by Steffi Kordy, SITE Florida | Caribbean
Alone we can do so little, together we can achieve so much! How a sustainable networking event is a win-win for all!
Eleven months into the pandemic, it was time for us to get out and network again. Blessed with warm weather for outdoor events in the winter, the Florida & Caribbean Chapter thought of a meaningful way to get its members out of their cocoons and mingling at a networking event again. The board came up with the idea of a beach clean-up followed with an opportunity to socialize al-fresco afterwards.
One of the challenges for our chapter is that we stretch the entire state of Florida as well as most of the Caribbean Islands from the Bahamas to Barbados. Due to our geographical size, it is almost impossible to get all the members together, so we decided to have the same event at three different locations on one day simultaneously. Not only would this allow for more members to participate, it also helps us being mindful of our carbon footprint.
Three of our board members took on their respective region, and we arranged for a mangrove clean-up in St. Pete on Florida’s west coast, a beach clean-up at Bill Bags State Park near Miami and a beach & mangrove clean-up on Grand Cayman. Tracy Connolly from Visit St. Pete/ Clearwater spearheaded the mangrove clean-up at Weedon Island Natural Preserve, where they not only collected about 15 burlap bags (repurposed from local coffeeshops!) full of debris, but also invited the participants to a self-guided kayak-tour through the delicate mangrove eco-system afterwards. Goddess Aurora blessed all the helpers with a gorgeous sunset on Florida’s Westcoast and to say that everyone left feeling great about their day was an understatement.
Many scientific studies have shown that doing good helps our brains release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals of our grain matter. When you do something good for someone else, your brain’s pleasure centers light up, releasing endorphin and producing a “Helpers High”. Not to mention, doing good has also been known to generate feelings of satisfaction and gratitude, promoting mental health and happiness. Doing good even is supposed to add to your life expectancy, and after the loss of 2020, we all need an extra year!
The same feeling of purpose and wellbeing was sensed across the Caribbean Sea in Cayman, where participants got up early enjoying the sunrise while cleaning up the pristine beaches near the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. Our board member and the hotel’s DOSM Virgil Napier, who helped arrange for the clean-up on site, initially was wondering if there was enough trash to be found given that the resorts beaches are some of the best our planet has to offer. But all you have to do is just go a little off site and look behind the rocks and into the mangroves and there was a load of trash washed up from across the ocean. In fact, by capita, his team of helpers ended up collecting the most trash – in our case, that was a good thing! The Kimpton Seafire resort hosted all volunteers including former SITE’s sustainability ambassador and strong supporter Jane Scaletta for a healthy breakfast at their beachfront restaurant afterwards. Watching the waves lap up onto shore, while they enjoyed French pressed coffee and house made croissants—the perfect way to start the day.
The third event in Miami took place along the precious beaches and iconic lighthouse of Bill Baggs State Park. Steffi Kordy, SITE Florida & Caribbean’s sustainability ambassador, arranged for our volunteers to meet Manny Rionda, the founder of “Fill-a-bag”, a local beach cleanup organization. He provided us with the gear (reusable buckets, gloves, and pickers) and explained what to look for besides the obvious trash, namely the micro-plastics. These tiny pieces of shredded plastic unfortunately are all over the beaches these days, sadly probably no place on earth is free of it anymore. It did not take long for our eyes to get trained to look for these small pieces of debris in the sand. It is those small particles that all too often get mistaken by birds and fish as food, end up in their stomachs, where of course they can’t be digested. Eventually, they are ending up on our plates – unless we help collecting and disposing of the microplastic pieces properly. After about an hour and a half of combing the beach in small groups, we ended the event with a cool cocktail and a magnificent sunset at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne. What a treat!
Did I mention that this event happened while still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic? For this reason, we limited the number of participants, and all parts of the events were held outdoors. Proper Covid-19 protocols were maintained, and it is now weeks past the event, and we are proud to say that no one fell ill to Covid-19. It shows that events can happen safely, and they can be meaningful in so many ways.
This may, for all the hardships the pandemic brought upon us, be one of the lessons learned for our industry: Offer events that have a sustainability factor, present purpose and a “feel good” character. It encourages heartfelt networking, teamwork, it shares positivity and unites us with colleagues or coworkers. I promise, it is contagious, but in a very good way!
To summarize and make it appliable to your chapter no matter where you are located:
- Try to mix doing good with having fun – always a great recipe of success! In our case, we opted for a beach cleanup followed by a cocktail reception, breakfast or kayak outing – depending on your location and facilities.
- Make your event accessible while keeping your carbon footprint in mind (to get to your location), but also avoiding food waste and other debris (e.g. collect name badges at the end of the event to be re-used on your next event)
- If your chapter covers a large region: decentralize and offer your event simultaneously in different locations to make sure we offer networking opportunities for all members.
- Find a meaningful cause –a beach cleanup, but it could be painting a local children’s playground, distributing amenities to the homeless, bringing plants to a nursery home etc.
- Try to re-purpose: We asked a local coffee roaster to give us their burlap bags for collection, in other cases it can be repurposing table décor such as wine bottles for vases.
- Partner with like-minded hospitality institutions to spread the knowledge and fun. We partnered with the Sustainable Events Network of Florida and the Miami SKAL chapter. It increases networking opportunities and lessens the workload for each volunteer organization. Next time you get to piggyback.
- Communicate with your hotel or restaurant partner to make sure they understand how important it is for SITE to not use disposable dishes or excess food. They will be glad you mentioned it, not having the pressure of over-serving us.
- Leave a legacy: although we already donated our time and manpower, our chapter also made a monetary donation to the cause-at-hand (Fill-a-Bag and Weedon Island Preserve). These non-profits lend us their expertise, and we were able to give back. We also added a separate “donate” button during registration for participants to add a donation for the cause.
All in all: When there is a win-win situation, we are making the world a better place! Do good, feel good – spread the message!