Social Responsibility FAIL: can we do better?

Two international retailers, H&M and Wal-Mart, just got a pie in the face of their (stated?) strong Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Today’s news from the New York Times revealed that bags and bags and bags of unsold, post-holiday clothing stock was destroyed before being discarded, ostensibly to prevent it from being re-sold.  A saavy business maneuver or ‘ Social Responsibilty: FAIL’?

Items destroyed and discarded represent huge waste (cost) not only to staff time, landfill costs, etc, but to both brands, neither of which needs the outpouring of bashing which has been the result.  While costly in terms of wasted resources, this incident represents huge lost opportunity.  A well organized initiative to donate these items would have avoided cost and boosted consumer trust in each brand.

These incidents have special resonance for large meetings and events, as well as other businesses.  We seem geared to see disposal, rather than planned donation, as the preferred method to clear out exhibition halls, registration desks and store rooms.  What meeting planner would not feel remorse if journalists splashed their event on the front page for  insensitive, irresponsible waste practices?  Why wait for such embarrassment before taking action to integrate a plan to donation usable materials post event?

As part of planning their European Offshore Wind event in Stockholm last fall, EWEA partnered with Majblomman, a Swedish NGO supporting children, to  donate congress bags.  Similar efforts are being observed by other meeting planners and venues, so the idea is neither new or difficult to understand, just rare in its occurrence.

We’re better than this, people!

In addition to the previously mentioned (here, tooGMIC Trash Challenge, Please share your thoughts, examples and resources for expanding on the idea to donate usable resources.


  1. I totally agree with your statements. It´s amazing how these decisions from big companies still is taken.
    Also so many events, meetings or congresses (big or small) every day happening with all there is (marketing materials, clothes, food, drinks, giveaways, signs etc.) and soo much to recycle and to take care of, reuse or donate. Every meeting you will find the same minths, same pens, same signs – only with different brand on it. Some companies even write the date on big fancy signs and flags still – even if it is a weekly, monthly or annual event !?

    Is this overproduction? Maybe – if you don´t plan to donate to the one´s in need!

    Please fill up my ideas!

    • Michael Luehrs says:

      Thank you, Thomas!
      A big part of what’s missing is a CSR (or sustainable business) plan which truly integrates stated intent with operational action. When large players within an organization like H&M or Wal-mart don’t know, intuitively, how to address a business challenge like the one in the article, it reveals the need for re-assessment.

      The same holds true for planners and owners of events. Once the sustainability plan is formed, communicated and accepted, better decisions can result.

      The benefits are clear but what will it take for us to overcome the barriers?

      Readers, please share your examples and best practices!

  2. Shawna McKinley says:

    Thanks for sharing this Michael. An unfortunate example of waste and how disposable our society has become. The simple lesson for meeting professionals is to trim the fat, carefully make accurate guarantees and reduce wherever possible as the first course of action, always asking ‘do we need this?’. The challenge though, is often the materials are tied to sponsors who are the financial bread and butter of our events. Planners have to tread very carefully to guide sponsors to the best ways to represent themselves. Failure to do so can present huge risks and similar situations, like the one you link to, arising. We’ve been really fortunate to work with several venues that have pre-established donation programs to help minimize waste. Venues in cities where disposal to landfill rates are high are finding that it is financially beneficial to divert as much as they can to community agencies, compost and recycling. These turn-key venue programs are making it more convenient for planners, and becoming a selling point for facilities. Moscone Center and the hotels of San Francisco are a great example of this in action with their Non-Profit Collaborative. For those planners who don’t have the benefit of a venue-facilitated donation program it can help to establish a partnership with an organization that has connections throughout the regions you meet in. USGBC’s Greenbuild event does this, which helps to more easily get any leftover materials to people who can benefit from them. Of course before this process exhibitors need to be trained to reduce what they bring. Planners can help by giving them lead retrieval systems to facilitate sales and accurate ideas of just how much collateral they should bring, if any. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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