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Heineken: The Red-Star Steward of Sustainability

Saybrook University | Monday December 26th, 2011 | 1 Comment

The following is a guest post by our friends at Saybrook University’s Organizational Systems Program (a 3p sponsor) – designed for students who want to understand the nature of organizations, collaborative practices, and transformative change.

By Dennis Rebelo, Ph.D. student in organizational systems, Saybrook University

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 recently 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, I made some key discoveries.

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. I am impressed with the scope of the company’s stewardship, ranging from creating innovate child survival approaches to sickle-cell anemia research.

This beer company is becoming an organization that creates sustainable, community-minded initiatives.

Most people think being sustainable means using less water or considering alternative shipment methods. Of course, these are solid examples of one part of sustainability. But there’s more to sustainable practice. Sustainability means being conscious of impact. The impact I am referring to is the all-important impact on communities where business takes place—their citizens. This stakeholder oriented sustainability has driven the creation of moments and initiatives once kept quite hush in this humble company. Consider Heineken’s human rights’ statement. 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’ have been low-key. 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.

Dennis Rebelo is a Ph.D. student in organizational systems at Saybrook University and is a regular contributor to Rethinking Complexity, a blog produced by students and faculty members of Saybrook’s organizational systems program. Read more of Dennis’s work at: www.rethinkingcomplexity.com.


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  • E-Cycle

    E-Cycle Environmental is proud of Heineken for striving to be a company that makes sustainability a priority for themselves and the communities they service. We hope that other beer companies look to Heineken as a rolemodel and do the same.

    http://www.ecycleenvironmental.com