Water is Luxury

INTERVIEW WITH TOM ROBERTS

"WE WANT TO SEE A REAL CHANGE, NOT JUST FOR ONE WEEK OR ONE YEAR, BUT FOR GENERATIONS TO COME."

Tom roberts is Director of Communications and Social Impact at The Elyx House at The Absolut Company. Elyx is a silky smooth luxury vodka, produced from a single estate wheat and distilled in an old copper still in Åhus, Sweden. “It is a phenomenal product, for the luxury market, but it wasn’t enough for us that it was made with integrity. We wanted to take it a step further and to act with integrity as well.” 

Tom Roberts tells the story behind the partnership with Water for People, a partnership with a purpose beyond luxury and glamour, in which The Absolut Company contributes to making the world a better place. 

Water is one of The Absolut Company’s sustainability priorities, and there is a target for conservation of water resources. Even though Elyx is produced in a water-abundant region, The Absolut Company strives to minimize water use in the production. No artificial irrigation is used for growing the wheat, no untreated waste water is discharged into the environment, and even the rainwater runoff from the distillery is captured and made available to local farmers.

WATER FOR PEOPLE

  • In November 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF) identified water crises as one of the top global challenges for the next 10 years. The challenge is about both access to water and water quality.

  • To address the water-challenge, The Absolut Company partnered with Water for People, an organization that focus solely on securing access to safe water for people in water scarce areas or where there is lack of clean water.

  • For every bottle of Elyx sold in the US, the company and Water for People will help provide a week’s access to safe water for one person, and every Elyx Pineapple of Hospitality sold will help provide access for a month. The five-year goal is to provide at least 100,000 people with access to safe water for generations to come.

    “We ‘ve come a long way when it comes to responsible water use.  However, we wanted not only to be “less bad”, but rather to do good. So we decided not just to focus on water within the company, but also to take responsibility for water-related issues outside our own value chain.” 

    In November 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF) identified water crises as one of the top

global challenges for the next 10 years. The challenge is about both access to water and water quality. Tom Roberts and his team saw a connection between their product, vodka, which is around 50 percent water, and the challenge identified by WEF.

“We started searching for a partner, a serious organization that shared our values of commitment, integrity and sustainability. We finally found Water for People, an organization based in Denver that is little known outside the sector, but highly respected and well known within.”

After some months of planning, the cooperation was launched: every bottle of Elyx sold in the US will help provide a week’s access to safe water for one person, and every pineapple of Hopsitality sold will help provide access for a month. 

“Our five-year goal is to provide at least 100,000 people with access to safe water for generations to come. We want to see a real change, not just for one week or one year, but for generations to come.” 

The solutions and projects to secure safe water vary from region to region. In some of the drier areas of India, Water for People digs wells, and in polluted areas, they provide infrastructure and technologies to clean water. Tom Roberts and his team went to Peru to visit one of the projects, where water is abundant but often unsafe to drink.

“On our journey to Peru together with Water for People, we saw first-hand the amazing work that they’re doing and the impact it’s having. Around the world, millions of people spend hours each day just walking for water, or many days and weeks sick from waterborne diseases. When provided with safe water within their own communities, they will have more time to spend on something else, for example education and family.” 

As well as the positive effects on the local communities where Water for People is active, the partnership is a way for The Absolut Company to raise awareness about the global water crisis. Moreover, it has given the employees at The Elyx House a sense of pride. 

“It is my firm belief that people – employees – are not motivated by purely financial goals. From being given a purpose, working for something they believe in, their motivation and pride have been increased. They care about more than just selling vodka.”  

Sustainable Sugar Sourcing

INTERVIEW WITH BILLY KING

"WORKING WITH BONSUCRO GIVES US A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT AND TO MINIMISE OUR RISKS WITHIN THE SUGARCANE SECTOR."

The main reason for us to join Bonsucro was to contribute to improving conditions for workers in our value chains.” 

Billy King is Technical and QSE Director at Malibu/Kahlua, and he is the person behind Pernod Ricard’s membership of the non-profit organization Bonsucro.  

“This project started little over a year ago. We had already identified sugarcane as a high-risk commodity, and we were looking for ways to make sugarcane production more sustainable.” 

Malibu/ Kahlúa started by mapping the value chains and auditing a number of production sites in Mexico and the Caribbean. 

The sugarcane products that are used in the Malibu/Kahlua brands travel long distances and go through many different hands, and the complexity of the value chains poses a risk in itself. Understanding and control of the conditions along the way diminishes as the number of links in a chain increases. 

“We knew that we had good control of our first-hand suppliers, but we began to see that there were gaps in our information about where and how the sugarcane was being farmed and harvested – and that meant we couldn’t be certain about working conditions.” 

Most sugarcane is grown in tropical countries, many of which have poor social standards and labour regulations. Wages, human rights, workers’ health, land rights and the environment are all under threat. As one of the major sugar buyers globally Malibu/ Kahlúa was sometimes contacted by organisations requesting information about sustainability in its value chains. 

One such organization, Fairfood International, based in The Netherlands, contacted Billy King during their research for a report about an epidemic of chronic kidney disease among workers in the sugar cane industry. They asked for information about how Malibu/Kahlua works with suppliers, control and sourcing, and Billy responded to their questions in an open and transparent way. Their report made no mention of Malibu or Kahlua but pinpointed a number of risks and gave recommendations on how buyers could improve their routines and increase control over value chains.

”We got a number of insights from our discussions with Fairfood. We realised that it is difficult to be experts in every area and that we needed to find a partner to work with. We identified Bonsucro, a highly respected non-profit organization that focuses solely on improving the conditions within the sugar cane business. They are the real experts.”

The organization’s work is based on its two standards; the Bonsucro Production standard, which certifies conditions in sugarcane mills and farms, and the Bonsucro Chain of Custody Standard,

which ensures traceability of sugarcane products and tracks sustainability claims along supply chains. 

“At Malibu/Kahlúa we saw membership of Bonsucro as a way to improve our knowledge of the challenges within the sector, to create opportunities for us to have certified value chains and hopefully to enable us to contribute to a mind-shift within the sugar industry.”

The idea of joining hands with Bonsucro started at Malibu/ Kahlúa but soon the headquarters in Paris saw an opportunity for all affiliates to make a significant impact. For Pernod Ricard, sugarcane is a key raw material, along with grapes and cereals, and headquarters recommended that all affiliates using sugarcane look at Malibu/Kahlúa’s strategy. A Sugarcane Users Group was established, chaired by Billy, and in February 2016 Pernod Ricard joined Bonsucro. 

“A number of our peers are also members of Bonsucro, large multi-national companies that face the same risks and challenges. Bonsucro membership allows us all to work collaboratively to realise sustainable value for cane-growing communities and eco-systems.” 

Billy King reports that Mabilu/Kahlúa doesn’t buy any certified sugar yet, simply because certified sugar is only available in very limited quantities in the countries where the company operates. The cooperation with Bonsucro will hopefully increase the availability and it is the company’s ambition to buy certified sugar in the future. To date, nearly five percent of the world’s land under sugarcane production is Bonsucro certified, and over 62 million tonnes of certified sugarcane have been produced.  

“This work has given us greater knowledge and higher visibility. It has also identified what we need to work on. Our next steps are still being discussed but one option would be to have a fully Bonsucro certified value chain for either Malibu or Kahlúa. It is always easier to reach higher goals by working together with others. Working with Bonsucro gives us a great opportunity to have a positive impact and to minimise our risks within the sugarcane sector.” 

BONSUCRO

  • Malibu/Kahlúa and Pernod Ricard work together with Bonsucro, a highly respected non-profit organization that focus on improving the conditions within the sugar cane business.  

  • The organization work both on certifying good conditions in sugarcane mills and farms, and on ensuring traceability of sugarcane products along supply chains.  

  • Mabilu/Kahlúa doesn’t buy any certified sugar yet, simply because certified sugar is only available in very limited quantities. To date, nearly five percent of the world’s land under sugarcane production is Bonsucro certified, and over 62 million tonnes of certified sugarcane have been produced. 

Our/vodka
Local Partnerships

INTERVIEW WITH ÅSA CAAP

"WE’RE DOING SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT – WE ARE A GLOBAL COMPANY WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH LOCAL ACTORS TO CREATE LOCAL SIGNATURE PRODUCTS."

The seeds for Our/Vodka were sown in 2010. At that time there was a trend within the food and beverage sector towards local and small-scale production. Åsa Caap, then Innovations Director at The Absolut Company, says that no large global companies were engaged in local and small-scale production at that time. 

“It seemed as if it didn’t work. A few actors had tried, but no one had succeeded. I spent a lot of time wondering why it didn’t work.”

At that time, the prevailing attitude was that products were either local or global, but not both. Åsa Caap concluded that others had failed because they didn’t really take it seriously – they didn’t see the value in being truly local while at the same time using a global network. 

“It is always more difficult and expensive to produce on a small-scale. To succeed I realized that we needed to work wholeheartedly. I wanted to create a business model that was in line with our commitment to communities, and built on local engagement. Being local means that production, raw materials, skills and engagement are local. There are no short-cuts.” 

Together with some innovative entrepreneurs, Åsa Caap started to create a model based on real partnership between local actors and Our/Vodka. The idea was to partner with local people to create vodkas that embody each city’s and each producer’s unique personality. The first Our/ Vodka was piloted in Berlin. 

“We found a team with their roots in fashion and PR, with great attitudes, a large network and plenty of local credibility. We spotted the right place to build our first micro-distillery, and twelve months later the first Our/Berlin was launched.” 

The Absolut Company provides the craftsmanship and know-how and all necessary resources to start and run the production. When profits are generated they are shared equally between Our/Vodka and the local actor. Åsa Caap says that combining small start-ups, with their energy and speed, with the know-how of a large company, is the key to success. 

“Moreover, I think that the idea of letting each city and local actor stamp their unique identity on the product is central. In Berlin, our partners are from the design world and their bottles are now found in fashion shops – partly because that’s where the team had their network, but also because the bottle itself is so stylish. It sells very well in Berlin.” 

Each distillery distils, blends and bottles that city’s vodka according to a global recipe. The look of each Our/Vodka is the same, but the name and character are unique. For Our/Vodka, being local means that as much as possible is sourced locally. Initially it was decided that the products should only be sold locally, but with interest growing, The Absolut Company is considering expanding sales globally. 

“We need to be cautious and to prioritise local relevance. And we need to be careful in what we communicate, to be transparent about who we are and what we’re doing. We’re doing something completely different – we are a global company working in partnership with local actors to create local signature products.” 

Detroit was the second city, after Berlin, where Our/Vodka found a group to work with and set up a

micro-distillery. Our/Detroit is run by women. They are actively engaged with the local community and participate in empowerment projects for vulnerable people in the city. They are involved social projects such as SOUP Detroit where marginalized people are invited for food and discussions. Our/Detroit were also one of the participants in the ‘Southwest Beautification Day’, when local people and volunteers from various organisations built a pocket park to provide picnic tables, raised beds for gardens and a beautiful area for members of the local community to meet and spend time together. Our/Detroit’s premises are also open for local artists, painters, photographers and other creative people to share their work. 

Our/Vodka is now produced in Berlin, Detroit, Seattle, London and Amsterdam. In Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York work is in progress to establish partnerships and production. 

“All the production is by urban small-scale distilleries, and in some cities it is hard to get all the necessary permissions. It takes time, but we are working on it. Nine is a good number of distilleries to start with. We’ve identified five more cities where we want to look for partners. That is a very important process. We see it as looking for adoptive parents to our children, partners who can take good care and put their heart and soul into our ’babies’.”

OUR/VODKA

  • Our/Vodka is an initiative in which the company partner with local people in large cities to create vodkas that embody each city’s and each producer’s unique personality. The first Our/Vodka was piloted in Berlin.

  • Each distillery distills, blends and bottles that city’s vodka according to a global recipe. The look of each Our/Vodka is the same, but the name and character are unique. For Our/ Vodka, being local means that as much as possible is sourced locally.

  • Our/Vodka is produced in Berlin, Detroit, Seattle, London and Amsterdam. In Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York work is in progress to establish partnerships and production. 

    DO YOU KNOW THE UNIQUE 
    ABSOLUT STORY THAT BEGINS AND ENDS 
    FROM ONE IDYLLIC SPOT IN SWEDEN?

    You can find Absolut all over the world, from a sports bar in Canada to a beach bar in Rio. But did you know that every ingredient that makes it into each bottle comes from one tiny village in southern Sweden? 

    It’s true. Every drop of Absolut Vodka is manufactured using ingredients from the area surrounding our distillery in Åhus, a tiny medieval village in the county of Skåne. From the hardy winter wheat grown in the rich nearby fields, to the pristine water from our local deep well, and the continuous production in the distillery; everything, including the glass bottle itself, comes from here. 

    We call this process One Source. One wheat, one source of water, one location and one reason why any bottle of Absolut Vodka, anywhere in the world, has the same distinctive character and taste.