It's no use paying lip service to corporate social responsibility any more - your competitors are getting far too much out of it. Nic Paton reports
Can a business thrive, or even exist, in a vacuum? It's probably not the sort of question the average restaurateur or hotelier has spent much time pondering after all, you have a business to run. But it's the very simple concept at the heart of CSR, or corporate social responsibility.
In essence, CSR is the notion that a business does not and cannot exist in isolation that its actions have a wider impact on its community, whether local, national, global or virtual. What it takes out, therefore, it has a moral responsibility to put back, by way of recycling, being environmentally sustainable and working with its community, charities and local groups.
But before we get sucked into all sorts of heavy debates about sustainability and governance, perhaps the most important thing to realise about CSR is that it's a great, rewarding, morally right thing to do. But as we'll see from the case studies here, it's also good for business, especially for a sector as people- and reputation-orientated as hospitality.
Yet there's long been a suspicion among smaller businesses that CSR is something just for the big boys. They have the money sloshing around and enough people at a loose end to support lots of worthy causes and get the headlines. For the rest of us in the real world just struggling to keep afloat it's simply not viable, so the theory goes.
In fact, it's often even more important for smaller businesses to ensure they don't lose touch with their local communities and to have an ethical, social reputation, points out Peter Roberts, principal at energy advisory service Hospitable Climates. "A lot of people think it's just for the large corporations, but it's not necessarily true," he says. "CSR is all-embracing, from how the company behaves to how it treats its staff, the standards it expects from its people and the way it treats clients and customers."
And with a survey last month from financial adviser Grant Thornton suggesting British businesses are now spending some £2m a year on environmental and CSR initiatives, it's a bandwagon hospitality companies of all sizes can ill afford to ignore.
Mitchells & Butlers
Community and charity initiatives are such an integral part of pub company M&B's Bryncoch Inn in Neath, West Glamorgan, that it's hard to know where to start. The pub, run by Jan and Craig Wigley, has won the operator's Heart of the Community awards for the past three years and now has such a reputation that it has been banned from entering again, jokes Craig.
The two have been instrumental in the development of a Bryncoch Environmental Group, and Craig is chair of the local Scouts committee and is leading a project to raise £250,000 to restore and repair its hut.
The pub supports a charity that takes groups of local children with special needs skiing, including organising a tractor road run that raised £500. It also raises money, sometimes through duck races and other events, for an array of other worthy causes, including the local rugby team and Wales Air Ambulance.
"It's just about having the right mental attitude and being prepared to put in a bit of time and effort. You have to think outside your own little box," explains Craig. "It's not the reason I do it, but everyone knows me now. It's given me a little status in the community. When we took over the pub seven years ago it was basically a good pub now it's a very good pub. Years ago it used to be the church where everyone went and where everyone knew everyone else now it's the church and the local pub," he adds.
"A lot of my staff are young and you'd think it wouldn't mean much to them. But sometimes I come in and find them polishing the awards we've won, which makes you feel tremendous. They're very proud of what we're doing," he continues. "It's hard to put a figure on it and the main thing is it gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, but I'd say, conservatively, that 10% of what I've put into the local area has come back into the pub," he says.
For the past four years managers at Sodexho in Scotland have been working closely with eight secondary schools around Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of its Health Matters initiative.
The programme has four strands. First, managers give regular talks to children on food and diet, including blind tasting sessions, smoothie-making and cholesterol awareness. Then evening Ready Steady Cook sessions are held by Sodexho chefs for children and parents on how to cook more healthily on a budget. Third, in partnership with the Outward Bound Trust, physical activity days are run, including mountain-biking and orienteering, and finally Sodexho organises work placements for children at the schools to give them a taste of what it's like to be chefs and waiters.
"It's great fun but also a real eye-opener. On the talks, for instance, a lot of the kids have never tasted fresh tuna or even fresh fish, or strawberries or kiwi fruit," explains Denise Coulter, Sodexho learning and development executive in Glasgow. "Up to now it has only been run in secondary schools but we're looking at whether we can extend it to primary schools, though obviously only using cold ingredients."
While the main focus of the programme is about what Sodexho can give back to the community, Coulter agrees the managers, and the wider business, benefit too. "For me as a trainer, standing up in front of a load of people and giving a talk has not been a problem, but some of our managers say they have really developed their people and interaction skills as a result. They find it really inspiring," she explains. "Also, a lot of the pupils now know and recognise our name and subsequently want to come and work for us. We've had people applying to us who have mentioned the programme."
Premier Travel Inn
PTI chief operating officer Paul Flaum reckons the chain is already halfway towards its ambition of raising £1m for the hospitality industry charity Hospitality Action this year, and hopes it can meet its target by the year-end.
"As a board, we feel we have a moral responsibility to put something back into the community, which we think our guests also relate to," he explains. "Not only is it an excellent charity to support, but it's also a great way to galvanise our teams, to support something that they may one day need themselves if they fall on unfortunate times."
To this end, events have been held up and down the country, employees have been able to make donations through payroll and there has been a matching scheme, where any donations made are matched by the company. "Members of the board have had beards shaved off, there have been sponsored car washes and leg-waxings, one regional director completed a triathlon, there have been sponsored bikes rides and two managers during September drove to every one of our 480 hotels to raise money," says Flaum.
The company is also looking at the feasibility of allowing customers to make a donation when they book online. "It shows the leaders of this business care, it's a very public demonstration. But there are also a lot of team events, so it's a great way of engaging teams and boosting morale," Flaum adds.
Fast-food giant McDonald's has long had a reputation for getting stuck into community and local initiatives. The Ronald McDonald House Charities, for instance, has been supporting children and families in hospital since 1989, and managers and franchisees are actively encouraged to get involved with and support local groups and charities.
The chain's latest move is an energy and waste recycling initiative called Green City. The pilot scheme will see 11 McDonald's restaurants in Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley recycle their waste and turning it into light and heating for local buildings.
The restaurants will no longer send waste to landfill. Instead, it will be collected by waste contractor Veolia Environmental Services, treated and then converted into electricity and heat. Chief executive Steve Easterbrook explains: "At the moment, it's difficult for companies like McDonald's to recycle waste. Many recycling contractors refuse to take our waste because we can't remove food from it completely. As a result, we have to send it to landfill. This trial is an exciting opportunity to look at an alternative method of disposal with real benefits for the environment and local community."
Gavin Murray, business manager of the Sheffield city-centre restaurant, adds: "From a business point of view it's good because we're saving money. But it's also about being a good citizen. It's been a great help with morale, too. A scheme like this makes no difference to the functioning of the restaurant but what we did do was take some of the staff on a trip to the recycling plant, which helped them feel more involved in the decision-making. They asked lots of questions."
McDonald's estimates the scheme will save each restaurant from sending 100 tonnes of refuse to landfill each year, and help to provide heating for 130 local buildings, including sports centres, flats, theatres, galleries, hospitals and even Sheffield City Hall.
The intention is to roll out the scheme to further restaurants in the Sheffield area and then, if successful, extend it across the UK.
The 11 pilot sites will also test a range of environment-friendly technologies and processes, including solar panels, wind power, energy-efficient lighting and a recycling scheme for cardboard.
Key concepts of CSR for hotels
- Prevention of pollution and care for the environment.
- Social equity, which means integrating effectively with communities and offering to those employees in countries remote from the core business, opportunities and benefits which comply with internationally agreed human rights and ethical standards.
- Economic parity, which means working with local community groups to achieve their aims and to ensure that the economic benefits of the business are felt locally as well as by the country of origin of the business and its owners.
- Properly rewarded and motivated staff.
- An environmental and socially responsible supply chain.
- A positive media image with the public, guests and investors.
Source: Considerate Hoteliers
Make an impact with CSR
It's difficult to find ways in which the social benefits of a hotel business can be maximised. Two ways in which hotels can make their impact more positive in line with CSR is by examining their employment policies and looking at the way they spend money in the local economy.
- Look at offering flexible working options.
- Ensure equal opportunities policies are applied across the board.
- Ensure staff are aware of their rights.
- Reward (not necessarily financially) membership of local groups or volunteering.
- Support employee involvement in local community events.
- Provide incentives (eg, a dedicated fund from voluntary guest donations that staff can allocate to relevant community projects.
- Specify seasonal produce (to the country or region) where possible.
- Specify that products should be sourced from within a certain radius of the business - 30 miles usually, although 100 miles is reasonable for businesses in London.
- Specifying regional varieties (eg, artisan British cheeses).
- Form partnerships with local farmers and butchers to supply products and maintain health and safety standards.
- Work with local suppliers to promote and sell their produce (eg, honey) through the hotel shop.
- Promote the origin of food on offer on the menu.
Source: Considerate Hoteliers
Results of CSR
For many businesses the results outweigh their expectations. These include:
- Significant reductions in utility costs.
- Preferred supplier status from the rising number of organisations - including the Environment Agency and many corporate clients - that are now asking the hotel they're working with about their environmental programmes.
- Positive media coverage.
- Improved trade from the local community
- Less resistance from the local community to expansion plans from the business.
- Improved maintenance of the overall destination quality.
Source: Considerate Hoteliers