Far and above just 'the right thing to do'
By Emily Sinsabaugh, Ph.D.
Last year alone, Walt Disney Company’s “Disney VoluntEARS” dedicated their time and talents to improve their communities around the world with more than 495,000 hours of volunteer service.
Given the unemployment rate in the U.S., Starbucks recently announced its “Create Jobs for USA” program to support small businesses and underserved communities. The company donated $5 million and is raising funds by selling $5 patriotic wristbands branded “indivisible.”
Apple requires suppliers to commit to a Supplier Code of Conduct as a condition of doing business with the corporation. JCPenney has facilitated contributions of more than $100 million to leading youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Y, National 4-H, and FIRST® robotics.
Corporate initiatives such as these are part of a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. From its roots in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the CSR movement has evolved from that of mere PR tactics or writing checks because it’s “the right thing to do” to a business strategy of many of the world’s most successful and profitable corporations.
According to Edmund Burke, founder of the Center for Corporate Citizenship, “Involvement of companies in communities has shifted in response to changing community expectations from checkbook philanthropy to a principle about the way a company should behave in a community.”
This aptly describes the CSR commitment of Marriott International, Inc.
“We’re looking continually at how to apply the CSR lens to our business decisions, to help address social and environmental issues within our core business,” explained St. Bonaventure University alumna Mari L. Snyder, ’90, who heads the CSR team for Marriott, which has been recognized among the nation’s Top 50 Most Socially Responsible Companies*.
“Our company’s financial sustainability is interconnected with the sustainability of the communities we operate in and the people we serve.”
CSR is related to how a company does business, how it incorporates social and environmental values into its business operations.
This strategy helps a company identify business opportunities, minimize risk, innovate, build its reputation, establish brand preference, and engage its stakeholders, including customers, partners, investors, suppliers, and employees (who Marriott calls “associates”).
“It’s truly leadership by influence across these populations,” said Snyder, who was named Marriott’s vice president for Social Responsibility and Community Engagement in 2007.
“Our CSR work has deep roots; Bill Marriott’s father hired a doctor for his employees when he and his wife first started the company in the late ’20s. The Marriotts saw the value of CSR long before we had 3,700 hotels in 70 countries,” she said.
Linked to the bottom line
Demonstrating outcomes and creating shareholder value are keys to any good business strategy, but communication is also critically important. Snyder reflected on a recent experience where the CSR initiatives sealed a $12 million contract for Marriott.
“We were competing with seven major companies, and it came down to Marriott and another U.S.-based competitor. Our sales account manager, knowing this client’s commitment to the environment, community development and social concerns, conveyed our CSR goals and results. And, that was the differentiating — and deciding — factor. I’m proud of that sale for two reasons — it demonstrates that this business strategy can generate revenue and increase market share, but it also shows that CSR is embedded across the corporation, so that my colleague in sales knew that it would help close the deal.”
CSR is often associated with a company’s sustainability efforts.
“The environment has been the ‘center plate’ of CSR for the past several years, and it’s where we’ve focused our metrics work. For example, we set a goal to build more sustainably certified hotels and to achieve a 25 percent reduction in energy and water consumption within 10 years. We wanted to go beyond our hotel doors, to have a broader impact so we started a portfolio of projects to help address the world’s most pressing environmental issues,” Snyder said.
This includes an investment of $500,000 in fresh water in China and $2 million in Amazon rainforest preservation.
Other CSR components include Marriott’s associate volunteerism, in-kind contributions, disaster relief, supply chain ethics and standards, and economic development.
This coming year, Marriott will build its first hotel in Haiti. This was one of the first projects where the Marriott team worked to connect hotel developers with investors — including a development bank and an NGO (nongovernmental organization) — on a project that would invest in and bring jobs to Haiti and aid in its long-term recovery.
“This work is so meaningful to me. I’m grateful that I can put my Franciscan values into action each and every day in my role, and I’ve come to see the unique role a travel and tourism company has,” said Snyder. “We at Marriott can be the means by which our guests and associates experience, learn about, and have a meaningful impact on people in communities around the world.”
A healthier planet to travel, live and work
CSR is on the front end of some of Marriott’s market expansion efforts. What excites Snyder is the idea of economic development in developing countries where Marriott does not yet have a presence.
“For example, we are entering sub-Saharan Africa,” she explained. “It’s a whole new space to identify a business and community need, such as educating young women in hospitality management. We are developing the partnership with an NGO, setting metrics, and will ensure that local communities are involved.”
As a high-volume employer, Marriott, along with other corporations in the travel and tourism industry, can be economic engines in the communities in which they do business.
“The number of people who work today globally in the travel and tourism industry would compose the fourth-largest country in the world. For our part, we create value in the marketplace: Employees have a career path, investors have a good return from a company that has values, and communities are benefiting from a company that is actively strengthening and investing in it,” she said.
“Ultimately, we are focused on making this a healthier planet to travel, to live and to work. So, with that as a goal, our work is about creating sustainable economic development and prosperity, and what it takes to get there.”
* Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Index