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January 30, 2007

CSR: Is more being said than done?

Many companies today have corporate social responsibility (CSR) polices. If yours hasn’t, you need to start thinking about this very seriously as it’s something many customers and other stakeholders are now demanding. This is not only in response to fears over global warming, but also as a result of concern over social issues, such as fair labour treatment and the impact on local communities.

But having a policy is one thing, effectively implementing it in all areas of your business, such as in your live marketing and events strategy, is another.

Events traditionally have not been particularly kind to the environment, but as has been revealed over EVENTS:review’s Green Month, many companies are working to remedy this situation. Another area of concern is health and safety, as events can involve lots of people, from visitors and delegates to suppliers, who all need to be adequately protected. So out of all areas of marketing, if not the whole corporate spectrum, events arguably raise the biggest CSR issues, and therefore require the most effort and budget to get right from a social and environmental perspective. So are companies’ CSR policies filtering through to their events?

More responsibility 

“We are seeing a dramatic rise in brands and organisations taking responsibility for key issues such as customer and staff safety and the effect that their event will have on the environment,” says Ian Irving, sales and marketing director at events agency Sledge. “In terms of the effect this service has on relationships and working practice, it can only be positive. Long-term client relationships respect having CSR on the agenda and it also works in favour of the reputation of our industry.”

Sledge carries out live activities for Microsoft UK, which has an extremely strict outlook on these issues. So much so, in fact, that during a recent project Sledge actually re-wrote the entire health and safety bible of a very famous London venue. “We instructed new structural and health-and-safety tests upon the entire building in order to just offer the venue to the client,” says Irving.

Experiential agency RPM has also been proactive in supporting its clients’ CSR policies. “During the Sky Festival we worked with a client that takes its CSR very seriously,” explains senior production manager Rory Sloan. “Using Sky’s CSR policy helped us come up with the festival values and mission statement, which were applied to all the individual events from the outset. The result was a carbon-neutral event that left various legacies in Manchester, including 350 trees planted by National Geographic Channel – one tree for every 10 visitors to the experience.”

As well as actually helping identify relevant CSR elements for those of its clients that are still developing their own policies, events company Grass Roots has also worked with events destinations in terms of identifying people and community opportunities. “The most recent of these have included the provision of sports kit to a community football team in Cape Town, and the use of wooden teasers, made by members of the destination’s community, out of sustainable wood,” says Grass Roots’ Chris Zachar.

Stagestruck is another events company that has got to grips with CSR from a moral and commercial perspective, and found it has paid dividends with its clients. “We have had to bring in rigorous policies for health and safety and the environment because we work for BP which actually takes the time to check,” explains managing director Liz Bagnall. “It has cost us many thousands of pounds to update and, more significantly, to prove our processes. The return, however, is excellent and the peace of mind it brings is better still.”

Don't forget your partners 

Of course, when you’re planning an event, you don’t only have yourself to worry about. If just one element goes against a company’s CSR policy it can taint the whole event, so making all suppliers aware of the issues is vital.

“Unfortunately, an awful lot of claptrap is spoken without any real change in working practices or event company processes,” asserts Bagnall. “Only last week one of our technical supply companies (a very good one, too) told us they just stick on their patent tested labels and don’t actually do the testing! This sort of attitude runs through far too many event supply companies.

“When looking for environmentally sound products to use as café counters, we found a company boasting ‘re-cycled plastics’,” Bagnall continues. “In fact, its products were made from 10% re-cycled materials and it was very vague indeed about the number of miles the material had travelled or how much power had been used in the melting down of the cartons from which it was made. What’s more, a recent delivery from France had its packaging boasting ‘re-cycled’ all over it – the packaging actually came from China.”

So whether you’re a company organising its own events or an events agency, formulating your own CSR policy and being sympathetic to that of your clients’ can pay dividends in a number of ways. But make sure it filters down to all areas of your organisation – and don’t forget your suppliers.

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