Impact on hospitality of international social responsibility standards

WORLDWIDE Last week, the International Standards Organization approved ISO26000, which gives organizations guidance on implementing social responsibility initiatives. The publishing of ISO26000, expected in November, could be a tipping point in worldwide implementation of social responsibility practices. Until now, there has been no “official” definition or framework for social responsibility. So what does it mean for the hotel industry?

For those hotel groups that already have corporate social responsibility 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.

This standard should provide the preeminent foundation for any organization to build its social responsibility 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 behavior 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 guidance on seven core subjects—organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement and development—along with seven principles—accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms and respect for human rights.

Make no mistake, SR is not just about philanthropic activities. While philanthropy is discussed in the seven core subjects (under community involvement and development) it is just one part of the broader spectrum of social responsibility covered under ISO26000.

Another common misconception about social responsibility is that it should be the responsibility of a hotel’s public relations department. While PR and communications play important roles in raising awareness of social responsibility efforts, they cannot effectively drive a hotel group’s entire social responsibility program.   

Top management needs to take responsibility for understanding, implementing and driving social responsibility strategies throughout a hotel company or individual property. Social responsibility is applicable to smaller properties just as much as it is to larger properties and chains; in fact, the standard has a dedicated section to small and medium-sized organizations. Often due to their more nimble and flexible nature, individual properties can have better social responsibility programs in place than larger chains.

At minimum, hotel groups need corporate- and property-based 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 in achieving their group-wide objectives.

Hotel groups have multiple stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and government. They have environmental impacts from water usage, energy consumption and carbon emissions. 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 social responsibility initiatives is expected and has become law in various jurisdictions. It also forms the basis for companies to be included in the fast-growing sector of sustainable investment funds and indexes.

While some hotel chains and properties already have social responsibility programs in place, more need to show transparency and accountability by using effective reporting channels—and this does not mean just a section in the annual report. The most internationally accepted reporting mechanism for sustainability and social responsibility is the Global Reporting Initiative. Only a handful of hotel groups have adopted GRI reporting, including Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, IHG, Jumeirah Group, NH Hoteles, The Rezidor Hotel Group, Marriott International and Sol Melià.

ISO26000 contains voluntary guidance and is not a specification document intended for third-party certification.

Chris Knop is director at Avasara Consulting Ltd., a hospitality consulting firm based in Hong Kong and Macau. He is vice chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and executive committee member for marketing and corporate social responsibility at the Hong Kong Call Centre Association. He was a founding member of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts’ corporate social responsibility committee and has authored a white paper on CSR implementation.