Responses to MPI's survey of 1,100 meeting and hospitality organizations suggest that there are a lot of altruistic people in our industry.
“I want to do right by the world.” “I want to make sure there’s a future for my kids.” “It’s important to give back.”
These are just some of the reasons that meeting professionals have embraced socially responsible business behaviors, according to MPI’s research into Corporate Social Responsibility.
Responses to MPI's survey of 1,100 meeting and hospitality organizations suggest that there are a lot of altruistic people in our industry. Ninety percent of businesses in our sector are involved in some form of CSR activity, with one in four reporting high engagement. And for most companies, this engagement isn’t driven by conventional business concerns, but by a broader sense of citizenship and civic duty. Herein, lessons learned from MPI’s research, and examples from its respondents. The Bottom Line
Only a small number of business leaders think that CSR programs alone can deliver enhanced profitability, though they’re seen by many as providing competitive edge. And the importance of these programs is spreading down the supply chain. More than 50 percent of industry professionals now give precedence to suppliers who have formal CSR policies, and one in three give precedence to suppliers who externally accredit that policy.
While this sort of external accreditation is not without its critics (see MPI’s January 2012 paper Need Rules Apply), it does offer a transparent indication of CSR commitment. Consumers want more than fluffy website straplines. “It’s important for corporations to make and justify that CSR statements, because more and more people are looking for them,” says Lou Marrocco, CMP, president of Pennsylvania-based Brandywine Events.
So, while price remains the main concern for decision-makers, customers aren’t ignoring CSR practices, which presents significant risk for the 100 or so organizations surveyed that think that “CSR is irrelevant to my business.”
More Than Money
More than half of meeting industry businesses strongly agree that they are “trying to give something back” to their communities. Marrocco says that it’s important for businesses to “make an all-out conscious effort to be fully engaged in the community in which they exist as well as in the extended community that we call the world” and that companies should “help better their communities environmentally, and work with outreach programs to help improve the lives of local people.”
And this is happening on a granular level. While more than 80 percent of meetings businesses take the conventional route of supporting charities that are active in their communities, three of five provide their staffs with the time and resources to engage in voluntary work in the community.
Some take this even further. In 2008, RV parts distributor Stag-Parkway Inc. held its annual trade show in New Orleans and paid not only for all staff in attendance but also interested suppliers and dealers to stay an extra night in the city to volunteer for the Habitat for Humanity project building the Musician’s Village in the Upper Ninth Ward. The company also made a financial contribution.
What is Pushing Engagement?
It’s not just about being a good neighbor. Anne Auburn of the Monterey County CVB suggests that companies with strong CSR programs boast less job turnover than their competitors. And 50 percent of boardrooms are feeling pressure for sustainability programs from their stockholders and shareholders—a percentage that is expected to grow in the coming years. Moreover, companies believe that their employees will increasingly expect CSR programs.
But meeting industry businesses are quite coy about sharing information on their responsible initiatives. About one-third of these companies speak with trade and local press about what they are doing, and about the same proportion use their annual reports to share their CSR stories. But only one in ten mention CSR in their recruitment.
MPI’s research shows that the meeting sector sits at the forefront of what business guru Dr. Michael Porter calls the creation of shared value,[i] in which industry companies are increasingly seeking to re-imagine the intersection of society and corporate performance. Porter says that creating a CSR program is a crucial stage for business in this new form of capitalism, in which companies not only adopt ethical practices but also try to reconnect with the values of their communities at large.
A key aspect of shared value is the consideration of long-term effects over immediate gain, through which corporations will begin to regain the respect of society. The meeting industry is on the right track. Some 80 percent of research respondents strongly agree that “it’s important to plan for our long term success,” and 98 percent say they are committed to “well-defined” ethical principles.”
The sector also understands that the reputational aspect of CSR involvement is crucial. More than 90 percent of respondents believe that their CSR activities help people perceive them as “good neighbors.” Seventy-five percent of respondents say that their businesses should help solve social problems in their localities.
The Monterey County CVB works with its members to support the Ranchos Del Rayo project, which helps vulnerable children escape gangs and life-threatening circumstances and places them in trade schools. CVB members donate teaching supplies and other goods to the project and gave them directly to some of the participating youths.
The Ramada Plaza/Manoir de Casino in Gatineau, Canada, collects non-perishable food from clients and suppliers who attend its annual Spirit of Christmas event and passes the donations on to a local food bank—La Manne de l’ile—for distribution to those in need.
What of the Future?
Most meeting industry professionals firmly believe that CSR is here to stay. Long-time meeting pro Corbin Ball stresses that “CSR is an important part of the business conversation” and that planners in particular are in a unique position to guide that conversation toward a more sustainable and responsible way of doing business across almost every sector of the economy.
Says Marrocco: “More and more people are starting to really recognize the fact that you want to do business with a company that has a likeminded approach to doing something for the community and for the environment, and I only see that as growing in leaps and bounds over the next five to 10 years.” Some are less optimistic, however, with a handful of respondents saying that CSR is just the latest fad and that interest will die among customers and suppliers alike.
These respondents are in the super-minority. More than 60 percent say they and their businesses will become even more involved in CSR in the future. In part, there’s a concern that if companies don’t engage in CSR voluntarily, then they risk external regulation and even legislation. Stephanie Rapko of GFS Ontario says, “CSR might even end up being mandatory at some point, just because there’s more pressure being put on us by society and organizations to be responsible because of climate change and the effects it’s having.”
However, the main “push” factors toward greater engagement with CSR relate to points detailed in MPI’s research in earlier this year: increased pressure from external stakeholders (customers and society in general) and from internal sources (stockholders, employees).
This is not to say that there aren’t challenges ahead. Some business leaders continue to focus on cost savings due to global economic uncertainty. Staff shortages and increasing workloads mean fewer resources for CSR initiatives. And some executives think they’re already operating in a responsible fashion, that there’s nothing left for them to contribute.
Adoption of sustainable event standard ISO 20121 will likely be slow (11 percent of respondents are “very likely” to use it, 26 percent are “quite likely” and nearly half are unsure), despite the growing number of clients who give precedence to suppliers with accredited CSR policies.
Presumably, due to the newness of the standard, the requirements will become more widely understood and adopted with time. But it’s up to the industry’s associations to make the importance of accreditation better.
[i] Porter, M.E & Kramer, M.R. "Creating Shared Value. How to Re-invent Capitalism and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth," Harvard Business Review January-February 2011, HBR Reprint R1101C
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