Effective corporate social responsibility policies (CSR) can boost a company's profits as well as giving something back, delegates were told at this year's Catering Forum held on board the cruise liner Aurora.
Iona Hill, director of CSR consultancy CR Metrics, said although the benefits of some initiatives were hard to gauge, there was evidence that CSR could raise bottom lines.
"Companies can save at least 20% on energy costs alone if they use power-saving products. And a happier workforce means you spend less on recruitment," she said. Hill also pointed to increased pressure from investors, consumers and employees. "Engaging in CSR is not about giving money away to charity or weird causes. It gives you a competitive advantage and longer-term shareholder value," she added.
Tim West, chief executive of Lexington Catering, claimed CSR had become a priority because clients now demanded it. "We've had to develop our own CSR policy to make sure we have answers to questions when we pitch for business," he said.
But others felt CSR was still not completely understood by clients. Sean Valentine, managing director of contract caterer Missing Ingredients, said: "People are unclear on a whole number of issues."
Cyrus Todiwala, owner and executive chef of Café Spice Namasté restaurant group, said the hospitality industry was morally obliged to act, irrespective of potential savings. "Our industry is a multiple polluter. CSR should not be a fashion statement, it should be a necessity. We have the chance to become the pioneers for the rest of the business community," he added.
Measures introduced at Café Spice include movement-activated lights and the reuse of envelopes for waiting staff notebooks.
What is CSR?
A company's commitment to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner, while recognising the interests of investors, customers, employees, business partners, local communities, the environment and society at large.
For more information, see www.csr.gov.uk/
By Tom Bill