Most meeting activities aimed at satisfying a commitment to corporate social responsibility are meaningful to meeting professionals and to a small minority of participants, but mostly irrelevant to the social, economic, and environmental goals with which our organizations are trying to align.
Don’t get me wrong. I love projects that bring meetings together with host communities. Not every program is the kind of home run that Timberland Corp. achieved with its now-legendary reconstruction project in New Orleans in 2006. As long as a project doesn’t do more harm than good, I’m all for it.
But we shouldn’t pretendprojects bring lasting, transformative change—the kind we strive for when participants gather on site to share their issues and concerns. They’re usually tiny, well-intended Band-Aids, applied to a bleeding wound far larger than a three-hour event can begin to heal.
Which is why I think our industry’s CSR activities would be far more genuine, consistent, and energetic if they applied to our own supply chain in a way that linked the industry’s vital interests with those of the communities where meetings take place.
For CVBs in coastal communities that depend on steady weather and stable sea levels, it would mean learning the basics of climate science, then weighing in in favor of the climate and energy bill now stalled in the U.S. Senate.
In Arizona, it would mean standing up for the legitimate fears that participants of Hispanic descent might feel on the streets of Phoenix or Maricopa County, rather than supporting “buycotts” in a way that lends our industry’s support to xenophobia and racial profiling.
In any community with a functioning transit system (Buenos Aires qualifies; Dallas doesn’t), we would make it easy for participants to use a service that cuts their on-site carbon footprint.
By staking out the CSR issues that many participants and host communities hold in common, we would have a more meaningful basis to track our progress. Tools like the Genuine Progress Indicator, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, and the U.N. Human Development Index measure the community strengths that a conference takes for granted (try holding a safe, successful conference in a community that isn’t functioning). If we scored well on those scales, we could better count on stronger community support when we needed it—because we would really deserve it.
A new approach to CSR would help every meeting professional work in a job that is more consistent with what each of us wants—clean air and water, healthy children, safe communities, a stable climate, enough free time to live our lives. When our industry starts moving the needle on those issues, that will be a CSR result worth measuring.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.