World Water Day: What makes a successful corporate water stewardship plan?

Pictured: The Maker’s Mark Star Hill Farm distillery, Kentucky

Water is the most essential ingredient in our business. It’s a precious resource that we all share, and is foundational to crafting the highest quality spirits brands in our portfolio – from iconic American Whiskies like Maker’s Mark, to our award-winning Japanese Whisky portfolio with brands like Yamazaki and Hakushu, to our time-honored El Tesoro tequila.

Water nourishes our crops, flows through every stage of our distillation processes, and is the first step in creating our premium spirits that people enjoy across the globe.

But the global water supply is in crisis. At the 2023 United Nations Water Conference, leaders from around the world shared their concerns about the future of water and how to tackle shared commitments. Evelyn Wever-Croes, the Prime Minister of Aruba of the Netherlands, urged the world to  “radically change the way it understands, values and manages water.”

We must use water responsibly for the benefit of future generations. This is the lens through which we uphold our company’s values of Growing for Good and Giving Back to Society, and have established our water goals, aligned with our parent company Suntory Holdings’ 2030 water targets. We are working to:

  • Reduce water usage per unit produced by 50% by 2030. We are delighted to share that we have already reduced our water usage rate by over 48% against our baseline, equivalent to conserving more than four million kiloliters.
  • Replenish more water in our high-risk watersheds than we use in our direct operations by 2040. This will ensure that our own operations, the communities where our distilleries are located, and local farmers and growers have access to high-quality water for the long term.
  • Protect and improve watershed sustainability through our Natural Water Sanctuaries. This includes the Peatland Water Sanctuary in Scotland and the Kentucky watersheds that supply pristine water to our James B. Beam Distilling Company and Maker’s Mark.

If we are going to meet our goals, our path forward must be one of collaboration and accountability. Since 2022, we have integrated sustainability metrics into our Annual Incentive Compensation Plan, ensuring that all our employees and leaders share the responsibility of meeting our goals. Our employees’ objectives are measured by targets for water usage, along with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) metrics, which together make up 20% of their annual bonus. This is a key tactic for ensuring that we are all accountable for advancing our goals.

We have also made significant progress in reducing our water consumption by implementing closed-loop cooling systems in our direct operations. Closed-loop cooling systems recirculate water within the system, minimizing the need for continuous freshwater intake from local lakes and water resources. In Kentucky, we have installed such systems in our distilleries. As a result, we have reduced the average volume of water we recirculate by about 132 million liters per month in our Clermont distillery, where we produce Jim Beam. Over the past year, we have also invested in similar systems in Spain and Scotland, with additional investments planned in the future.

A long-term commitment

We must additionally be mindful of the risk of long-term water availability. We’re proud to be a part of the Charco Bendito Project –  a collaborative watershed initiative we’ve undertaken with eight other manufacturing companies and the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable. We aim to restore and protect the watershed of the Lerma-Santiago River Basin. We are focused on reforestation, soil conservation and aquifer recharging. In addition to this, the project seeks to provide potable water to over 300 local citizens who previously lacked access to water.

And we just announced a water replenishment project near our Indian operations. This initiative will replenish the local water source and positively impact the adjacent villages and is expected to recharge up to 25 million liters of groundwater annually.

We remain committed to furthering our efforts in the coming years as part of our Proof Positive sustainability strategy – which isn’t just a sustainability commitment – it’s part of a lifelong partnership with nature that lives at the very heart of our business.

On this World Water Day, I challenge all of you to think about how you can start small for bigger impact, identifying opportunities to engage in pilot projects and share best practices that can then be rolled out more broadly across your business. Like water slowly carving a stone, each small change in the supply chain carves a new way forward.

Our aim is to become the World’s Most Admired Premium Spirits Company. An important part of this means being admired for our commitment to protecting and replenishing water, which is crucial to the production of our premium spirits. Only the purest water, natural wood and tender grain can make the world’s finest spirits. That’s our business imperative.

What’s yours?

Kim Marotta is the Global Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Beam Suntory

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