Mariela McIlwraith and Elizabeth Henderson are a fearless duo. The president and chief sustainability strategist, respectively, for Meeting Change, are known for championing sustainability issues in the meetings industry with academic intensity, professional persistence, and a healthy dose of humor. (If anyone doubts the latter, visit the Meeting Change blog and view the video where they “scientifically” demonstrate what an event carbon footprint looks like.)

Both women give back to the industry in significant volunteer roles. McIlwraith serves on the board of trustees of the Green Meeting Industry Council Foundation, and Henderson, the former director of corporate social responsibility for Meeting Professionals International, worked with the Global Reporting Initiative on the creation of sustainability reporting guidelines.

Their latest collaboration is due out this fall—a textbook for meetings industry students called Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Meetings and Events Industry. It is being published by Wiley as part of its Event Management series. CMI talked to the authors about their new 320-page hardcover and some of the CSR concepts at the heart of it.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: What motivated you to write a textbook?
McIlwraith: We wanted to explore ethics, CSR, and sustainability from a broader perspective. People often talk about these topics in silos—ethics or risk management or sustainability or green meetings. We wanted to look at how those topics are all interrelated, and also to expand the context around sustainability to look at social and economic factors as well. We found that there wasn’t a textbook out there for the next generation of event professionals that had an integrated perspective on ethics and CSR.

CMI: One of the concepts in the book is “authentic CSR.” Can you explain that?
Henderson: When you talk about corporate social responsibility in a general sense, you’re talking about an organization that’s taking responsibility and accountability for its actions in the community. The impact of this could be economic, it could be environmental, it could be societal.
McIlwraith: When you’re looking at an authentic CSR program, the question is whether the programs or initiatives are truly meaningful for the beneficiaries or whether the benefits are mostly flowing to the sponsoring organization. Is it all about the photo op? That’s not to say that organizations shouldn’t see benefits from doing good CSR, but there should be a balance in the focus, and there should be real benefits from the actions.
Henderson: In the book we explore a framework we’ve developed called MAUDE that helps organizations think about how to develop community service as part of a CSR program. (See related story.) We also look at the idea of “transactional” versus “transformational” CSR. A transactional event is one where you donate your time or your money to something in the community. It’s essentially a one-way communication. Whereas something that’s transformational really leverages your unique skills, where you’re providing a community with something that no one else can, and you have a two-way conversation so you and the community decide what that might look like.

CMI: Where have you seen authentic CSR in action?
Henderson: The relationship that Habitat for Humanity had with the American Mortgage Association, and more recently with Citibank, are great examples of CSR that makes sense. They both have the same goal—helping to increase home ownership. Both get to their goal from different directions.
McIlwraith: A strong example of aligning your CSR with your organizational objectives is Waste Management’s sponsorship of the Phoenix Open golf tournament. It’s brilliant the way they use their role as sponsor to promote best practices in waste management. They work with vendors and suppliers to make sure that everything coming onto the tournament site uses industry-leading practices and has stakeholder engagement.

CMI: What are the roadblocks to CSR in the meeting environment?
Henderson: CSR is often viewed as an add-on, something to tick off on a checklist. In order to be effective, it needs to be part of both how and why you work within the organization to reach strategic objectives, and this needs to be reflected in the resulting event. If CSR is viewed as an add-on, it doesn’t have the strategic impact that it could if it was simply part of your event management.
McIlwraith: Other challenges can be a lack of awareness or a lack of interest on the part of some of the stakeholders who you need in order to effectively implement CSR for your meeting. There can also be difficulty in comparing suppliers, but some good things are happening that will help address that. For example, the green meeting standards that are being released now will make it a little easier to compare ethical and sustainable suppliers.

CMI: Will your book reach beyond college classrooms?
McIlwraith: I would love to see it accepted throughout the industry, not just in academia. We are planning to put together short, two-minute videos on some of the key concepts in each of the chapters, and we’ll have to see how we can make those publicly available.
Henderson: And we’re also looking at ways of leveraging social media. In the last chapter, we’ve distilled all the key concepts of the book into tweets. We’ve taken the main points from each chapter and summarized them so that if a classroom or a tweet chat wanted to discuss a concept, they’re there for them in tweetable form already.—Susan Hatch

This article is based on information in Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Meetings and Events Industry by Elizabeth Henderson and Mariela McIlwraith. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.