Guidance on Social Responsibility and Its Impact on the Hotel Industry

by | Sep 29, 2010

On 14 September 2010, ISO 26000, which gives organizations guidance on implementing social responsibility (SR), was approved for publication as an ISO International Standard. Its target release date is November 1, 2010. The publishing of ISO26000 will prove to be a tipping point in worldwide implementation of SR practices. Up until now there has been no “official” definition or framework for social responsibility.

So what does it all mean for the hotel industry? For those hotel groups that already have SR or corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in place, it offers a definitive guideline for benchmarking and gap analysis. For groups without an existing program, it offers an excellent foundation on which to design and implement your program.

Effectively, this standard should provide the preeminent foundation for any organisation to build its SR framework. It provides guidance on:

  • Concepts, terms and definitions related to social responsibility
  • The background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
  • Principles and practices relating to social responsibility
  • The core subjects and issues of social responsibility
  • Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behaviour throughout the organization and, through its policies and practices, within its sphere of influence
  • Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  • Communicating commitments, performance and other information related to social responsibility

The standard provides seven core subjects and associated principles in the SR framework. The seven core subjects are: Organizational governance; human rights; labour practices; the environment; fair operating practices; consumer issues; and community involvement and development. The seven principles of social responsibility are: accountability; transparency; ethical behaviour; respect for stakeholder interests; respect for the rule of law; respect for international norms of behaviour; and respect for human rights.

Make no mistake, SR is not about philanthropic activities such as giving to charity and should not be considered the responsibility of your PR department. Due to the broad nature of SR and its area of influence, top management needs to take responsibility for understanding, implementing and driving SR strategies throughout a hotel company or individual property. SR is applicable to smaller properties just as much as it is to larger properties and chains. In the standard, ISO have a dedicated section to small to medium-sized organizations. Often due to their more nimble and flexible nature, individual properties can have better SR programs in place than larger chains.

At minimum, hotel groups need corporate and property based SR committees with representation from all internal divisions. Best practice hotel companies have a dedicated corporate senior management position assigned, reporting directly into the CEO. This position drives corporate and individual property committees/heads in achieving their group wide SR objectives.

Due to the diverse nature of the hotel industry, SR is particularly relevant. Hotel groups have multiple stakeholders such as employees, customers, suppliers, government. They have environmental impact such as water usage, energy consumption, CO2 emissions and climate change. Hotel companies affect the communities in which they operate and need to be leaders in the areas of health and safety.  On top of all that, reporting to investors and stakeholders on SR initiatives is expected, and quickly become legislation in various jurisdictions. It also forms the basis for companies to be included in the fast-growing sector of sustainable investment funds and indexes (such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes).

While some hotel chains and properties already have CSR or SR programs in place, more need to show transparency and accountability by utilizing effective reporting channels (and this doesn’t mean just a section in the annual report).  The most internationally accepted reporting mechanism for sustainability and social responsibility is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Only a handful of hotel groups have adopted GRI reporting, and according to the latest available 2009/10 GRI records, they are:  Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, owner and  operator of the Peninsula Hotels; Intercontinental Hotel Group; Jumeirah Group; NH Hotels; Rezidor Hotel Group; Marriott International; and Sol Melia.

There are many benefits of SR to an organization. To name only some, it can achieve savings associated with increased productivity and resource efficiency, lower energy and water consumption, decrease waste, and the recovery of valuable by-products; it enhances employee loyalty, involvement, participation and morale; and it can prevent or reduce potential conflicts with consumers about products or services.

ISO 26000 contains voluntary guidance and is not a specification document intended for third party certification like ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. ISO has emphasized that it will be vigilant in seeing that this is respected – i.e., be skeptical of any organization claiming to offer ISO26000 certification or claiming to be ISO26000 certified.

Chris Knop is a columnist expressing personal views with the intent of furthering discussion on the sustainability discipline. He is a sustainability and corporate social responsibility professional with a background in hospitality, airlines and customer service sectors.

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