With the recent celebration of Earth Day, I was reminded of the approach many corporations are taking to institute sustainable practices not only into their organization, but also their meetings and events. This month’s profile focuses on a planner who is determined to make a difference. Joe Salazarte is manager of the meeting and event services department for Cox Enterprises, Inc., one of the nation’s leading media companies and providers of automotive services. He is responsible for overseeing the strategic meetings management for all businesses of Cox (Enterprises, Communications, Auto Trader, Cox Media Group and Manheim). Additionally, Joe serves on the Board of Directors of the Green Meeting Industry Council – Atlanta Chapter and the Atlanta’s Table Advisory Board of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Joe, how did you get started in the hospitality industry and how long have you been a meeting planner?
I graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in computer science and moved to Miami, Fla. I started as a front desk associate at the Miami Airport Marriott Hotel. Two years later, I was offered the opportunity to run a hospitality desk for an incentive program at El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico. The president of the company was so impressed with my hard work and people skills that he [eventually] offered me the meeting planner position at his firm. I worked at this incentive house for seven years, during which I traveled the world planning and operating exciting and exotic trips for our clients. In 1999, I moved to Atlanta and landed a job as the senior planner at World Travel Meetings and Incentives. I joined Cox Enterprises in 2003 as a senior meeting planner. In 2005, I was promoted to manager of the meeting and event services department.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy the opportunity that my company and my position provide for me to engage in building lasting relationships with my colleagues and industry partners; the encouragement from my company leaders to be a good citizen of the communities we serve; and the support that I receive to implement sustainable and environmentally friendly initiatives in our companies’ meetings and events.
How have you introduced and implemented green and sustainable practices into your meetings and events?
I was very excited to have the opportunity to introduce sustainable initiatives into our meetings and events. Cox Enterprises, Inc. has always taken pride in being good corporate citizens and an environmental leader. To introduce these initiatives, I had to educate myself on the various options available at the time. This was followed by the education of the team of meeting planners in my department. Then, one step at a time, we began introducing these initiatives to our meeting hosts. I began with small things such as electronic registration communications and water stations instead of plastic bottles, amongst others. I now have a green clause that I send to the venues I contract. Though not every venue has all of the items in the clause, many can certainly be implemented. As sustainable resources become more available and affordable, [in time,] we should be able to check off all of the items on this clause.
Please tell our audience more about the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) and your involvement.
I am currently the president-elect for the GMIC – Atlanta Chapter. GMIC members are a passionate and committed global group of individuals, who strive to create a better and more sustainable world through practices in the meeting and event industry. We try to accomplish our goals through knowledge, experience, creativity, innovation and measurable results. Our vision is to transform the meetings industry by creating a more successful and sustainable global meetings marketplace.
When I was approached to join GMIC – Atlanta Chapter as a board member, I was very excited. It was an opportunity to encourage and influence change in the meeting and hospitality industry as it relates to sustainability and the protection of natural resources. I am proud to be involved with this organization and encourage others to get involved, too.
What are your favorite things about the hospitality industry?
I enjoy the energy and excitement of our ever-changing industry. There is always something new to offer our meeting/conference attendees: new venues, advanced technology and very creative WOW factors in presentations and décor of any program. I also admire the dedication and commitment of my industry colleagues who always find ways to enhance the way we do business by working together and adopting innovative practices and initiatives, such as sustainability.
How about sharing some advice with our audience?
I believe in balance, fairness, respect and honesty. It is through honest and fair business practices and strong partnerships with our business colleagues that we create a strong and successful meeting and hospitality industry, regardless of current economic and social events. I encourage everyone to practice sustainability in all aspects of our lives: work, home and the communities we serve. We must be committed to helping shape a better world through responsible actions, [as an] industry and individuals.
Joe, thank you for sharing with us, and for everything you do. I’d also like to encourage everyone to get involved with the Green Meeting Industry Council. The organization is global, and local chapters are currently forming. For more information, please visit greenmeetings.info.