One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure
Zachary Delbex started out as a Teamster who was appalled at the amount of waste created by the convention industry—and he decided to do something about it. Today, he runs Repurpose America, a Las Vegas non-profit that takes discarded items from trade shows and finds creative ways to reuse them.
From this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Delbex received several tons of nonrecyclable materials such as foam board, advertising banners, and magnetic vinyl. Seeking a way to keep the material out of landfills, he teamed up with students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who turned some of the leftovers into costumes for a “trash and fashion,” or “trashion,” show that was held as part of a cultural event for the Chinese New Year.
Models at the show wore headdresses made from clothes hangers and even from takeout containers that had been melted down and spray-painted gold. Dresses were fashioned out of everything from old CDs, to playing cards, to plastic tablecloths and show dailies. Shredded banner material went to make boots and a dragon decoration.
Delbex’s motto is “We regard the disregarded,” meaning people as well as materials. That’s why another side of his business is employing people with mental and physical disabilities to refashion discarded materials into products used at conventions and trade shows, such as tote bags and badge holders.
By selling these items back to the convention industry, Delbex explains, Repurpose America earns some money while simultaneously “closing the loop so that the industry can buy back some of its own waste. And our customers have the satisfaction of knowing they’re buying American-made products that put someone with disabilities to work. In today’s economy, that really means something.”
When you think of Las Vegas, no doubt a roulette wheel—or maybe a wedding chapel—comes to mind. You might picture your meeting attendees rolling dice, but do you imagine them rolling up their sleeves and painting a local school, or picking up trash in a park?
If not, you’ve got the wrong idea about Vegas. Bryan Gay, vice president of hotel sales for Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, says his property frequently gets inquiries from planners about doing corporate social responsibility (CSR) events as part of their meeting. Activities are varied: Some groups might take a day before or after their gathering to rebuild houses for Habitat for Humanity, while others might donate paper, pens, and other supplies from their meeting or trade show to local schools.
Similarly, Amy Allen, marketing director of Las Vegas Meetings by Caesars Entertainment, says that more of her customers are asking to include CSR components in their meetings. “It is definitely a trend,” she says. “Companies are looking for ways to show their employees and customers that they’re good corporate citizens.”
There are practical reasons too. “Sometimes with a Vegas meeting, you’re competing with the destination for your attendees,” notes Alan Ranzer, managing partner of Impact 4 Good, a Bethesda, MD, company that specializes in organizing CSR events at meetings. “So planners want to provide a more meaningful experience—something really memorable, so that attendees want to come.”
Corporate social responsibility needn’t mean community service—even groups that don’t have a day to set aside for a hands-on project can find plenty of ways to contribute to local organizations. One group (that asked not to be named), for example, recently donated the leftover products from their trade show to the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, a nonprofit support group for families of children with cancer. The foundation received paper plates, napkins, hand sanitizer, and other supplies that went directly to a summer camp the organization hosts for patients and families.
Another program, Clean the World, recycles the hotel soaps, shampoos, lotions, and other toiletries from meetings. Any group that stays at one of the Caesars properties in Las Vegas—including Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris Las Vegas, Imperial Palace, Flamingo Las Vegas, Harrahs Las Vegas, and the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino—automatically participates in the program. (Planners who are staying elsewhere can sign up, too.)
Caesars also participates in the Teacher EXCHANGE, a resource center for local public school teachers that recycles meeting supplies.
There are donation buckets in all Caesars properties in which planners, attendees, and exhibitors can leave everything from name badges and lanyards to water bottles and carpet squares. “We’ve had people donate pedometers and birdfeeders that were used in science classes, artificial trees teachers used to decorate their rooms—you name it,” says Allen.
Backpacks and bears
For groups that have more time, CSR events can make for great, cost-effective teambuilders. That was what the group working with Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada found with a recent activity held at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. Attendees assembled Build-A-Bears to give to patients; they divided into groups and competed on trivia quizzes, with winners earning play money they used to “buy” clothes, shoes, and accessories for the bears they put together.
“Each group came up with a name for their bear and a story to go with it,” Smith says. “People were very enthusiastic about the activity—they especially got into it when they found out where the bears were going.”
Dahlton Bennington had similar results with a program organized by Impact 4 Good. Called “Rejuv-A-Nation,” it helped hungry children while teaching attendees about wellness and healthy eating. Attendees packed 300 backpacks with nutritious food for local low-income schoolchildren, and also played an educational game in which they calculated the calories burned by different activities.
The highlight of the program was an old-school “field day” with games like three-legged races and potato sack races. But there was a twist: For the games, the employees teamed up with 40 fifth-graders from the school receiving the backpacks.
“Attendees didn’t expect to spend the day with the kids, and they really delighted in that,” says Bennington, who is director of business meeting services for SFN Group, a staffing and recruiting company in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
“The event turned out to be a great way for our employees to get to know one another, while also giving them that sense of accomplishment you get from having done a good deed.”
Las Vegas will probably always be Sin City in the popular imagination, but CSR programs can open attendees’ eyes to a whole different side of the destination.
“Giving back to the community lets people learn about the city in a different way,” notes Ranzer. “It helps them see the people of Vegas, their challenges, and the great organizations that are working for their benefit.”
Allen adds, “It’s not every day that things that are good for your business and that make you feel good as a person align.”