Corporate Social Responsibility: more than going green

CSR is not just about green initiatives. Martin Fullard explores the concept

I require some self-managed honesty from you: hands up if you really know what CSR is?

A common misunderstanding that I have encountered is that CSR revolves purely around environmental matters. People widely think it’s all about solar power and banning plastic straws. Environmental responsibility is indeed a part of it, but not solely.

CSR is a self-governing business model with the aim of ensuring said company is considerate of its social, economic and environmental responsibilities to wider society.

In layman’s terms, it breaks down into three areas. One is indeed environmental policy, with the others being economic and social. CSR is a concept whereby a company contributes to enhance society rather than impact it negatively.

First and foremost, CSR requires a company to be responsible to its shareholders. As with anything, money talks, but consider this: CSR is primarily a strategy for large organisations. The more visible and successful it is, the more responsibility is bestowed upon it to set standards of ethical behaviour for its industry.

Once the shareholders are happy, the business model can afford to look at how its stakeholders (anyone with an interest in any capacity in an organisation) can benefit. The first obvious stakeholders are employees. By providing good jobs and encouraging high professional and moral standards, a company increases employee loyalty, and by procuring only those overseas products produced at factories where workers are treated ethically, you gain support from those both within and beyond the payroll.

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of the PCMA says business events are proven catalysts for economic and social progress, adding: “They provide positive outcomes for host communities and destinations in addition to event participants. The best business events are ones that ultimately drive business results while also providing inspiration to help improve the world.”

Karamat agrees that CSR is often misunderstood and is not just limited to environmental concerns. He says: “CSR projects are not new to business events, and certainly not limited to environmental issues. The key is offering opportunities that allow   participants to connect to the host community and inspire them to seek similar opportunities in their home communities.

“Consider a celebratory event that benefits local charities. PCMA’s ‘Party with a Purpose’ has raised more than US$2.5m (£1.94m) in 26 years to support local charities and PCMA’s social impact initiatives, in addition to scholarships, research and education programmes. Our annual ‘Hospitality Helping Hands’ event has both an education and social impact component. Participants gain hands-on learning experience on planning volunteer opportunities while supporting a local organisation. Participants may not notice the change, but the business event will leave its legacy.”

On the UK events scene, few cities rival Glasgow when it comes to putting events front and centre of the local business scene. Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), isn’t just in charge of conference business at the venue. She says both herself and the SEC are acutely aware of the impact that it has on Glasgow, and the role that it plays in and for the city. She says: “From an economic perspective, the venue currently contributes over £1m per day to the local economy with our proposed expansion set to provide an additional £123m annually.”

After the economic impact, the SEC has done a lot of work on social matters, most notably supporting charitable efforts. Warden says that, again, the venue is aware of the growing role that events play, particularly conferences, in providing a platform for social and economic progress. She says: “Our goal is to work with our clients to support this wherever we can. For example, during The Gathering this year, the SEC team donated a significant amount of food to SCVO (the organiser) to help them support Glasgow’s North West Foodbank. Last year we delivered awareness sessions to our teams across the business to support the work of the World Federation of Hemophilia, World Downs Syndrome and MND/ALS. We also work with three worthy charities: Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, the Beatson Gordon Cancer Charity and Nordoff Robbins.”

And it doesn’t stop there. The SEC works on a number of community-focused initiatives to ensure it is contributing to the well-being of Glasgow. Warden adds: “Our SEC Learning Journey has just completed its pilot year, running alongside Scotland’s Year of the Young Person. In 2018, we inspired 255 young people in Glasgow and surrounding areas across various programmes including employability workshops, on-campus work experience, SEC Team talks at colleges and universities and a disabled summer work programme. Some of these have resulted in offers of employment, providing positive destinations for the young people and future stars of the SEC.”

As we look to create a more sustainable planet, we must broaden our minds. If your organisation wants an ethical events partner, look beyond the abolishment of plastic straws and ask about the business model: ask how they are helping society.

First published by Association Event Network.