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April 17, 2006

Taking responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is having an increasing impact on company strategy, driven mainly by the growing environmental and social concerns of the consumer. It's one thing to have policies in place, but companies also need to ensure their partners can match their own high standards.

The events industry is a case in point. It has been slow to pick up on CSR due to a perceived difficulty in pinning down exactly where responsibilities for safety, working practices and environmental sustainability lie. There is very often a venue, sub-contractor, individual event producer, event company or transport company in the line before the people actually organising the event.

But, as major companies have started to adopt CSR policies, so pressure has mounted on the events industry to fall into line. Most events-oriented organisations should now be displaying some understanding of just where these responsibilities lie and what they are.

"We are a service industry so we have to be adaptable and serve our clients in the ways that they chose," says Duncan Reid, Event Director of International Confex. "Our industry was traditionally regarded as having a 'throw away' culture, but times have changed and now most organisers and venues have very clear policies on issues such as waste and recycling."

For some, like events company Stagestruck - which has been working with BP for the last four years - it's been a steep learning curve: "We have had to grow up a lot in the past few years in terms of having visible processes in place and recording competence and expertise," says managing director Liz Bagnall. "Working with a global corporation like BP, that takes CSR seriously, has had a major influence on how we manage our events and our business."

BP only uses events companies with an environmental policy that mirrors its own - companies that source sustainable timber, that offer a range of re-cycled products that are non-toxic, that only use environmentally friendly paints and that offer to re-use the product or recycle it.

For the launch of BP's alternative energy arm in its Solar Plant at Frederick, Maryland, USA, Amanda Abbott, the energy giant's Director of Executive Events, told Stagestruck that not only did the design have to reflect the "green/environmentally responsible" theme, but that the "entire event had to be made as carbon neutral as possible". As with all BP events.

Reid is keen to show how much the industry has moved forward. "So many venues, magazines and agencies are launching CSR initiatives," he says, "that at this year's International Confex we decided to reward the active ones by launching our CSR award to recognise those exhibitors who are already socially responsible, and to encourage more to become involved."

Events are an increasingly important marketing tool and organisations would do well to take a leaf out of BP's book. Equally, event organisers need to formulate social and environmental policies to stay ahead of the field, as this will no doubt be a key factor in deciding whom you do business with in the future.
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