the venue’s good public transport links. An area we will be focusing on next year is in the reduction of diesel trucking by using biodiesel fuel when possible and consolidating shipments to reduce the amount of trucking required.

5) Hospitality: We were able to minimize food waste through careful menu planning, and the waste that we did have was used for livestock feed. By working closely with our venue, The Rai, Amsterdam we could prioritize sourcing local and ethical produce.

6) Measurement and accountability: We used a carbon emissions measurement tool to collect data that will allow us to track progress, identify areas for improvement and set targets for the future. In addition, we got a full waste report that provided insights into our waste streams. It is important to be able to communicate sustainability achievements, to be transparent to our stakeholders and continue to share the results to show their contribution counts.

For my second goal I wanted to demonstrate how Cisco embeds sustainability into its products, offerings and solutions to help customers make progress with their sustainability goals.  This was achieved by creating the Sustainability Zone, where we hosted sustainability demos educating participants on how to implement and achieve their own sustainability goals.

In addition, we had sustainability content running across all programs within the event.  Our Social Impact area enabled us to showcase Cisco’s social responsibility case studies to provide insight into how Cisco is working towards its goal to positively impact  1 billion lives by 2025 through our social impact grants and signature programs.

Everyone in the industry is in a learning phase but the more we share best practices and continue to push the boundaries the better the results. We know we still have a long way to go but every step counts and through social impact and sustainability initiatives at Cisco Live EMEA we were able to amplify Cisco’s purpose to power an inclusive future for all.

This journey continues for the Cisco Live EMEA community that I am so proud of, as we embark on our 2024 planning. Now that we have measurement data, we can set targets to take the next steps to achieving my vision.

Special thanks to George P Johnson, Ostrero, Roseline Logistics Limited, Trace, Mike Conaty at Amaranth and Helen Simmons at Truly Events Ltd and to all of our Cisco Live EMEA team, suppliers, sponsors, internal stakeholders that helped to drive this change.