February 16, 2011 2 Comments
On my quest to the definition of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, I had lunch yesterday in Barcelona with Guy Bigwood, a Global CSR Professional dedicated to increasing the sustainability of the Meetings and Events Industry, Corporate Sustainability Director with MCI and current President of GMIC, the Green Meeting Industry Council. Guy was busy writing MCI’s 2010 CSR report and preparing GMIC next week conference where he will deliver a series of keynotes, so I really appreciate the time he spent with me discussing their 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility report, sustainability in the meeting industry and CSR in general.
MCI’s journey to sustainability started few years ago, with the company becoming in 2007 the first in its industry to join the United Nations Global Compact. MCI is a globally integrated association, communication and events management company with offices in 20 countries and about 900 employees worldwide. Its 2009 Corporate Social Report describe the initiatives led by Guy Bigwood and his team through 5 majors area: leadership in the industry, employee development and well-being, environmental impact reduction, customer focused initiatives and impact on local communities. What is clear in the report is the involvement of the company’s leadership in the sustainability strategy, something particularly interesting as this topic was quite new to the top management team, but also the leading position of MCI in its industry.Finally, the initiatives related to the environment are definitely a major aspect of MCI sustainability strategy. Something I found really great in the report was that it also mentions the key learning points and improvement areas. Guy confirmed for example that there’s a need for key metrics in future reports. Although the 2010 report, due to be released in April, will still be published as a separate report, integrated reporting remaining the ultimate goal, it will contain more KPIs and measurements of the impact of the company’s sustainability initiatives. The specific GRI guidelines for the event industry, which draft was published yesterday, will help. HR is also an area where specific indicators, such as employee satisfaction, talent retention, or employee turnover, could be useful too. Guy confirmed that the HR department is definitely supporting the group’s CSR initiatives, something essential as discussed in a previous blog post, with proven results in many of their regions. The MCI Dublin Office, for example, won in 2009 the Irish Independent Great Places to work award. My guess is that the great job done there has something to do with the local employees perception of their work environment. Measuring this through specific indicators, as well as sharing best practices, could help working on employee engagement in the other regions. Guy and I also share the idea that middle-management is a key element of a successful sustainability strategy as discussed in a previous post.
MCI defines CSR as “a business strategy which strives for financial viability, in harmony with the planet and its people“.
Guy and I discussed the current debate around the terminology and the efforts that CSR practitioners are undertaking to come up with a more consistent definition of those concepts. Regarding the debate, I share Alberto Andreu’s idea that the concept of CSR “is broken and that it’s urgent to fix it“. Alberto Andreu, who is Managing Director of Corporate Reputation and CSR at Telefónica and Professor of Organizational Behaviour at IE Business School, also considers that there’s a cultural bias that makes it difficult to get to a consistent definition of CSR on both sides of the Atlantic. I couldn’t agree more. In the US the legal perspective prevails and CSR initiatives are often reduced to the minimum compliance requirements, anything beyond that being “illegal or insincere”, or are only acceptable when they are synonym for philanthropy or charity, while Europe, which seems to be moving towards mandatory CSR reporting, has a broader perspective that involves the development of responsible business practices and a strong focus on the companies impact on their “ecosystem”.
Alberto Andreu writes that “the line of progress, is in the definition made by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI): “Corporate Sustainability – it states – is a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments”.
This definition is close to another one that I mentioned in a previous post: SAP’s definition for sustainability: “holistically manage economic, environmental and social risks and opportunities“. As you can see, it seems quite complicated to avoid “buzzwords” and this is exactly what anti-CSR advocates argue: CSR and sustainability are nothing but buzzwords. Note that their speech is usually not exempt of jargon.
Buzzword or not, what matters is execution. There’s a business case for sustainability, an urgent need for sustainable development, in a world with limited resources, and that requires more than words: strategic, powerful, comprehensive and measurable CSR initiatives.