A case of rum and reasonMarch 2014
Ethical Performance talks to Dave Howson, CSR and sustainability director of Bacardi, the world’s largest privately-owned drinks company
Starting out as a warehouse manager 15 years ago Dave Howson, now global director of sustainability at drinks giant Bacardi, says that sustainability is in the DNA of the company: “The company was founded in response to an overflow of molasses in Cuba, from which a much smoother variety of rum was blended. Even old bourbon barrels were used to age the rum, so we were recycling 152 years ago.”
The world’s largest privately-owned drinks company has achieved significant progress in energy and water reduction: “We have 28 distilleries around the world and there has been a lot of activity in these areas for a long time, even prior to those activities becoming part of our CR platform.”
Howson is proud of the company’s water waste reduction of 54% - “an outstanding achievement” and reducing greenhouse gases by 25% - “a great job”.
The company has recently extended its sustainability commitment with the Good Spirited initiative. “This sets our sustainability goals right across the business, not just focusing on energy and water,” explained Howson. “One area we’re focusing on is packaging. We have a sustainable packaging manual for our employees and we’re looking at reducing the weight of glass packaging and the impact of the business on the environment.”
Setting the bar particularly high is the pledge to responsibly and sustainably sourced sugarcane. As a board member of Bonsucro, the sustainable sugarcane not-for-profit, Howson is all too aware the level of difficulty and challenge presented by a commitment to 40% sourced by 2017 and 100% by 2022: “It is stretching but we’ve made a public commitment which will send out a signal to other drinks companies.”
Consumer awareness of the sustainability of the drinks industry is currently at a low level, Howson admits. “It’s nowhere near where tea and coffee are. But with millenials coming through – our future customers – they will want those credentials. And having those sustainability credentials will be our licence to operate.”
As part of the Good Spirited campaign, brand focused stories about sustainability – supply chains, the usual of sustainable ingredients, etc – are planned and will be used to spread the message.
Howson sees his biggest challenges in water stewardship – with an ever-increasing global population – and in establishing an extended value supply chain where sustainable production goes well beyond the factory walls.
Having a long term vision is implicit to any sustainability programme. Howson looks to galvanise employees by breaking down targets to focus on more manageable achievements. “Setting short to medium term goals, lets people see what can be achieved through sometimes relatively small changes.”
He is keen to emphasise that Good Spirited includes everyone in the business. “Across all our offices, we can develop 6,000 advocates for sustainability.” And it can come down to little things he says like turning lights off at home time and turning computers off over lunchtime. “With our global targets, everyone has a massive role to play. We also want to employees to bring all their green behaviours from home – eg water usuage when filling the kettle – into work.”
Another way Bacardi is looking to engage employees is through its Million Acts of Green programme on the company intranet. “It’s where people can input the green activities they’ve done – such as printing on two sides of paper – and it calculates how much energy they’ve saved. It’s simple but fun and engaging,” he said. “It may even instigate gentle competition between sites and we’ll offer rewards for an individual’s sustainable behaviour. It’ll act as a platform to share activities and perhaps spread insights from other offices which new teams will then implement.”
When working in a company as vast and as widespread as Bacardi, Howson admits that the sustainability challenge can sometimes seem daunting. “But we know it’s the right thing to do, both for the company and for the planet. And we’ll continue to strive to do that.”
For smaller businesses, Howson advises companies not to feel that they have to change the world in six months. “You need to look at your materiality and your stakeholders. See what you can achieve, what impact changes would make and then speak to your supply chain. You need to take one step at a time.”
If there was one thing he could change in sustainability business practice it would be the alignment of the total value chain. “Farmers, millers, producers –we’re all heading in a sustainable direction and really need to pull together.”
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