As an event marketing professional, planning trade shows and conferences for corporations, I see a lot of waste and opportunities to give back. When I started out in this field about 15 years ago, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was not really talked about. In the past 5 years, I have noticed a huge shift in the corporate mindset of how an event is planned and executed. CSR has become a priority, and is at the forefront of planning each and every event program that I am involved with.
In this blog, I am going to touch on a brief history of CSR, why it’s important, and talk about how I can utilize CSR practices in my role as an event manager.
What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
Although I have seen variations on the definition, Corporate Social Responsibility is the accountability a company has for its impact on society and the environment.
A concern for social responsibility can be traced back to the 1930s. However in the 1950’s we saw the start of the modern era, where Howard Bowen published a book called the Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, and coined the phrase “corporate social responsibility”. In the book, Bowen states that “the largest business firms are vital centers of power and decision, and actions of these firms touch the lives of the American people at many points”. He asks the question “what responsibilities to society can business people be reasonably expected to assume?” These thoughts were revolutionary for the time. Bowen has later become known as the “father of CSR”.
The notion of CSR has evolved since Bowen’s era, and the concept of CSR has grown from a company’s sense of responsibility not only towards the community, but towards the environment in which it operates.
What I have also come to realize is that corporations are not the only entities to have an effect on social and ecological systems, but we as consumers can make a powerful impact.
I recently watched a TEDx video on YouTube called From Me First to We First by Simon Mainwaring. Mainwaring’s premise that prosperity is no longer the wealth of a few, but the well-being of many opens your eyes to shared humanity. This idea to shift from personal self-interest to mutual self-interest had a profound effect on me.
Social media provides us with an opportunity to celebrate companies on the basis of their social responsibility, and make a personal, purposeful contribution to society by consuming goods and services that give back. Mainwaring states “What we do in our daily lives can play a role in this me first, we first transformation, and help capitalism grow up”.
So why is CSR so important?
There is a consumer demand for more purpose-driven and sustainable practices along with an expectation on corporations, as influencers, to contribute to social and environmental realms. Building relationships with customers is the cornerstone of any successful business. Having socially responsible policies in place can impact the decisions of these customers. In fact, the next generation, (Millennials) have a higher demand for CSR and transparency to ensure companies are conducting their business in an ethical way.
With today’s digital era, social media platforms have allowed everyone to have a voice and it can make or break a company’s reputation and affect their bottom line. Some benefits of CSR engagement are:
- Positive business reputation/public image
- Increased customer sales & customer loyalty
- Better brand recognition
- B2B partnerships
- Positive work environment
- Financial profit from sustainable principles
- Environmental innovations for technology and techniques
How Can I Utilize CSR Practices As An Event Manager?
Have you have ever stuck around after a trade show and witnessed the wastefulness of materials during the break-down? Have you seen the tables filled with food left virtually untouched during a conference?
Events take a heavy toll on our resources, society and the environment. They can generate significant waste and even cause tension in local communities.
Ask yourself the question “How can my event achieve the same outcome with minimal negative impacts on the environment, communities and local economy?”
Then educate yourself on sustainable practices in the event industry and implement them. Research local charities near your next event venue. More often that not, hotels and convention centers have a CSR program in place and can help you in the donation of goods after an event.
There are massive opportunities to make a significant social and ecological impact when planning events:
- If you have samples of products or goods, find a local charity to donate to after the event is over
- Dedicate time for an employee/attendee service project and give back to the local community
- Instead of swag, make a donation to a charity. Have attendees vote for their favorite charity to donate to.
- Do not put all of the food ordered out right away, instead, put out smaller quantities and refill. Work with venue to package up and donate untouched food to a shelter or food pantry.
- Instead of renting costly Audio Visual equipment, purchase some of these items locally, and donate them to a charity after the event is over
- Donate a portion of the registration fee to a local charity or organization
- Offer a discount on event fee for a donation to a local charity or organization
Several years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency cited the meeting and event industry as one of the most wasteful industries in America. Event organizers have stepped up their game to focus on sustainable practices:
- Select venues and suppliers that have CSR policies in place and that are eco-conscious
- Cut down on printing collateral, or print minimal assets on recyclable paper
- Utilize digital communication when possible for invites, collateral, etc.
- Ensure recycle bins are widely available at your event
- Analyze your booth property for eco-friendly alternatives: Are graphics multi-use? Are they printed on eco-friendly material? Are we using LED lighting?
- Cut down on the number of staff attending an event. Make sure that everyone going has a purpose. This will also save money on airfare, per diem, hotel costs, and reduce your carbon footprint
- Instead of bottled water, have water stations with glasses, or recyclable cups
- Find ways to utilize natural décor and materials or utilize multi use materials
- Produce as little waste as possible and consider the environmental impacts when ordering food, drink, meeting supplies, transportation and overall planning
In conclusion, as a planner of meetings and events, you must ensure that CSR practices meet the needs of your corporate mission without compromising the successfulness of the event.
As an individual consumer, we have a choice to purchase goods and services from corporations that give back to society–Do your research before purchasing!
Maximizing positive impacts will do more for the greater good of humanity and leave a legacy to be proud of, both personally and professionally.