An annual corporate sustainability report is seldom considered a page-turner. Despite the critical and often incredibly impressive information held within these documents, it is a hard job to attract anyone other than those who have a special interest to read them.
The usual format is a large PDF, which more recently have incorporated easy-to-understand, infographics and, those companies with deeper pockets and some imagination, have built interactive websites and apps that allow the data to be further explored. Still, almost no one reads them.
And yet, people do want to understand more about the companies with which they do business, the products they use, the food they eat, and so on. They're just unlikely to tackle an 80-page document or interact with a graphic that explains the incremental improvement in any given corporation’s waste disposal journey.
In an attempt to bring its sustainability record to a wider audience, Heineken director of global sustainable development Michael Dickstein enlisted the services of Dutch rapper and spoken word artist, Kevin "Blaxtar" de Randamie, to deliver the organization’s 2015 Sustainability Report. Yes, you read that right. And the results are striking.
"We use our website, we use the online report, I’m out regularly to give presentations and we’re quite skilled in doing that," says Dickstein. "However, we also realize there is a certain boundary on how many people you can reach."
This is not Dickstein’s first try at bringing Heineken's Sustainability Report and its "Brewing a Better World" strategy to a broader audience. Last year, he created the "Legendary7" digital campaign, which included an app with a fun selfie element. Encouraged by stakeholder reaction to that, Dickstein thought about what could be done this year that would be unexpected for a sustainability report.
"We want to go beyond the usual suspects, beyond NGOs, media, government suppliers, and retailers," says Dickstein. "We also really want to reach out and jump on the train that is making sustainability sexy to a wider audience."
That said, Dickstein’s ambitions are relatively modest. "I think the primary objective is to shed a light on the Brewing a Better World strategy and make people understand that when they drink a Heineken there is a much broader story behind it," he says. "A story that is comprehensively set up behind sustainability. That’s my primary goal. I wouldn't dare to go a step further and say we will influence the brand appearance massively. Let’s take it step by step, but I do believe we can make a difference in the way we present sustainability."
De Randamie was selected after Dickstein saw a separate film related to a product launch he had made for Heineken’s internal use. The artist was given the sustainability report and, aside from some legal parameters, complete creative freedom as to what he did with the information.
"It is a matter of applying a certain skill to a certain set of information," says De Randamie. "Usually, creatively, you decide your own topic. In this case the information was handed to me, that’s the only difference. From there on out, I had complete liberty in deciding how to approach it and once I had something like a structure and a direction, it was a matter of co-creation. In terms of creative freedom, especially for a company of Heineken’s size, it was exceptional."
Dickstein concedes that at points during the process he was unsure. "I was the first one to say in the preliminary meetings, ‘We do not want to limit your creativity, go for it,'" says Dickstein. "Then when we saw the first draft, I was like, 'Guys, are we really sure we want to use those words?' I realized that sometimes it is very difficult to step out of your own boundaries and walk the talk. It’s one thing to be bold; to say that we should do something totally different, and another indeed when you see the product and think, ‘Is this really what I was looking for?’ I immediately saw there was a very constructive and artistic tension between the things that he [de Randamie] suggested and our reaction to them."
De Randamie applauds Dickstein’s openness. "The creative team consisted of me and Ben Heppener, the visual director," says De Randamie. "We had two creative, almost extremes, at the same table and it requires you to be open to things that you normally wouldn’t consider or think about."
It was something of an experiment for de Randamie himself. "To move into a space where you can suggest things that might get completely shot out of the water or completely embraced—there’s no way of knowing. And still doing that and moving towards where everybody feels comfortable, and proud, of this creative achievement," he says.
The result is a visually stylish film, "Let's Get Frank," which includes the lines, "It was as though his words had turned liquid and his story was now filling the glass he was handing me. I looked at the golden fluid behind the star. And for the first time became aware of its transparency." This neatly encapsulates Dickstein's stated aim for the initiative.
Dickstein says that he and his colleagues find it exiting to take risks and do things in a different way. He concedes he has no idea how the film will be received. "This will be exciting for us," he says, "And excitement and risk is fun."