by Leo Jakobson | June 01, 2016
When it comes to good corporate citizenship -- and really, good citizenship in general -- the conversation has largely moved beyond just the environment. That's not to say that environmental issues are becoming less important, as concerns like climate change and water resources have grown into a major political topic across the country and the globe in the last decade. It's just that other issues, like diversity, philanthropy, and being involved in the community your employees live in and work in -- corporate social responsibility -- are becoming part of the same conversation.

"Our viewpoint is that sustainability differs from 'green' in that the term 'green' focuses on environmental conditions," says Bonnie Boisner, vice president, event management, at Minneapolis-based Aimia, a leading incentive and motivation firm, "whereas 'sustainability' is a more holistic term, encompassing economic, social, and/or behavioral issues."

Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer of MGM Resorts International, one of the world's leading casino-resort companies, says much the same thing, noting that the understanding of these issues by both the gaming industry and corporate America in general has "matured" in the last five or six years. Prior to 2010 or so, he says, "everybody was recycling and that was their part of 'doing well.' Today, we're looking at more comprehensive programs that are less about a marketing campaign and very much more about sustainability, over the long term.

"When we talk about corporate social responsibility [CSR], it is [the environment] and it is philanthropy and it is diversity," he says. "In our company, we have a major focus on all three of those. I don't think you could separate them today."

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
That growing focus on CSR is true for much of corporate America as well, Dominguez says. "It is important that when they take meetings off site, that they're working with companies that show the same values or at least share the same intensity and focus on sustainability."

Nor is it just an American phenomenon. "I wish more people were asking, but it is just not a decision-making factor," says Cindy Hoddeson, director of meeting and incentive sales for the Monaco Government Tourist Office. For one thing, the only other destination as well known for its casino resorts as Las Vegas takes environmental issues very seriously and invests a great deal of money and effort in them, and this focus starts at the top. "Our environment is one of the hot buttons with HSH Prince Albert II, and this trickles down to daily life in the principality," says Hoddeson.

Aimia's Boisner says that the sustainability efforts by potential meetings venues are an effective selling point to both third-party planning companies like Aimia and corporate clients.

"More and more organizations are looking closely at the impact they have on the environment," Boisner says. "This includes making good choices to do business with organizations that have common sustainability goals. Meetings and events provide an exceptional opportunity to showcase among attendees your organization's commitment to sustainability."

Dominguez, who served as chairman of Meeting Professionals International for 18 months ending in January, has a slightly different perspective on how important sustainability is to corporate clients.  

"The research we've seen in this market is it's important to [planners and corporations], but you also see in those same surveys that it's not a deal breaker," he says.

That said, Dominguez adds that the improving economy has created a seller's market for hotels, so with planners facing higher prices and difficulty finding available space, the environment may be taking a back seat for now.

"The planners have to have their meetings, so their choices might be limited," he says. "If they have the choice, they are going to try to partner with somebody that is working to preserve the environment."