Organic, carbon neutral, sustainable, green, renewable, earth-friendly. These terms and practices have come to the forefront for consumers and companies like never before as climate change threatens the way we live and do business.
Sustainability is a key initiative for many beverage alcohol producers as they and their customers become more interested and aware of how things are made and the impact on the environment. Here’s a closer look at the sustainability strategies and corporate cultures of one industry leader. We recently spoke with Suzette Anne Carty, director, global environmental sustainability, Brown-Forman Corp.
BD: How does sustainability fit into your company culture?
Suzette Anne Carty: Here at Brown-Forman, across our brands, sustainability has long been an integral part of our culture, as we execute our vision of growing our brands responsibly while protecting the environment on which we depend. This past summer we launched our 2030 Sustainability Strategy with new environmental commitments that serve as a roadmap to advance sustainability, reduce the company’s environmental footprint and increase our positive impact on the community and environment.
We have broadened our focus beyond owned-business operations to include our supply chain, where the majority of the company’s environmental footprint resides. Our commitments are centered around four pillars:
1) Climate Action: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
2) Water Stewardship: Protecting the health of key watersheds and create net positive water impact
3) Circular Economy: Maintaining zero waste and integrating circular economy principles
4) Supply Chain: Reducing the environmental impact of our product packaging; creating a resilient and agile agricultural supply chain; conserving existing hardwood forests.
This has caused much excitement for us as this new strategy gives all of our business a roadmap to further integrate sustainability into the way we work. Our Global Travel Retail group recently used this strategy to develop their own plans, including removing 100% of single-use plastic from promotions by 2023, and a reduction of 50% in gift packaging by 2027.
We also recently launched a Sustainable Packaging Council to collaborate across brands on sustainable packaging projects, identify sustainable innovations, engage in continued education to internal and external stakeholders, and ensure sustainability remains a focus throughout the organization.
BD: What recent initiatives have you undertaken to promote sustainability?
SAC: One of the most exciting projects we’ve recently undertaken is at our Jack Daniel Distillery. We have partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Duck River Electric Membership Corp. and Nashville-based solar power producer Silicon Ranch to provide our Lynchburg, TN, operations with 20 MW of solar energy. The agreement will provide nearly three quarters of the distillery’s electricity needs, and will make Jack Daniel’s the first distillery to participate in TVA’s Green Invest Program. This project complements the company’s renewable energy investment in wind power, and continues to demonstrate our commitment to renewable energy and to our community.
In Europe, for our Slane Irish Whiskey brand, we are collaborating with Slane Estate in Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland, the Conyngham family (who own the estate) and forest management consultancy Veon on a sustainable forestry project. This will improve existing woodlands on the Slane Estate through an active management plan, and plant additional woodland area and hedgerows to protect barley fields and connect existing woodland stands.
BD: In what ways are your practices sustainable?
SAC: We are on a journey to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030. We’ve invested in solar at the Jack Daniel Distillery and Sonoma Cutrer Winery. Our Benriach operations in Europe purchases 100% renewable electricity from the grid.
We invested in a wind-power project through a power purchase agreement, which is now adding renewable energy to the U.S. grid. The wind power generated represents more than 98% of our U.S. operations’ electricity needs. The renewable energy credits support our renewable energy goals.
Zero waste continues to be the foundation to crafting our spirits and wines. Distilling continues to be a low-waste process as we find beneficial use for our byproducts. Agricultural byproducts like agave fibers and wood chips are burned for fuel. Spent grain is used as animal feed. Materials like cardboard and glass are diverted for recycling.
We achieved our zero-waste-to-landfill goal across our production facilities and now our next priority is to integrate circular economy principles into our business that will allow us to go beyond zero-waste to a regenerative approach where resources are continually reused.
BD: How do you partner with the beverage community to promote sustainability?
SAC: We continue to engage with others in the beverage community as we share best practices and develop solutions together. Our peers have similar goals to ours, and so we’ve been a part of groups such as the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable, Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and the Scotch Whisky Association.
Most recently, as a part of our actions on climate, we joined the Race to Zero with the Scotch Whisky Association, committing to work together to achieve net zero greenhouse gases in our operations. Race To Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.