Corporate social responsibility: 25 ways to be more socially responsible

23 October 2008 by
Corporate social responsibility: 25 ways to be more socially responsible

Being Green isn't just about putting potato peelings in the right bin and switching off the gas there's also a human element. Otherwise known as corporate social responsibility, it is viewed cynically by some, but here Rosalind Mullen points you towards 25 ways to be more socially responsible

Planting trees, climbing hills for charity, putting up bird houses Has the hospitality industry gone mad in its quest to be good as well as green?

According to Val Carter, corporate responsibility (CR) director at food service company Aramark: "You instantly become a company that cares, and this is crucial to help attract and retain staff. Most companies these days expect you to have a CR policy - it could make the difference between winning and losing business."

But what about accusations that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is "fluffy"? Alexandra Hammond, responsible business manager UK for hotel company Rezidor Group UK, insists: "We do it because we depend on the communities we work in so much - it would be reprehensible not to give anything back. Our staff live and work in the community, so it helps to motivate them, too. Some things we do don't have a financial return, because it is about giving something back."

1. Fund staff for voluntary work

The 11-strong hotel group Red Carnation is in the early stages of introducing volunteer days, which allow staff to take two extra paid days off each year to work as a volunteer. Staff are encouraged to work for one of the charities that the group supports, such as Starlight Children's Foundation or the Great Ormond Street Hospital Tick Tock Club, but they can request that another charity be considered. One of the first candidates has just completed a day at Action Against Hunger.

Food service company Sodexo allows staff to volunteer for work with its main charity partner, FareShare, which has a five-year goal of helping 100,000 people by providing more than 30 million meals, using 20,000 tonnes of redistributed food every year. To date, Sodexo employees have provided 700 hours of volunteer support, including members of the executive team, who spent a couple of days at FareShare's Bermondsey food depot earlier this year.

2. Support fresh water schemes

In a bid to support a charitable supplier, Aramark generates sales for the OneWater brand through its contracts. OneWater puts all its profits into buying water pumps to create clear water systems in Africa.

Elsewhere, Imago, the hotel and conference arm of Loughborough University, is Fairtrade-accredited and donates 5p from every bottle of water sold to help fund a rainwater harvesting scheme in a small village in India.

3. Pass on your technology

Contract caterer BaxterStorey donates its old PCs to Computer Aid International. This charity refurbishes computers and provides them at a low cost to schools in the developing world, to charities and so on. The knock-on effect is that it reduces potential waste.

4. Look after employee health

The consequences of ensuring that your staff eat well and live healthily are obvious in both business and CSR terms.

Aramark's Business Action on Health team is part of a Business in the Community (BITC) campaign. This campaign highlights the business benefits of better health at work, and is trying to make reporting on workplace health issues commonplace in UK boardrooms.

It was also part of the subgroup developing the healthy eating toolkit, which has been distributed to all FTSE100 companies.

5. Encourage guests to raise funds

Many hospitality companies do this as a matter of course. Red Carnation hotels, for instance, has for some years been asking guests to make a contribution of £1 per stay. The company then matches the donation and has so far raised £38,000 for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Tick Tock Club and more than £250,000 for the Starlight Children's Foundation.

6. Campaign sponsorship

Many events and campaigns could not happen without industry support. For instance, Aramark is one of the sponsors of British Food Fortnight, one the largest volunteer movements educating children about food.

Besides encouraging schools to invite chefs into classrooms to teach children how to cook, it celebrates British food through a range of promotions in pubs and restaurants.

7. Set up a charity

Company charities provide a structured and tax-efficient way to support local communities and charitable causes.

Sodexo's registered charity, the Sodexo Foundation, launched the UK-based STOP Hunger campaign to combat poor nutrition in local communities. It does this by teaching basic nutritional cooking skills. Sodexo covers the administrative costs and staff raise the funds. So far, they have raised upwards of £250,000 since the campaign's launch in 2005, by being sponsored to jump out of aeroplanes or run marathons. They also help to feed people in disadvantaged communities through breakfast clubs for vulnerable children or by providing food for the homeless.

Further, the BaxterStorey Foundation became a registered charity in July. The company supports four causes each year, including industry charity Hospitality Action, plus issues close to its employees' hearts, such as local charities, sponsorship of sports teams, supporting individual talent, and worldwide causes.

Funds are generated through initiatives such as the London-to-Brighton bike ride, the Three Peaks Challenge, and in 2009 a BaxterStorey team will be undertaking a London-to-Paris bike ride. BaxterStorey has also recently launched a "Penny-per-cup" scheme with sustainable coffee company First Choice Coffee. During the first year, the scheme is expected to generate £70,000 for the charity.

Deputy chief executive William Baxter says: "As an employer of nearly 5,000 people, we want to make sure that we're not only supporting the big charities but also offering a helping a hand to lesser-known programmes and initiatives that are close to the heart of our employees."

Catering supplier Apetito has set up a staff foundation, which isn't a charity but which does champion the charitable and voluntary work carried out by its staff and their children, raising £50,000 in community donations since it began in 2007. The foundation has recently donated £500 to aid the work of African Joy, which collects second-hand goods to recycle and send to African schools and hospitals.

8. Recycle office supplies

BaxterStorey ensures that 100% of all disposable cups and packaging used by the business are made from recycled, recyclable or biodegradable materials. All waste paper is recycled and, at the end of 2006, the company changed from purchasing virgin paper to 100% recycled paper, thus saving 2.4 tonnes of CO2 in 2007. Staff are encouraged to print office paperwork on both sides of a sheet of paper and to recycle afterwards.

BaxterStorey has also created printing hubs at its head office in Reading, reducing the number of printers it uses by 50% despite office staffing having grown by 130%.

9. Support a conservation scheme

The Langdale Hotel and Timeshare Complex in the Lake District helped to found the Tourism & Conservation Partnership (, a visitor pay-back scheme.

Langdale's guests have raised nearly £145,000 through an option to donate when paying their bill. The North West Regional Development Agency matches the donations made by guests, and the hotel also makes regular donations.

Since being established 14 years ago, the partnership has raised £1m.

10. Cycle to work

Giving staff incentives to leave their cars at home is proving popular among hospitality operators and suppliers.

As part of Foster Refrigerator's Green Week, staff were encouraged to cycle or walk to work, or to car-share. Those who did were entered into a prize draw to win store vouchers and eco-friendly products, such as an eco kettle. Since the launch of Green Week last year, 40% of Foster's staff have now chosen to walk or cycle to work regularly.

Food service company Brookwood Partnership is providing cycle vouchers and bicycle locks through a link with Faircare, which runs government-funded initiatives to help employees buy bikes and equipment.

This scheme falls under the 1999 Finance Act for Tax Exemption and the Government Green Transport Plan. Employees save as much as 50% on retail prices through a salary-sacrifice scheme, whereby an amount is deducted each month from their gross pay, which generates tax and NI savings for the employee and employer.

Brookwood allows the employees to benefit from the employer savings also. This scheme is being relaunched, however, as initial take-up wasn't as high as was hoped.

11. Cut delivery miles

In 2007, Sodexo swept away 360,000 road miles by working with supplier Brakes to reduce deliveries to sites.

The company imposed a minimum order requirement to discourage "little and often" deliveries, complemented by the use of software to plan routes more effectively. It represents a reduction of 400 tonnes of CO2 compared with the previous year. Purchasing in bulk can reduce the number of containers used.

12. Work with local producers

Increasingly, large-scale purchasers in the food service industry recognise that they can play a big part in helping to maintain our countryside by supporting local farming communities, seeking products from sustainable sources and looking to reduce environmental impact.

Sodexo Healthcare, for instance, has worked with NHS Shetland since 1992 and, as one of the largest employers on the Shetland Islands, sources as much as possible locally, buying from the local baker, fishmonger and dairy. In its Scottish Government contracts, 52% of meat sourced by Sodexo is Scottish.

BaxterStorey sources all fresh produce from producers in the UK that are part of accreditation schemes such as Red Tractor, Welsh Lamb and Lion brand, and is developing its policy for sourcing fish that meet the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) requirements (see number 17, below).

13. Spread the word in schools

The Year of Food and Farming is a business-led campaign endorsed by the Department for Environmental and Rural Affairs (Defra). It aims to help children to find out more about the countryside and where their food comes from, through visits to farms, cookery workshops in schools and other first-hand experiences.

Representing the hospitality industry, Harvester pubs and Toby Grill (both brands belonging to Mitchells and Butlers) and Sodexo provide sponsorship. Sodexo runs cookery workshops at about 500 primary and independent preparatory schools across the country, reaching as many as 9,000 children.

Programme director Tony Cooke says: "There is irrefutable evidence that experiences such as making bread have a profoundly positive effect on children's relationship with food."

14. Help people with disabilities

A team from the Radisson SAS hotel in Edinburgh has been working with Enable Scotland, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities. In a recent project, staff from the hotel have been working alongside young men to help them find stable jobs. One initiative has been to help them plant trees from seed in Edinburgh's Craigmillar Castle Park.

15. Set your staff a challenge

Many companies support their staff in fundraising activities.

For instance, a team of 20 Aramark employees recently did the Five Peaks Challenge to raise money for Childline and Macmillan nurses. This meant climbing the five highest mountains in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic within 48 hours. Aramark raised £41,500 from the peak challenge and a race day which took place around the same time.

16. Share your swimming pool

The Langdale Estate in the Lake District has shown its commitment to the local school by providing private use of its pool every Thursday during term-time for swimming lessons.

17. Tap into eco-friendly workers

Stowe Mountain Lodge, a new US$400m ski resort in Vermont, USA, has employed eco-friendly artisans to build furniture and design features. The artisans use organic materials and environmentally friendly practices. In-room lamps, for instance, have been custom-designed by Simon Pearce, who uses a waterfall to generate electricity and to operate a glassblowing furnace and potter's wheel.

18. Purchase from sustainable stocks

To preserve fish stocks, the key is not to purchase any fish species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Compass has become the first contract caterer to be able to trace the fish on its menu back to the boat that caught it and subsequent fisheries, through gaining Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) chain of custody trace­ability certification. So far, five of its contracts are covered by the certification.

19. Protect wildlife

There are many initiatives to preserve wildlife in country properties where, arguably, the issue of sustainability is overtaking that of ecology.

The Langdale Hotel and Timeshare Complex in Cumbria, for instance, is maintaining bird-feeding stations, controlling grey squirrels and introducing red squirrel feeders, and developing a bio-diversity management plan with Lancaster University. "We don't have to do it," says general manager Nick Lancaster, "but our natural surroundings are what bring the guests in the first place. If we are not prepared to protect our surroundings, then we are not prepared to protect our business."

20. Serve Fairtrade

The hospitality industry has generally embraced Fairtrade products.

At the budget end, there are hotel companies such as Umi serving Fairtrade teas and World Land Trust-approved Puro Coffee (every kilogram of Puro espresso sold sees money given to buy and protect rainforest in South America), while the luxury end is represented by hotels such as the Vineyard at Stockcross, in Berkshire, which has taken on First Choice Coffee's Black and White automatic machines. These require less training than other coffee equipment, and are thus suitable for a 24-hour hotel environment.

Cavendish hotel in London's Jermyn Street uses Belu bottled mineral water, which invests all of its profits in clean water projects, Fairtrade, Cafe Direct and Duchy Originals.

21. Reward greener guests

The Cavendish hotel on Jermyn Street, London, offers a 50% discount on valet parking charges for environmentally friendly vehicles. The list of qualifying vehicles is taken from the Energy Savings Trust and includes hybrid cars, alternative fuel cars, LPG-converted cars and electric cars. Users of the latter are offered facilities to recharge their vehicles.

The Sundial venues and events group, which has accommodation in Surrey, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, offers delegates who travel by public transport, or who car-share, a credit of £5 to spend in the bar.

22. Use green service suppliers

There is a growing trend for hospitality companies to check out the eco-friendliness of their service suppliers.

The Crowne Plaza London hotel was the first hotel to join the Green 500 - an initiative launched by the London Development Agency for 500 blue-chip companies in the capital. One of the hotel's standpoints is to take on only suppliers that meet its own green credentials. An example is its car supplier, Green Tomato Cars, which is an environmentally friendly private hire company that uses the Toyota Prius hybrid and plants trees to make up for unavoidable emissions.

23. Educate your clients

To be fully green, the food service sector needs to ensure that its clients buy into the environmentally friendly ethos.

Contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell runs green roadshows to explain to clients what the company is doing to reduce its impact on the environment and to encourage them to buy greener food and services. The roadshow team explains why the company prefers to source organic or locally supplied food, and puts forward the benefits of using recycled napkins and paper cups, starch plastic cutlery and so on in a bid to spread sustainable, eco-friendly catering.

24. Educate your staff

Considerate Hoteliers says that hotels can reduce energy consumption by 20% through regular staff training in the importance of being green. Staff can also take what they learn into their everyday lives.

Sundial venues and events group is launching environmental seminars for its staff at its properties in Surrey, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. Kicking off the initiative is George Martin, head of sustainability at Wilmott Dixon Construction's rethinking business unit, who talks about sustainable development, changes in the earth's atmosphere, legislation, sustainable procurement - and how all this could affect the company.

25. Plant a tree

While planting trees can't be an excuse for increasing carbon emissions, it does help to mitigate pollution. Properly managed tree-planting schemes are good, no matter what the motive.

Considerate Hoteliers linked with London charity the Westminster Tree Trust to encourage hotels to sponsor a tree nearby in order to enhance the environment, encourage bird life and help improve air quality. The cost is £300 per tree, including planting, maintenance and replacement in the event of failure. For an extra cost, the sponsor can have a brass plaque.

Participants include the Dorchester hotel in Park Lane, which has planted a London plane tree opposite the hotel, and Luna House hotel in Belgrave Road, which commissioned a tree outside the Passport Office. The Ritz is considering sponsorship of trees in nearby Allington Street.

Electrolux pays customers to go Green

Electrolux is rewarding businesses that scrap a non-environmentally-friendly dishwasher by giving them cash back if they buy one of its green-and-clean dishwasher models.

As an incentive for a hood-type model, the company will pay £160 for an old machine and estimates that you will make energy savings of £400 in your first year - a total of £560. For the undercounter model, you get £80 for an old machine and will make energy savings of £240 in 12 months - a total of £320.

The energy savings are made through the fact that the machines use less energy, rinse-aid, detergent and water, so users lower their running costs and the impact on the environment.

Last year, the European Commission gave its Sustainable Energy Award to Electrolux. Major appliances Europe CEO Magnus Yngen said at the time: "We estimate that there are about 200 million appliances that are more than 10 years old in use in European households. By replacing these, we could cut CO2 emissions by some 22 million tonnes a year, corresponding to 6% of the EU's Kyoto target."

First Choice promotes fair trade with remote communities

First Choice Coffee is about to launch a single-origin coffee from Peru, farmed by Yanesha Indians in the Andes.

The company has bought a crop in order to support the Indians. They also grow yucca, maize and beans to eat, but most of the income to buy medicine, school books and tools comes from coffee.

Every December, coffee exporter COINCA attends the annual community council of Yanesha to assist them in allocating funds. This is then voted on by the community. Fund uses range from improving business practices to education and medical care. The premium that First Choice paid for the coffee allowed the Yanesha tribe to upgrade its coffee processing systems.

Elaine Higginson, managing director of First Choice Coffee, says: "By giving the Yanesha Indians a fair price for high-quality coffee, they can continue to create a sustainable business. Without support that goes directly to the growers, small coffee plantations wouldn't be able to maintain sustainable communities."

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