The Red-Star Steward of Sustainability
Heineken just seemed to be a beer company to me; one with a ripened value due to years of good reputation. I had never thought about the company's ethics toward profitability or brand positioning until this week when I had dinner with Heineken USA's VP of Corporate Responsibility and Ethics during a business trip to Washington, D.C.
During our conversation, some key discoveries were made.
I learned how Heineken uses market access to help others. The company, the Heineken executive said, has a responsibility to be “of service” and to teach "Heineken citizens" how to be part of a new way of thinking. For example in sections of Africa, the company works with a non-governmental organization to support the community’s diverse concerns. Though I am only now growing increasingly aware of this initiative, I am impressed with the scope of the company's stewardship, ranging from creating innovate child survival approaches to sickle-cell anemia research.
Living a life within an organization that creates sustainable, community-minded initiatives is indeed happening at this beer company—a concept echoed in the book, The Communitarian Persuasion, where author Philip Selznick offers many thoughts regarding how gross inequalities “weaken solidarity and erode respect.”
Most people think being sustainable means using less water or considering alternative shipment methods. Of course these are solid examples of what “part” of sustainability is today. But there's more to sustainable practice. Sustainability means being conscious of impact. The impact I am referring to rumbles in those communities that contain business entities and their people—their citizens. This type of sustainability-orientation has driven the creation of moments and initiatives once kept quite hush in this humble company. Consider Heineken's human rights' statement: http://www.heinekeninternational.com/humanrights.aspx. Do you know of many companies who have one today?
To Holland-based Heineken, being a multi-cultural corporation that practices sustainability means maintaining brand unity yet being sensitive to many issues.
Some companies “say” they believe in sustainability, ethical behaviors, and human rights. Many times, the claim to be "socially conscious" stewards is only made for sake of making more money. To me, belief is confirmed by action, not just words. Riding a humanistic wave should not be artificial. Unlike other companies, Heineken seems to have positive intentions. In fact, the company's overall communications about its 'good work' has been low-key. From my perspective, I see and believe that the company isn't growing beyond its bonds "just because"; instead, it's "growing at giving." Perhaps this unsuspecting beer company is proclaiming that a collaborative mindset is possible today.
In this spirit, I’d like to award a gold star to this red-star beer company—a company that was not an obvious choice for a sustainability award in my book earlier this week. Not all companies or people are perfect, but it is perfectly apropos to applaud Heineken for striving to reach people while not watering down its own brand or work.