A while ago, in the article about the takeaways from Destille Berlin 2019, I mentioned that I would get back to an intervention that deserved more time than a five-line paragraph. And that time has come, please meet Erwan Castain and Eleonore Tavernier from Pimlica to answer one question: What does sustainability mean in the world of fine liquors and spirits?

I had the chance to have a phone conversation with Erwan Castain, not long after his talk at Destille. Here are some of my notes. Of course, any mistakes are all mine.

First things first, who is Pimlica?

Pimlica is a company offering services related to sustainability. They focus on sustainable strategy consulting, the development of durable products & services and the creation of meaningful communication campaigns. It is not a CSR focused agency; more broadly they help their clients make their business model and long-term strategy more durable and resilient when (or ideally before!) facing social and environmental challenges.

What about sustainability in an industry “is turning nourishing raw materials into non-nourishing end products”?

Spirits are useless. They are part of many civilisations and have played a more or less important role into shaping our societies, and as far how the western world goes, even some political situations but we do not need it, the way we need water and sun. Or as Erwan put it ” the spirits industry is turning nourishing raw materials into non-nourishing end products ».  In that sense I’m writing that spirits are useless, and also for that reason I feel their producers should act even more consciously. In other words, in a world shattered in its roots because not its unsustainability, spirits producers have to be even more environmentally conscious.
But what does spiritsfully know about? Not enough, hence that encounter with Pimlica.

Sustainable production is possible and yet this is often rarely the case.  Examples are rare -and mostly among the craft spirits producers (as opposed to the largest companies). It does not mean that the large companies are not working in that direction. However, they have other challenges to face such as the difficulties to manoeuvre such a « big boat » let alone the effects on their reputation. They also suffer from generational conflicts between a senior management not as convinced by the necessity of sustainability like the younger generation and other organisational problem.  

In that post, the idea is to look at some of the specific problems that industry is facing and review some good practices. A warning though: the subject is large and requires nuances, and this post is first at all an introduction.

Some facts to have in mind when discussing sustainability:

There are as many truths as counter truths is that field. It is quite hard to find out which technology has a low impact on environment. The information is ambiguous and counterfeited. For example. the plastic industry financed studies to show that the glass industry is more polluting as the plastic industry. Glass is heavy, it increases transportation costs, the production of glass is also requiring a lot of energy. On the other side, the glass industry showed in other many studies how much plastic is a plague. And I do not even have to mention all the plastic in the ocean. Meaning, if you want to work sustainably, where do you start?

There are so far no solution that would fix every problem. Each solution bring a new problem along : see how the electrical cars seem to be a solution in the cities as they reduce the emissions but also are a new problem when you think about the electrical energy they need, let alone their non recyclable lithium batteries…

The rising consumers consciousness on the topic is not sufficient. The awareness of sustainable development is growing, but individuals do not necessarily have the answers themselves, especially when it comes to complex issues, and expect companies to position themselves and start working towards greater responsibility.

It is hard for both newcomers and larger companies to produce in a sustainable manner. It seems it is it is easier to build a virtuous business from scratch than turning a non-sustainable company into a durable one. But it is hard to get the word out there and have enough capital to start a sustainable company too. It requires to be brave to not go towards the obvious and try to take paths that no one has taken. There is more to say about the commitment of large companies in some directions rather than others and their reasons, but this will be the subject of a future discussion.

Here are some good practices and variables that producers have been playing with lately, like

Producing your own energy (wind turbine or panels)

Improve one’s distillation system to make it less energy-needing (using bio mass boiler)

Find new use for the solid waste (fertilisers, animal food, paper)

Changing the types of packaging (try recycled glass, use returnable glasses, use plastic, use pouches and refillable bottles, use recyclable plastic, use lighter glass, use can and aluminium)

Think about the supply chain and use train over trucks

Think about the supply chain and use only trucks from transport companies that are actively working into reducing their carbon print

Source only local and organic ingredients

What I find interesting during that talk by Erwan Castain is that I had expected the bigger corporations being at the origin of most of the innovations. They have the mean to be environmentally conscious. They can invest in new plants, new supply chains. Sadly when you look at their policy in that field, they do invest into the health of the consumer (social sustainability), into prevention campaign to insist of drinking better instead of drinking more but…. not into the environment the way smaller producers do. 
Most of the innovations come from small scale producers, for whom it is an element of the identity of their products to keep up with a sustainable way to produce.
Interestingly enough too, solutions differs according to the type of spirits. We’ll get back to that soon with Tequila.

What’s your take on this? Would you like to read more about it in Spiritsfully?

One last thing but not last: follow Pimlica on instagram!