A major boost of CSR in the boardroom

11th Mar, 2015

Corporate Social Responsibility is nothing new when it comes to the MICE market, but the way it's looked at in the meetings realm is changing. What planners are finding is that your clients may not be knocking down the door asking for a CSR component, but delegates are seeking a taste of this element when attending a conference.

Text by Lane Nieset


The industry is taking note and pushing the trend in the right direction. Big name hotel brands and convention centres are jumping on board offering planners everything they need to seamlessly weave CSR activities and sustainable options into the planning and executing process. Welcome to a world where delegates and destinations are driving these efforts just as much as the companies behind the conference.

Destination-driven incentives
"I think consumer expectations have changed," says Wonderful Copenhagen Convention Director Jonas Wilstrup. "Where socially and environmentally conscious meetings used to be a 'special requirement,' I think it is now an expectation. But we experience that clients more or less expect that CSR is already 'taken care’ of by either the hotel, the venue or suppliers in general. Therefore clients don’t necessary ask for it."

Guy Bigwood, MCI Group Sustainability Director, says they often ask attendees what they expect and are looking for out of an event, and about 80 percent expect the organizer to take a proactive stance in terms of sustainability at the event: "Consumers are starting to expect a lot more and our event organisers aren’t keeping up with that. If we ask the same questions (in regard to sustainability) to the organisers, probably around 30 percent would say 'our clients don’t care about it.' There's a massive disconnect with most of the organisers not opening their eyes about what's going on out there."

As Bigwood explains, there's a handful of CVBs like Wonderful Copenhagen and Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau in Bangkok that realise it's their role to lead the industry to a better place and drive sustainable development, while also cutting costs.

As the deemed Capital of Sustainable Meetings, Copenhagen continues to make major strides forward in terms of showcasing possibilities for sustainable solutions on the supply side, as well as ways for delegates to engage with the city and community. With their #BeeSustain initiative, Wonderful Copenhagen shares green solutions and best practices, creating a resource for planners looking to reduce a company's environmental footprint, as well as costs. "The environmental footprint generated from the activities in the meetings industry is substantial and we all have a responsibility to find solutions, but the clients have the power to make our industry more sustainable and they should ask for sustainable solutions," Wilstrup explains.

CSR takes centre stage at hotel meetings
Back in the early 2000s, carbon-less meetings were taking steam in the industry, with small movements to reduce waste like cutting back on plastic bottles, paper and recycling bins. Now these efforts are becoming part of the package for corporate meetings at hotels looking at increasing CSR efforts from the food to the incentive activities.

"Corporate meetings and events are definitely seeing greater take up for local, seasonal and sustainably sourced food, as well as innovative meeting packages," says Pat Gallardo Dwyer, director of CSR and Sustainability for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. "There is interest in particular things like access to sense of place, whether it's cultural, nature and conservation activities or meeting local children, visiting schools and orphanages."

The main components behind this push? Both delegates and corporations wanting to be resource-conscious, eco-friendly, innovative and cost-efficient.

"RFPs from corporate accounts have started to ask about green meeting packages but those who take their events seriously, whether because they are Fortune 500 companies who are measuring their CO2 footprint or are managing the environmental impacts of their events, find themselves working with our hotel events and F&B teams to create innovative and environmentally-conscious events," Gallardo explains.

With the development of these new CSR-driven programs, hotel brands are becoming a one-stop-shop for sustainability, offering energy-efficient venues, sustainable cuisine and products, and partnering with local organisations for activities.

One of the main trends is getting delegates out of the boardroom and taking team building into the community, as simple onsite donations are not enough (although even this gesture can make a huge impact for a charity). Attendees want to get to know the area they're visiting and see how they can physically change a community, and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

One example is a corporate teambuilding activity at Shangri-La's Mactan Resort & Spa in Cebu, Philippines where attendees worked with the Barangay Tingo school across the island, created artificial coral reef houses, and participated in beach clean ups - all in one visit..

Another major trend across the board is a growing focus on improving the food factor at events, incorporating organic elements or locally sourced ingredients, supporting the community as well as supporting the health and satisfaction of the attendees. "There's a trend coming through that event food can't be worse than what you'd eat in a restaurant," Bigwood says. "Some brands are thinking that the food at their event is a real way to change the event experience. People get that when it's 30 or 40 people, but when you're talking thousands of people, they think let's just do what's cheap and good enough- but it's not good enough anymore."


Hotel Programs to Look Out For
Hotels have been upping their game over the past few years, incorporating more social responsibility initiatives into programs for planners, all designed with CSR in mind. Here are a few examples:
• Experienceit at Shangri-La: Launched just over a year ago, the program promotes eco-friendly amenities like glass water bottles replacing plastic, onsite herb gardens, and energy-saving solar decks. Attendees also take part in CSR-driven activities with children and local nature projects, and are encouraged to spend break time walking outside enjoying the local area's nature (as opposed to coffee served in a break room).
• Green Meetings at Four Seasons: The brand has appointed a dedicated green team at each property to help guide planners in the right direction to create a sustainable event with CSR elements. From the boardroom to F&B, the program's green services cover all bases.
• Meet with Purpose at Hilton: Set to roll out in Europe later this year, the program has too goals: Mindful Meetings and Mindful Eating, aiming to not only eliminate material waste through reusable containers at central water stations, but also eliminate food waste typical of buffet style dining. To achieve this, the program incorporates portion control methods, while meeting rooms also help reduce energy consumption.

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