The following is a guest blog from
Dr. Alex Kenyon of the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and
Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University. Leeds Met is conducting MPI's research into corporate social responsibility and the meeting industry. Current results can be found here.
The London 2012 Olympics will be the first Games to offer five sustainable themes through the principles of One Planet Living. It will pursue a goal of zero net carbon emissions and choose existing (versus purpose-built) buildings and structures whenever possible.
Meat and eggs at hospitality outlets will come from British organic farms, and tea, coffee and sugar will come from fair trade sources. Sponsors such as Coca Cola (see our case study here) will use solar electricity.
It’s not just the Olympics and its organizers focusing on sustainable initiatives. MICE sectors worldwide are engaging in community initiatives, charity work and, of course, environmental practices. But these experts have conducted little (if any) research into whether their delegates are aware—or even care—that they are traveling on a bio-fuel bus or consuming foods from a local delicatessen. If they don’t, why bother with it anyway?
Well, there is growing evidence that CSR agendas and strategies can enhance reputation and identity in the minds of stakeholders. Consider that 75 percent of CEOs are concerned about maintaining their organization’s image, particularly with an increased appetite for transparency, communication and trust; it makes sense to explore avenues to enhance market value. So for some time, organizations that host meetings and events—from annual conferences to international sporting events—have begun to embrace and see the benefits of a range of CSR initiatives.
But do buyers and delegates really care?
Organizations generally center their strategies and plans on customers (at least the successful ones do). Long gone are the days when organizations launched new products and services without a wealth of research into the needs and wants of their highly defined target audiences. Over time, and thanks to increasing technological advances, consumers have developed a voice that, through customer feedback mechanisms and social networking sites, gets louder, more forceful and more influential daily.
Organizations that listen, realize that CSR has a significant future, particularly when these consumer voices turn to community action. Social network Carrot Mob encourages “buycotting” organizations that don’t engage to force change. It’s just one of the more radical examples of the common phenomenon of consumers sharing information and judgement based on experience and beliefs—also known as political consumerism. Belief has increased in importance—not surprising, some say, given the current economic climate and a decade of corporate scandals. And so, establishing trust becomes paramount to success.
Studies confirm that consumers expect and want organizations to be economically viable and play by the rules. But they also want ethical, socially responsible and philanthropic enterprises.  Indeed, consumers like to associate with and promote organizations that mirror their own behaviors.   And so, planners host meetings at hotels that conserve energy, water and waste and offer locally based food menus. But do delegates consider these factors when they attend?
There is evidence (see the MPI global study on CSR) that many hotels, conference centers and stadiums are improving their offerings to meet demand. But it’s hardly any wonder that some organizations engage in CSR ad hoc, considering the extensive choices of environmental and socially responsible initiatives. And simple questions arise about on consumer CSR preference and the value consumers attach to practical CSR experiences: Do delegates consider “sheets changed on request” as more important than “energy efficient light-bulbs?” Should charitable donations help local communities or major global disaster recovery efforts? Pondering these unknowns, organization initiatives can become sporadic and reactive.
And don’t forget the longstanding fear of scepticism, namely that cynical consumers and media will, for example, jeer about recycling programs that they perceive as attempts to evade landfill taxes.
Despite the cynics, there is growing evidence that consumers engage with and highly approve of the added value provided by organizations that have a credible track record of engaging in environmental and socially responsible activities. CSR appeals to and satisfies a growing body of socially conscious consumers.
But there’s still little evidence that delegates actually care. That's why MPI has engaged researchers at the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University to establish if a) attendees expect sustainable event elements, b) feel organizations should engage in local communities and c) think that engagement only occurs to increase the bottom line. Researchers also seek to discover if and when CSR influences purchase decisions. The survey is live until March 31.
Want to know more about your own delegates and buyers?
Planners and suppliers looking to find out about how important CSR is to their clients and delegates can contact the Leeds Metro research team for a free survey link. Anyone with a link will receive individual results, which will also inform the global findings. Results will be available in July. Contact Dr. Alexandra Kenyon at +44 (0) 113 812 4930 or email@example.com.
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