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, â€œCE-Yoâ€ 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 â€œget to the Holy Grail: customer loyalty.â€
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. â€œPeople want to connect and interact,â€ he said, noting that working side by side on a community project creates a feel-good experience off the bat. â€œThe networking is incredibleâ€¦. And right away the meeting is a success because people think, â€˜I gave instead of just received.â€™â€
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.
â€œItâ€™s not expensive [to offset],â€ he emphasized, and it helps â€œcreate symbols that show this [commitment to social responsibility] is a conscious effort.â€ To generate more SR-related ideas, he urged meeting planners to talk directly and frequently about sustainability, noting that â€œyouâ€™re only limited by your imagination.â€
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 Centerâ€™s Social Responsibility page.