Monday, December 6, 2010

CR and Sustainability at Sundial Group’s UK Meeting Venues

Over here in the UK, corporate responsibility and social awareness among meeting venues continues to be a major talking point. As with all such topics, some ‘discuss’ in more depth than others while others just get on with it. The line between genuine concern for the environment or simply paying lip service to today’s latest trend is blurry. Our economy is, by nature, demand-led, therefore suppliers must respond to customers’ requirements or face an uncertain future. In the middle of the noughties, therefore, businesses up and down the country were clamouring to show us how warm and fluffy they all were. What happens when customers’ requirements change though?

This may seem controversial, and I may be wrong, but anecdotally the perception I have is that venues’ green credentials have not, over the last year, been as important to buyers as they once were. Sad as that may be, the economic climate, rather than the earth’s climate, has been the one whose change has preoccupied budget holders the most of late. Large tender documents, although still asking for extensive evidence of environmental policies and programmes, have given greater emphasis to price since the credit crunch. Beforehand, “green” was the new gold standard. In a recession, it seems, not so much.

Like many other businesses, we decided to document the things we do at our venues to be better citizens, so a few of us got together to produce not only a range of formal policies in line with our values, but also our detailed environmental action plans and we have published these on our website for over three years now, updating them periodically so that they remain current. In total, we identified 75 actions that we either do already, or aim to implement. Some were quick and easy to identify and implement – it didn’t take us long to implement a policy of switching off printers and computer monitors when not in use, and after a few months we had, by and large, replaced all our light bulbs with energy-efficient equivalents. We contacted local councils to ensure we were recycling all that we could and we reviewed the timer settings on exterior lighting and all thermostats so that we were reducing the amount of energy we were using. Some of the venue-based initiatives that we identified were things we were doing already – like making sure our fridges and freezers are defrosted regularly and waiting until a washing machine was full to run it.

Other items took a bit longer – for example we decided that we should network our photocopiers as scanners so that the amount of paper being passed our office was shifted onto the email server instead. However previously-agreed contracts meant we had to wait until early last year to be able to replace the equipment. Likewise our shift to ‘green’ electricity suppliers required existing contracts to expire. Some of our agreed actions have not yet been achievable for us – the investment that would be required to install new boilers, for example, has (if you’ll excuse the pun) been put onto the back burner.

At the corporate/policy level, we had always incentivised car-sharing amongst employees for business travel, but we decided to try and find a way to encourage our customers to join in, so we launched our Green Meeting Package, an optional, zero-additional-cost (we wanted to push against the profiteering we had seen on environmentally-friendly options) enhancement to a company’s Complete Meeting Package. Part of this includes an incentive to residential delegates to car-share or use public transport to get here; if they do so, they get a credit of £5 to spend in our bar.

The critical factor, however, to achieving success is employee engagement. To get this, we said that our CSR efforts should be spearheaded by our Managing Director but that our Green Teams should spread throughout the business and every department should be represented. Further to this, we integrated sustainability as a measure on our Balanced Scorecard, so that our performance and success in reducing our environmental impact will affect our employees directly through their evaluations and through the company-wide bonus scheme. This alignment of personal and corporate goals makes it all much more real for everyone at Sundial Venues, instead of it just being something that comes from head office but has little or no meaning on-site.

Written by:
James Bland
Marketing and Communications Manager

The Sundial Group
Highgate House

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