by Geraldine Gatehouse | November 21, 2011
It had been awhile since I researched statistics on how organizations are impacted by finding and retaining well-qualified employees. In the midst of my research, I pulled up some compelling statistics about the impact of corporate social responsibility on companies.

As far as recruiting is concerned, 40 percent of MBA graduates rated CSR as a an “extremely” or “very” important measure of a company’s reputation (January 2008 Hill & Knowlton study), and MBA grads will sacrifice an average of $13,700 in annual salary to work for a socially responsible company (2003 Stanford University study).

CSR is also important in retention of staff: 83 percent of employees in the G7 countries (the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K.) said positive company CSR reputation increased their loyalty (2006 GlobeScan study), while 57 percent of employees said company CSR reputation was a factor in retaining them (2007 Towers Perrin-ISR global survey. In the area of productivity, fully engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to exceed performance expectations than their disengaged colleagues (May 2009 Hay Group study). A good example is Best Buy, where a two percent increase in employee engagement at each of its stores corresponded to an average $100,000 increase in its annual sales (Business Week, “The Case for Optimism,” August 13, 2009).

These are compelling numbers that smart businesses will take note of. I strongly believe that, as an industry, we have the opportunity to become leaders in the areas of sustainability and CSR. By educating ourselves, we can then educate our clients on their benefits and potential impact, including attracting talent.

When I heard that Elizabeth Henderson, the chief sustainability strategist for Meeting Change, was working on a book, CSR and Ethics in the Meetings and Event Industry, I felt her views would give some additional insight into the subject of CSR in our industry. Co-authored with her business partner, Mariela McIlwraith, the book is due to be published in 2012 by John Wiley & Sons Inc., as part of its Wiley Event Management Series. Henderson was kind enough to contribute the following piece.

“CSR in the Meetings and Events Industry”
Corporate social responsibility, social responsibility citizenship, sustainability. All of these terms have been proliferating throughout the meetings and events industry over the past few years, driven by business practices that have embraced CSR for the past few decades in various incarnations, from philanthropy to operational efficiency to the recognition that economic success depends on both society and the environment. The concept is one that integrates environmental sustainability with economic success and social justice, otherwise known as the Triple Bottom Line of people, planet, and profit.

While the concept of people, planet, and profit has been recognized, there has been an emphasis on the application of environmental sustainability, or “green meetings” in industry parlance, within the industry. This is possibly because it is the easiest target to reach, and the one where logistically proficient meeting and event professionals feel that they have the greatest amount of control. It is also the area where direct financial benefits can be most easily reached, from replacing bottled water with tap water to reducing the use of energy and materials. All of these directly reduce the bottom line and are easy to justify; they both save money and are good for the environment.

The application of social sustainability within the industry has been slower. It is a slightly more complicated concept to grasp in terms of how a limited-term event can have an impact on society and community. Most events implement what could be categorized as “transactional CSR,” involving a one-time donation of time, money, or expertise, as opposed to “transformational CSR,” where long-term shared value is created for both the event organizer and the community. An example of transformational CSR would be the capacity built in the community as a result of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where the work they did in sustainable purchasing left a community legacy in terms of a more skilled workforce.

An idea whose time has come for the meetings and events industry is that of “cluster CSR.” A 2009 study of the business events industry in Australia found that larger or international organizations had more resources and internal capability to implement CSR. The idea of cluster CSR is that groups, or clusters, of small-to-medium (SMEs) sized business would act together to create policies, tools, and other resources to help them implement CSR. This would not only make them more successful but would raise the profile of the cluster and their ability to leverage CSR for tangible and intangible benefits. In the industry, I see a great opportunity for convention and visitors bureaus as well as larger organizations, such as IMEX, to implement cluster CSR within their community and within their value chains.

CSR gets a lot of talk in the industry, but far fewer organizations that talk about it have successfully implemented it in all of the triple bottom line areas of people, planet, and profit. This means that there is a large opportunity for both organizations and for the industry to benefit from a greater degree of implementation in the future.

Henderson is an experienced hospitality and meetings industry practitioner with a specialization in sustainability. She was the volunteer conference chair and design team leader for the wildly successful 2011 GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Portland, OR, and is again leading the design team for the 2012 event in Montreal. (Also, she was named one of North America's Most Innovative Event Pros for 2011 by BizBash Media for her work on the gamification of that conference and is at the forefront of using game-play concepts to meet business objectives, enhance learning, and change behaviors at meetings and events.)

I believe we can make our industry known for the good it does and the positive contributions it makes to communities worldwide. In so doing, we give ourselves great tools to strengthen our businesses, help others, and enhance the reputation of our industry. It doesn’t matter where you begin, or how much or little you do at first, it is taking the step to choose a CSR aspect that appeals to you and build from there.

Quote of the Month

It is not good enough to do what the law says. We need to be in the forefront of these [social responsibility] issues. —Anders Dahlvig, CEO of IKEA, quoted in the Financial Times.

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner, speaker, and instructor with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, a member of Meeting Professionals International, a committee member of the 2011 Site Classic, a 2010 past board member of Site Southern California, and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at [email protected], via her 

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