Clarity and concision

Breathing new life into corporate sustainability reports



Since its roots in the 1980s as an environmental report published by chemical companies with image problems, the corporate sustainability report has evolved into a uniquely telling document. Representing a landmark in any company’s communication strategy, the sustainability report presents up-to-date data on the one hand while also offering a commitment to the future.

As Tineke Lambooy, Sander van ‘t Foort and Michiel Brandt write in their article in this issue, sustainability reporting presents companies with an ideal opportunity to publicly communicate their good practices and as such “should be compared with budget spent on advertising and other means of communicating the company’s values and strengths.”

A sustainability report is unique in that it covers such a broad range of topics: not only financial facts and figures but also subjects such as the environmental effect of different parts of the business, the company’s commitment to diversity, community engagement, challenges and employee-related matters, human rights record, anti-corruption measures and so on. But how are the communicators responsible for preparing these reports supposed to synthesise these different issues, draw clear conclusions and communicate them in a way that different audiences can easily approach and digest?

Reaching new levels

One company that seems to have cracked the code is the Mahou-San Miguel Group, the venerable Spanish brewing group. Although the company can trace its roots back to Madrid in 1890, it is for innovation and forward thinking that the company has recently been recognised. Convinced of the business case for strong sustainability reporting, the company’s “memoria sostenibilidad” (sustainability report) won several awards this year. Jesus Nunez, head of corporate social responsibility at Mahou San Miguel, describes the publication of the report as a “key annual milestone for the company” since its first edition in 2010. The Mahou-San Miguel report groups together relevant social, business and environmental developments by the company: it is “a unique channel to our stakeholders”, according to Jesus Nunez, who also points out that the most recent edition took the report from level B to level A of the Global Reporting Initiative’s stringent guidelines. The Global Reporting Initiative is a non-profit organisation that promotes economic sustainability and which produces one the most global recognised standards for sustainability reporting. The Initiative’s guidelines serve as a tool for companies to set goals, measure performance, manage change and adjust the company’s strategy and activities to sustainability issues.

The new report is part of a wider over-haul of the group’s commitment to sustainability. In 2011, the Mahou-San Miguel Group chose to strengthen its corporate social responsibility practice within the company. As part of this, it was decided to improve the appeal and dynamism on its sustainability report, renewing its design and the means by which it is distributed. The decision to revamp the report’s format also mirrors changes in the company’s corporate visual identity, a process it carried out in collaboration with the global branding consultancy Interbrand. In the words of Jesus Nunez: “As the company’s strategic publication, we needed our sustainability report to be the best showcase for our new look… As industry leaders we also seek to be leaders in the design of all our points of contact with our stakeholders.”

For help in revolutionising the look and content of their report, Mahou-San Miguel turned to Spanish-based communication consultancy firm Infopress. With support from the Inforpress design team, one graphic designer and one flash programmer worked to change the previously-established layout design in order to create a graphic style to match the implementation of the company’s corporate social responsibility as well as specific graphic illustrations used by the corporate social responsibility team. Taking advantage of the wealth of visual material produced by the company for advertising campaigns, television, online and print ads and so on, the new report was designed to be heavily visual – not a page goes by without eye-popping visualisations in cool summer colours, or photographs illustrating the length and breadth of the Group’s operations.

Colouring content

The report is organised into seven chapters or blocks (“bloque”): Milestones 2011, Our Group, Our Team, Our Products, Our Contributors, Society and Environment. The group’s history, philosophy and leadership style are introduced early on: other sub-headings include welfare and employment, training and development, corporate volunteering, social actions, protecting the environment and minimising the environmental impact.

According to Sonia Romero, director of platform publications at Inforpress, the content of the new report was structutred in a way that allows “an easier reading and to organise the information in a more efficient way. Thus, the content is presented in several thematic units, which answer the main concerns about the company´s sustainability efforts in 2011.” These thematic units are each represented by different icons in different colours, to make them easy to identify and follow throughout the report.

New look, new life

Apart from the design aspects, the usability and accessibility of the report have been updated – what Romero calls “a more efficient exploitation of the wide array of possibilities that the internet offers to provide a wider spread to the document”. The animated format invites readers to explore the full document, and the pdf format makes the report easy to store, save and send. The report is also translated into English, ensuring that it will find its way to an even wider audience, and perhaps be judged in the light of international developments in integrated reporting.

This report promises to set the standard for annual innovations in the way Mahou-San Miguel present their sustainability work. As Sonia Romero explains, the group recognises the importance of the report “because sustainability and corporate social responsibility are increasingly present in the structure of companies. It is a commitment that must be reported annually.” Those wanting to breath new life into this multi-faceted communications tool would be well advised to keep an eye on future editions of the Mahou-San Miguel Group’s sustainability report.