The online debate – What is the real value of CSR?

11 October 2012
The online debate – What is the real value of CSR?

As part of Caterer and Hotelkeeper's commitment to Responsible Hospitality, we staged a live online debate to discuss the business benefits of comprehensive CSR policies. We asked your views on the best ways to ensure your business lives and breathes its CSR aspirations - and on how they can benefit the bottom line

What does corporate social responsibility (CSR) mean to your business? Is it striving for carbon neutrality and zero waste; committing to the Government's health agenda through the Responsibility Deal; or supporting charities and local communities?

Alison Gilbert (human resources director, CH&Co) For us it's an important mixture of all of the above while working with all stakeholders involved.

Mike Hanson (head of environmental management, BaxterStorey) CSR is all of these things: people, profit and planet. These three aspects are inextricably linked and are essential for business success driven through the bottom line.

Thomas Jelley (corporate citizenship manager, Sodexo) It's good for staff morale, the bottom line and our customers. When a business is run well, it understands costs and income. Some of that will be attributable to its products and services - how they are sourced, marketed and manufactured. Some will be down to environmental management from employees, clients, suppliers, local communities, non-government organisations (NGOs), the public sector, and so on.

It really is just about all-round good business and, therefore, inevitably has an impact on the bottom line. What people never mention is its place in the balance sheet - as goodwill/reputation - which can be invaluable in difficult times.

Karelle Lamouche (marketing and distribution director, Accor) Our aim is to satisfy our customers' and partners' expectations. It is the base of brand preference and loyalty. Sustainability is the green industry as a whole and as such is the umbrella of various segments - environment, health, waste, carbon, biodiversity, and so on - it's one catch all with different applications and we are addressing them all.

Who is responsible for CSR and how do you get your whole team behind it?

Stephanie Chiswell (PA to Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels) We have a green team at each hotel and they are then responsible for sharing the message with their colleagues at monthly tea parties, through notice boards and training.

Karelle Lamouche We all have a role to play and are all responsible for it - whether we are corporate, employees or consumers. The role of employees is essential - for example, in energy consumption and waste management.

John Firrell (associate director, Considerate Hoteliers Association) First and foremost in individual hotels, the general manager must take the lead, even if he or she ultimately delegates to others. In groups it must be the CEO.

Thomas Jelley Employee engagement is the fundamental platform for good business. One way we achieve this is through our global Better Tomorrow Plan survey that covers environmental aspects.

Glenn Roberts (managing director, Gram) In order to help the hospitality industry improve its sustainability credentials, responsibility should be taken by all levels of the industry from the ground up, with support from manufacturers and suppliers, right through to distributors, the wider supply chain and to operational practices.

Communicating, educating and discussing CSR initiatives is imperative to encouraging support, whether you're targeting individuals, teams, branches or a whole chain.

Looking specifically at getting teams involved in CSR initiatives, results from the 2010 Gram Green Paper showed that hotels were the most active channel in introducing green initiatives at work, with 72% of respondents claiming to have introduced something, a very encouraging statistic.

With ever-tightening budgets, does CSR become less of a priority for businesses?

John Firrell When times are hard, CSR should become even more of a priority. I wouldn't be so naÁ¯ve as to say that being green or pursuing CSR never costs more, but it is a myth that embracing CSR and sustainability is an expensive or a costly option.

Without oversimplifying it, it's all about using less. If you use less, it costs less, there is less waste and you spend less time organising its disposal.

Thomas Jelley Hear, hear, John. If CSR is just about good business, it's always a priority. When times are hard, you have to be an even better company to make sure you're the target of as much of the demand as possible.

Mike Hanson The state of the economy should signal a greater intensity towards a sustainable agenda as it is through this that we can achieve greater customer/brand loyalty, reduce costs, differentiate our business, improve our reputation and attract and retain the best people - things we have to do in tough times.

The UK Small Business Consortium showed in a recent study that 88% of consumers said they were more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society.

Neil Warren (sustainability strategist, South West Tourism) Surveys can over-egg the real position. Most businesses in South-west England report little reference from visitors to sustainability/responsibility as the reason for their stay. That's not to say it's not a factor, but it's more likely to be a secondary, passive one, rather than a real driver.

Are customers prepared to pay more for CSR? Or is there a consumer perception that sustainability comes with a cost premium? If so, how do you overcome that?

Mike Hanson It doesn't have to cost more, if you reduce your waste (and waist!) you don't have to cover the cost of that waste in your selling prices. Remember, you pay for waste twice: once when it comes into your business and once when it leaves.

By using cheaper cuts with creative and skilled chefs you can still serve amazing fresh, local and seasonal food while maintaining your margins.

Karelle Lamouche Consumers are more likely to expect "green" hotels in the luxury and upscale segment, but to have a budget hotel that still delivers a green experience helps change perceptions.

Susan Nash We find customers engage with our activity, but we see it as our responsibility to make a positive influence on the long-term future: the cost of no action can be greater in the long run and as a manufacturer we take our responsibility seriously and take a long-term view.

Glenn Roberts In our experience, customers are relatively easy to engage with and so continuing to improve and motivate CSR engagement through a continual emphasis on reducing costs - thus improving energy consumption and carbon footprint - is a key driver within our business.

Communicating your CSR initiatives and the efforts that your team are going to in order to improve sustainability is crucial to making customers more willing to pay a little more for a sustainable service.

What initiatives are easiest to implement and which yield the biggest impact? Can they ever achieve both?

Sally Grimes (quality standards auditor, Bartlett Mitchell) Ideas that teams have come up with are the easiest to implement because they understand it better and buy into the whole process.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has made us consider reducing all streams of waste so we asked the teams. They suggested customers reused their coffee clutch when buying their drink. If they did so five times they then got a free coffee.

The customers felt good about the coffee, the teams saw the success of their idea, the business cut the cost by clutch price and also reduced waste. Simple, but it proved very effective.

Julia Scott (head of corporate communications, Brakes) Those on the ground living the operational side of the business often have the most practical ideas. Employee engagement is key.

Giuliana Vittiglio (senior fundraising and marketing executive, Hospitality Action) Earlier this year we piloted our At Your Discretion campaign, where we asked restaurants to add £1 to the dinner bills. We found that those establishments that were most successful were the ones whose employees understood and engaged with the idea.

We ran it for a week back in May and we raised £3,000, which we were very pleased with, although there is plenty of scope for developing this further at Christmas.

With so many areas in which companies can look to reduce their environmental impact, how do you prioritise your efforts?

Sally Grimes We had to decide what was important to us as a business. Clients want to cut costs but customers want and expect value for money, so it is a balancing act. Our teams see where the waste is, so getting their involvement was key for Bartlett Mitchell.

Karelle Lamouche At Accor, we have defined seven areas that we can focus on globally: health, nature, carbon, innovation, local development, employment and dialogue. For each area we have specific and pragmatic actions and measurements put in place.

Examples of our actions include being familiar with environmental regulations; training employees to adopt the right eco-friendly gestures; regularly monitoring and analysing energy and water consumption; using low-consumption lamps for 24-hour lighting; installing water flow regulators on showers and faucets; recycling ink cartridges and batteries; using eco-friendly cleaning products and offering balanced meals in our restaurants.

Have you signed up to any of the Government's Responsibility Deal pledges and how hard was it to instigate the necessary change to comply?

Sally Grimes We have signed up to six pledges, which was straightforward as we were already delivering most of the points. For us it was more about getting the point across to the customers and how we monitor and measure the success.

The one that caused us the most upset was going artificial trans fat free, as our customers love their Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Horlicks.

Julia Scott Brakes signed the trans fat pledge initially and the revised catering salt pledge recently, on which we were members of the working party supporting the Department of Health.

We had removed hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVOs) from our own-brand products a few years ago and we were already compliant with many of the targets under the salt pledge.

We listen to consumer demands on taste and recognise the preservative purpose that salt has, but we can, should and will make further reductions.

Brakes did not sign the Responsibility Deal initially. We took our time to make sure we could deliver on the demands. This makes it much more meaningful to us and our customers.

Susan Nash (trade communications manager, Kraft) We were one of the founding signatories to the Responsibility Deal and have signed up to all the pledges relevant to our business - 12 in total. Health and wellness has been a long-standing priority for Kraft around the world. Signing up to the Responsibility Deal allows us to showcase the huge amount of progress we have made to help our consumers make healthier choices and ensures we continue to stay focused on this important issue.

Why support charities and local communities? Aside from the feel-good factor, is there also a business benefit?

Sally Grimes Local communities need support to help inspire future generations. It's not just about feeling good today but giving something back for tomorrow.

Katherine Gourley (human resources manager, Crowne Plaza Marlow) Our involvement with the local community has a massive benefit. We found that people local to our hotels, generally the ones in the city, might not be as aware of them as we'd like them to be. Getting involved with our community has increased awareness and vastly improved our employer brand, making it much easier for us to recruit and retain staff, which was a welcome side-effect.

We now proactively work with local employability brokers to target getting unemployed people back into work in our hotels.

Mike Hanson I was at a recent Business in the Community event with a guest speaker from the Co-op. Their staff turnover across the group is just 19%. The Co-op encourages community and volunteering programmes within their teams of which 51% take part. For those that do, engagement turnover is a staggering 2.7%. You could call that a business benefit!

Stephanie Chiswell We've found that supporting events such as Hospitality Action Week has a great effect in terms of motivating our teams. They enjoy the challenge of finding ways to raise money and do something outside the normal remits of work.

Emily Galvin Cruz (fundraising and marketing manager, Hospitality Action) As the industry charity we always aim to develop relationships that will not only benefit us as an organisation, but also the corporate in question. The key is to be flexible and understand the corporate needs. If the aims of both organisations are clear from the outset it can be the beginning of a lasting relationship!

Is there enough consultation of the hospitality industry from the government?

Chris Tookey (Chris Tookey co-founder, Systain-able) The change needed is with society as a whole and "sustainable diets" need social marketing at government level with input from stakeholders. The hospitality industry has to be at the heart of the debate. But it may get overshadowed by the food producers in the supply chain when government consults. That needs to change.

Mike Hanson Hospitality needs rational and collaborative support from government, not short-term politically motivated, knee-jerk decisions, with the right people with the right skills in the right posts.

Responsible hospitality resource

For more information on how to run your business responsibly, visit our online resource
The Responsible Hospitality channel, supported by Accor, Gram UK - and Kraft Foods, features tools and guidance that will help you reduce waste and energy usage, while offering examples and information on increasing recycling, ethical food sourcing and social responsibility.

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