Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one of the biggest corporate buzz words of the past few years. But it’s one of those things that needs decoding to be effective. We hear about carbon footprints, LEED certification, and Energy Star standards, and while they are all important programs that keep corporations on their toes, what does it all mean? When you’re planning a meeting are you being socially responsible? Are you CSR meeting savvy?
Let’s define it. According to Wikipedia, CSR is: “a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. CSR policy functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby businesses monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company’s actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere.”
In layman’s terms, it is a uniform benchmarking process to compare a company’s environmental, social and energy efficiencies and where they can improve or change habits for the betterment of their business and their employees at both the office and their home environments.
CSR for office buildings, hotels and meeting venues
One way companies measure CSR is through the operational efficiency and environmental impact of physical structures. There are two overarching programs that the government has put in place to do this. They are the Energy Star Efficiency program and LEED Certification.
Before a building can apply for LEED certification, it must have its Energy Star. We have all seen the logo on our dishwashers, water heaters, washers and dryers, so let’s define Energy Star and what that really means when we see it on a site visit or company’s website.
Again, using Wikipedia as our defining measure: “Energy Star is an international standard for energy efficient consumer products that originated in the United States of America. It was first created as a United States government program during the early 1990s. Devices carrying the Energy Star logo, such as computer products and peripherals, kitchen appliances, buildings and other products, generally use 20 percent to 30 percent less energy than required by federal standards.”
Is the hotel you are looking at have Energy Star equipment? Many have towel and linen reuse programs. Are you helping them promote that policy to your attendees?
Adults shouldn’t need incentives, but they help raise awareness and compliance. The first couple of times you host your meeting, try offering something small like picking up one room night for up to five people who sign up for the hotel’s reuse program. It sounds expensive, but in the long run, it sets a CSR example that others will follow. Eventually you’ll have a practice you can be proud of.
So let’s talk about LEED. LEED actually stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. What does that mean? LEED is a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Since the standards were announced in 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council has issued LEED certification to more than 7,000 projects in the United States and several more overseas. These structures range from hotels and visitor centers to attractions and office buildings. Historic buildings have different requirements than new builds.
If a venue or hotel you’re looking at is LEED-certified, that means they have achieved a certain level of compliance in areas that range from energy-efficient utilities to recycling programs and water conservation programs. The highest level of certification is platinum.
CSR for meetings
Now that we have decoded the jargon, let’s talk meetings. Specifically, the vague “green” initiative so many of us are asked to incorporate!
We all recycle right? Wrong! Ton and tons of waste is not recycled every single day. Our industry is the second-most wasteful in America. So we have a lot of room for improvement.
As a meeting professional, there are so many simple things we can do to make a difference. Request a blue waste basket for bottles and cans to be placed next to the regular trash can. Add a quick opening statement in your welcome address or housekeeping notes to educate everyone about what is acceptable recycling and what isn’t, then ask them to do their part.
How about morning newspapers? Do any of your attendees really have the opportunity to read them? I know my attendees and I don’t. So I write into my contract that morning newspapers should not be delivered to any of my attendees. Then, when we’re on-site, I go by the front desk every morning and ask for five copies to lie out in front of the meeting room. That way, they’re available to anyone who might want one. It has been very well-received by my attendees.
What about materials? Do we still need paper copies of everything? With the use of iPads, tablets and laptops, the reality is that paper copies are no longer necessary. There are “cloud” services and jump drives that are just as easy to provide the materials and reduce any paper needs. I know doing it this way has also reduced the weight in my baggage.
What about reducing the need for water bottles? Providing water in pitchers makes a huge difference, not just because it saves plastic from going in the landfill, it also saves a lot of money. What about wrapped candy hotels like to place on the meeting room tables next to the pens and paper? Do you really need it? It’s noisy and distracting. And how many attendees still want to take notes with pen and paper? If they’re wired and plugged in, you might be able to scrap those things, too.
Remember: Going green doesn’t just mean recycling paper and plastics, it means paying attention to the little things. As meeting professionals, we know that the success of our meetings is in the details. So don’t assume everyone will be compliant. Think about how are we initiate, communicate and reinforce these practices.
Corporate social responsibility isn’t just something for corporations; it is the responsibility of those working in corporate environments. It’s something to also be aware of at home and when we plan meetings.
Are you savvy enough now to be socially responsible?