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Using social responsibility to build meeting attendance

The Springtime expo last week showcased a number of companies, products, and education sessions related to greening of meetings and the strong business case for social responsibility, especially in this difficult economy.

Kicking off was Trailblazer session speaker Gary Hirshberg, “CE-Yo” and cofounder of Stonyfield Farm, whose $340-million company is the largest organic yogurt producer in the world. Hirshberg, fresh from a similar presentation to an association of convention center managers, shared his compelling story of how he built Stonyfield Farm as a socially responsible business to prove that you can make both an outstanding profit and a positive impact on the planet. Sustainability also helps businesses “get to the Holy Grail: customer loyalty.”

Asked what specific socially responsible actions could be taken by meeting planners to attract more people to their events, Hirshberg suggested two in particular:

1) Hold a service day as part of any conference or major event. “People want to connect and interact,” he said, noting that working side by side on a community project creates a feel-good experience off the bat. “The networking is incredible…. And right away the meeting is a success because people think, ‘I gave instead of just received.’”

2) Consider offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Hirshberg noted that figuring out total airline or other transportation mileage of attendees is fairly easy, and the carbon emission totals can then be easily calculated online and offset through tree planting, energy credits, and other options.

“It’s not expensive [to offset],” he emphasized, and it helps “create symbols that show this [commitment to social responsibility] is a conscious effort.” To generate more SR-related ideas, he urged meeting planners to talk directly and frequently about sustainability, noting that “you’re only limited by your imagination.”

You can learn much more about integrating SR into your organization by reading his excellent book, Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World (Hyperion, 2008). A longer interview with Hirshberg will appear shortly on the ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility page.



The ascendancy of socially responsible business is wonderful. But in keep in mind, these businesses were created to make money, not to do good. Social responsibility merely sets the parameters for how the business will make money.

Associations need to serve their members in whatever way the members want. Social responsibility is a strategic resource that can sometimes enhance the membership experience. But it is not the reason people join.

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