"Let's get our historian to write our next Sustainability Report", said no corporation ever. Well, at least one corporation, ever.
That corporation? The Coca-Cola Company.
To give some background, I joined The Coca-Cola Company twelve years ago as a member of the Archives Department. I often figuratively equated that job – scouring rich resources and Coca-Cola heritage for treasures of business, culture and data points – to that of a gold miner. Both crafts involve the concepts of prospecting, digging with patience and examining findings. Both crafts require the capability to analyze complex nuggets – whether deposits of gold or historical information.
Ultimately, following the sometimes mundane process of reviewing and mining, the payoff of excavating and extracting the literal (gold) or proverbial (historical) treasure trove can be exhilarating.
Through the years I found myself at times mining alone for artifacts in places such as a dusty Coca-Cola facility basement in Toronto. Other times, I was prospecting for Coca-Cola stories in pleasant living rooms with warmhearted families in and around Johannesburg. The locales were often diverse, all in pursuit of the right deposits to refine and share.
My theory has always been that people don’t dislike history because it is boring, but they just haven’t yet seen the right “nuggets” in front of them to entice their interest. In the course of digging, one comes across an incredible amount of information. That does not mean, however, that all of this should be presented in its entirety.
Bea Perez, Coke’s first Chief Sustainability Officer since 2011, came to the role with a wealth of marketing expertise. She has led an evolution in the way we look at and communicate Sustainability at Coca-Cola, helping to put it through an added marketing lens. During her tenure, the Company's annual Sustainability Report has been shifted from printed books to digital, which served as an excellent foundation for me to build on as I took over the responsibility for producing this year's report.
I viewed task one of my conversion to Reporting Manager as this: Learn all there is to know about Sustainability in a few months.
I failed task one. “Sustainability” is quite the loaded term. I have, however, successfully navigated the tip of the iceberg, which is a consolation.
Much like rummaging through the Archives and conversing with collectors of Coca-Cola stories and artifacts, this navigation began by connecting, interviewing and researching. However, instead of artifact collectors, the subjects consisted of technical folks, scientists and PhDs. Researching was equivalent to swimming in the jargon and acronym soup of terms like GRI (Global Reporting Index), ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and CDP.
The similarities are compelling. About two months into the new job I realized that I was in a new gold mine. I came across so many great stories about sustainability work that I’ll never have time to share. Then – as with history – there were the standouts. The sustainability data and story treasures that rose to the top. In the Archives world, I knew instinctively when to bring the artifacts “upstairs” from the basement to show them off. In the sustainability world, the equivalent treasures are what you can see in the infographics of this year’s Sustainability Report.
If we were to create a museum of 2016 Coca-Cola Sustainability Highlights, this is what it would look like. The best museums aim to present their stories in a way that is relevant and resonates with the people who will interact with them.
Treat sustainability like the hidden treasure that it is. This year, we attempted to bring the golden nuggets forward in a new and different way.
The sustainability world and reporting on sustainability is evolving. It is exciting to now be a part of the next stage of this great work Coca-Cola first reported out on in 2001. The most important point, perhaps, is this: I heard so much unsolicited feedback about the Coca-Cola Sustainability Report being a best-in-class example when I took the job, yet the Company was willing to challenge conventional thinking and try something different.
That says a lot about a Company that has realized the importance of Sustainability for a long time.
Circling back to the history of historians doing Sustainability Reports. The Coca-Cola Company is the sole corporation (that I’m aware of) to ask a (now recovering) historian to produce its Sustainability Report. I would go as far as to bet this to be true. If it's not true, maybe I'll buy you a Coke!
Jamal Booker is Reporting Manager for The Coca-Cola Company