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SXSW Recap: Brands Shaking Up Alcohol’s Carbon Footprint

SXSW 2023 CarbonBetter

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New US Climate Regulations—Are You Ready?

By many accounts, 2023 is expected to be a transformative year in the evolution of climate-related disclosure and mitigation requirements in the United States. In this webinar, we cut through the jargon to provide clarity about what climate-related requirements may be coming for US companies by unpacking the two proposed federal rules that are currently pending and one EU regulation that affects some US companies.

Highlights from our recent SXSW panel featuring leaders from brands that are shaking up alcohol’s carbon footprint.

At our recent SXSW panel titled Brands Shaking Up Alcohol’s Carbon Footprint, moderator Nicole Sullivan from CarbonBetter was joined by Aimy Steadman from BeatBox Beverages, Liz Rhoades from WhistlePig Whiskey, and Tri Vo from Fierce Whiskers, who each represented a unique brand within the alcohol industry. Aimy Steadman, the co-founder and COO of Beatbox Beverages, discussed their mission to create the world’s tastiest party punch, while remaining respectful of the planet. Liz Rhoades, Head of Whiskey Development for WhistlePig Whiskey, shared insights into the farm distillery’s commitment to sustainability and the importance of their crops in rural Vermont. Tri Vo recounted his journey of founding Fierce Whiskers Distillery, with the ultimate goal of producing the best possible whiskey in Austin, Texas. The discussion aimed to explore how these brands prioritize sustainability while delivering high-quality alcoholic beverages to consumers.

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Introductions

Nicole provides a brief overview of the panel topic and introduces the panelists.

Nicole: Hi, everyone. Welcome to today’s session: Brands Shaking Up Alcohol’s Carbon Footprint. So before we dive in, I actually have a couple of questions for y’all. So who here in the room has bought a carbon credit? Alright. Some of you. Who here has drank an alcoholic beverage? Alright. Thank you for your support. So today we’re going to kind of explore like what you might consider from a sustainability perspective when drinking an alcoholic beverage. So I have a panel of folks here that are going to dig into their brand sustainability journey. I’ve actually had the privilege of being the sustainability consultant for all three of these brands. So we are excited to dig in. To start, I’m Nicole Sullivan. I’m our moderator. I’m an environmental engineer by trade and I work for CarbonBetter. We’re a sustainability and decarbonization firm on the east side of Austin, Texas. Aimy.

Aimy: Hi, I’m Aimy Steadman. I’m the co-founder and COO for Beatbox Beverages, the world’s tastiest party punch. You may have seen us on Shark Tank back in 2014. We make delicious party punch and we try and do it in a way that’s true to our values, which is with respect to the planet. So we’ll go into more details.

Nicole: Thanks Aimy. Liz, over to you.

Liz: Thank you. Hi everyone. I am head of whiskey development for WhistlePig whiskey, a farm distillery located in rural Vermont. So we’re about an hour north of New York state border and two and a half hours south of Montreal. And we sit on about 500 acres and 300 of that is dedicated to our crops.

Nicole: Thanks, Liz. Alright. With that Tri.

Tri: Hi, my name is Tri. My friend and I were sitting around talking about life and about seven years ago we decided to open a whiskey distillery. So the past seven years has kind of been an adventure rooted in a conversation that sometimes I wish hadn’t have happened. But our journey is really about trying to make the best whiskey we can. We’re not a sustainability brand. We’re really trying to make the best whiskey possible right here in Austin, Texas. So we’re about 10 minutes away from here.

Sustainability Reporting

Aimy and Tri discuss their brands’ sustainability reporting, highlighting the importance of measuring environmental impacts, implementing sustainable practices, and working toward carbon and plastic neutrality in the alcoholic beverage industry.

Nicole: Awesome, thank you. So the first topic today that we’re going to cover is sustainability reporting. So to start with Aimy, y’all released your first-ever sustainability report last year reflecting your 2021 environmental impacts. How has the response been and has it inspired any new goals for your team?

Aimy: Yeah, so we did our first sort of big benchmark. So unlike these two, we use co-packing at Beatbox, so other people help us make the product. And so it was a lot of gathering data, trying to work with our vendors to see because we don’t have a lot of our own emissions for making this product, we have to measure our partners emissions for this. So it was a long process. We learned a lot, which was great. And what the results of it were. So we published this report, we’re using it in application for our B Corp application as well, which is great to have all of this data now that is required for that. But what the response was we have investors that we fundraise with. I mentioned Shark Tank earlier. We’ve raised money from other investors as well.

And they were all really excited to see this report and have been reaching out to the other portfolio companies that they have to try and encourage them to do this kind of analysis as well. We also are doing something. You heard about carbon credits earlier. We are doing a plastic neutral certification that means the weight of plastic that we put into the world every quarter we’re removing from nature in places like India that don’t have as good of recycling as we do here in the US. And so we already had this practice of doing what we call plastic offsets. But this sustainability report also kind of convinced our leadership team to take on doing carbon neutral as well. We try to be low carbon with our processes, but we didn’t actually know how much carbon we were using until we did this report to know how much to buy in terms of offset.

So that’s a new project for us. We also allocated one person on my operations team to really own sustainability for the whole company and then have implemented an environmental management system with the other departments as well. So it’s not just the manufacturing that’s getting measured, it’s also all the tools that marketing buys and all the apparel we make and all the music festivals and conferences my teams fly to, measuring all of that throughout the company. So that’s been new for us as well. Another great project that we’re taking on this year for the first time is previously we manufactured all of our Beatbox products in one place and in an effort to reduce our carbon, we are taking on regional manufacturing now as well. So we are figuring that out this year. So that’s a new thing for us too. Thank you so much for helping us figure that out.

Nicole: Of course. And one thing I’d like to highlight too, you’ll see up on the screen water intensity. So a lot of alcoholic beverage brands, it takes 12 times by volume, the amount of water to produce as ultimately volume of alcohol. So looking at water is really important as well, especially in alcoholic beverages.

Aimy: Yeah, can I just add, so part of that is the alcohol that’s in Beatbox is made from a waste product from the orange juice industry. So all of the peels and other material that come from the orange juice industry is actually fermented and turned into an alcohol. And that’s the base alcohol that we use. So all of our alcohol, mostly coming from that and other water, not water, what’s it called? Intensive areas helps us keep that down. So that’s what that is.

Nicole: Awesome, thank you. Tri, next one’s for you. So your project or your product is still yet to be released for the most part, but you have actually done your first annual sustainability report, or actually less than annual from startup. So what drove you to actually complete a sustainability report prior to your first full year of operations?

Tri Yeah, I think we are in a really special position that many companies that we compete against can’t really do, is an opportunity to really think about who we are from day one. We didn’t have to retrofit sustainability into our brand, into our processes, but really thought about it from day one and it’s really been pretty impactful in terms of our approach and how things happen. So our employees that we hire, they’re not always thinking about sustainability first but they know us as management, like that’s what we’re really trying to drive. So we have like ad hoc discussions with them all the time. Like, hey, I really know you’re into sustainability and I have this problem that I think I can solve in this way. And I think that’s really like a really fortunate thing that’s really allowed us to like, push things forward.

Nicole: Yeah, definitely. And can you expand on how you are doing more in your next report with respect to scope three emissions?

Tri: For sure. So I mean, we’re a startup distillery, so we take everything a step at a time. So we started off with scope one and two and we’re really excited that our next report is going to include scope three.

Aimy: What is Scope three?

Nicole: Scope three is complex, because it involves the supply chain and everything, all the partners that you work with and working with them to really understand what the footprint is.

Aimy: So that’s where all my emissions were. It was in scope three.

Tri: It’s harder to quantify.

Aimy: Harder to quantify. Also harder to reduce because you don’t own those emission sources, so it can be harder to influence that.

Seed to Sip

Liz discusses WhistlePig Whiskey’s approach to sustainability, focusing on agronomics, environmental stewardship, and maintaining taste and quality while prioritizing resource efficiency in the spirits industry.

Nicole: Cool. Alright. Thanks Tri. So Liz, this one’s for you. So y’all spent a lot of effort last year to actually really strategically define your sustainability roadmap. And now you are in motion on your first Impacts assessment. So we’re deep in the data gathering phase and have started doing math. How is that going? And also like what are you excited to find out in this process?

Liz: Sure. So as a scientist, I love data. It’s a thing. So I mentioned we’re a farm distillery and it all starts there, really. It’s a continuum. So we like to think it’s seed to sip. And we cannot consider sustainability without going back to the farm. So agronomics is really important to us and I think that’s where we really started our journey together is understanding. So we picked specific varietals. We’re predominantly rye company, so most of what we grow is rye. Most of that 300 acres is rye. A specific varietal called Danko. Anyone ever heard of Danko? Oh, okay.

So there are a lot of varietals that we considered, but really that made the best sense from an agronomic standpoint. And yield on the field is really important. How it grows is really important. And so when we’re thinking about sustainability, it’s okay, we’re not just going to put any varietal down. We need to consider our environment and we need to be stewards of the land. And so it all starts with Danko. We do grow other varietals as well. We do grow a warthog wheat and violetta, which is a winter barley, which also is selected because of the agronomics. It doesn’t grow well in other parts of the country, but it grows really well in New England. So all of it is carefully crafted from seed.

And so that’s how we start our sustainability journey. And again, stewards of the land. And considering our resources at the farm, but then also considering how that’s going to play out to the whiskeys that we make. So we carefully did trials to decide what varietals we are going to plant that we’re going to do both from the farm angle, but also what was going to create a yield at the distillery level.

Nicole: Something to add onto there that’s important for all of these brands, right? Like sustainability is a key pillar for all of them, but ultimately taste is paramount. Like quality is paramount of course, making a tasty product that y’all love beyond just like being water and carbon efficient. So that’s something to consider.

Liz: Yeah. It’s all encompassing. But we really try to incorporate all of those things, but of course quality and flavor is a key consideration. But we like to consider sustainability and being efficient as fast as possible.

Supply Chain Sustainability

Aimy discusses the importance of collaborating with suppliers and other companies in working towards sustainability goals, addressing the complexities of supply chains, and balancing trade-offs between carbon efficiency and waste management in the beverage industry.

Nicole: Definitely. Thanks Liz. So next we’re actually going to dig into sustainability in the supply chain. So Amy, as you already mentioned the supply chain of Beatbox is complex. And you actually use co-packers and co-manufacturers. So you don’t actually own the manufacturing facilities for your equipment and your product. Have you seen opportunities to collaborate with suppliers in working towards your sustainability goals?

Aimy: Yeah, absolutely. So through this process, I think for any company going through the process with your suppliers and asking them the questions of what carbon do you use, how is waste handled? Like all of these different questions that we went through and asked these folks opened up an ongoing conversation. So all of our suppliers, now, it doesn’t matter if it’s for marketing or for manufacturing the product, we have this standard checklist of environmental and social questions that we’re asking them. And so everybody knows to expect these questions every year. And so things like talking about energy and waste have come up with our manufacturer. We talked about how to invest together in equipment for them to be more energy efficient. They’re a waste treatment. They have a sludge facility where we produce Beatbox, where any wastewater is treated and then put back into agriculture as well.

We also work with companies like Tetra Pack actually in the green room today. Right before this panel I was on the phone with them trying to talk to them about being more efficient with shipping things around the world because it’s a global company. We’re trying to be a global company and I wanted it to be as efficient as possible. So talking to them about things like that. We also started a group with Tetra Pack that I’m going to talk about a little bit later to try and take on recycling in the US because that’s the one thing, it’s super carbon efficient, but it’s a little bit harder to recycle than some other materials. So that’s something that we are in open dialogue with them about all the time. The only other thing I wanted to mention is just working with, not just our suppliers, but also other companies.

So here at South [15:04 inaudible] we’re all meeting folks at other companies and things like that and doing panels like this is also really important to me because the conversation should be happening not just at Beatbox, but with everybody. And to Tri’s point, we don’t really go big on the environmental friendliness of Beatbox in our marketing. It’s just an expectation that every company in the world should have this as a standard. So I’m not putting our branding around all of this. We have like a complete lifestyle brand that’s about music and fun and completely separate from being, like attacking the climate crisis, which is not the most fun thing to talk about. But having the conversations, not just our suppliers, but with fellow entrepreneurs, fellow business leaders as much as we can.

Nicole: And something to point out, there’s really trade-offs with everything from a sustainability perspective. So like what Aimy just spoke to, what’s the most lightweight and is the most carbon efficient might have other trade-offs from a recyclability or end of life perspective. So each of these brands has had a lot of like, consideration with respect to trade-offs and priorities and like, what’s the best option today might not be the best option a year from now. So everyone’s pushing for change, which is huge.

Aimy: For me, the climate crisis is the most time sensitive and so that’s why we prioritize it over the waste crisis, for example. So that’s the logic that we used.

Ingredient Trade-offs

Tri discusses the challenges of balancing local sourcing and carbon emissions with water scarcity in drought-ridden Texas, highlighting the complexity of sustainability decisions in the distillery industry.

Nicole: For sure. Thank you. And that actually segues nicely into my next question for Tri. So y’all source the majority of your grains in Texas for your Texas based distillery, but how do you assess the trade offs of water and carbon as you select your ingredients given that Texas is fairly drought ridden?

Tri: Yeah. So that’s the question and truthfully I can’t even really answer it, right? So that is the ultimate trade off. So we talk about carbon obviously we’re a local distillery, so the local economy, regional production is key to what we care about and what we do and what we support. But the real reality is our grains come from drought ridden areas. So what do we do? So this is something that we’re constantly working on. We’re looking at production outside of Texas. So there’s more carbon to bring it in to Austin. But the real reality is there’s drought all over the United States now, so what do we even really do? So some of these problems are so complex and it’s something that we really grapple with and it’s truly something that we haven’t solved yet.

Supplier Selection

Liz and Tri discuss the importance of considering sustainability and quality in choosing suppliers, addressing challenges such as glass weight, closure types, and recycling issues in the whiskey industry.

Nicole: Yeah, I get it. These are tough problems and if they were solvable really easily with a magic bullet, they’d be solved. So it’s exciting to see the efforts y’all are all making. Liz, this next one’s for you. So what do you consider when choosing suppliers while working to make more sustainable choices on behalf of WhistlePeg?

Liz: So I think if I’m putting my technical hat on, I always start with quality, however we do really consider sustainability. And I think glass weight is a huge one. But also it’s skew dependent. And also we’re considering closures, so everyone is familiar with the different types of closures for whiskey, like corks. So there are different deficit of closures. So there’s natural, there’s a composite and there’s synthetic. And then there’s roll-on-pilfer-proof (ROPP), which is basically a screw. And this is something we’ve dug into recently to understand what is the most sustainable option, but also a quality option. So this is actually a pretty big debate in the community.

Tri: So there’s definitely a cork shortage. That is debatable how big of a shortage it is, but that’s a really popular thing that people write about. We’re going to run out of cork at some time in the future. And then there’s also the problem that your whiskey will get corked, which is a pretty tough thing to handle in terms of managing your customers experience. So recycling in America is super challenged of course. So now we’re talking about a material, anything multi-material is a huge issue. So we’re not really as a Texas distillery ready to take on the recycling problem. So what would have to happen is people would have to separate the cork from the bottle. It would probably have to go into multistream recycling. So we’re really trying to focus on the things that we can really affect today with an eye on the future of course. But that’s kind of how we see it.

“So for us, it’s not a marketing point, it’s just being true to our values and we wouldn’t be who we are without that. On social media we’re more focused on making people laugh and showing people cool music and that kind of thing. But being a responsible business is very important.”

Aimy Steadman, co-founder & COO of BeatBox Beverages on integrating sustainability into her business

SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING OVERVIEW

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EMS Integration

Aimy discusses the challenges of integrating an environmental management system (EMS) into a large team, using a multi-team committee approach and following similar processes to their innovation team, while continually working to improve and streamline the system.

Nicole: So Aimy, y’all actually implemented an environmental management system or an EMS into your organization. Your team has been growing rapidly. Y’all, are now over a hundred people. So how did you integrate an environmental management system into your large team and how has adoption been?

Aimy: Alright. So this is not something that’s easy because I can own my own area as head of operations. But going into marketing and sales and getting them to really embrace this stuff is a little bit challenging. But when there’s another process in my company that is also completely cross-functional, which is innovation. If we’re coming out with a new flavor, if we’re changing our packaging, we kind of have the same system, which is that we have a multi team committee that’s involved in getting this done. And so every two weeks I have an innovation meeting, the certain people show up, they’re supposed to represent their departments. And so we kind of emulated that process when we were taking on this environmental management system. So naturally all the department heads have ownership of certain things. We also have someone on my team that’s kind of like the project manager for all of this that’s following up with all these departments to do things like collect data. We have all kinds of different processes outlined throughout the year and how often they need to happen. So marketing needs to send us their miles, monthly or quarterly or whatever it is. And then that project manager is following up all the time. So I will say, trying to get anything done over a large team is not easy. I don’t think we’re a hundred percent perfect at it. I’m trying to improve it every year. We just started doing this last year and so always looking for advice on that if anyone has any pro tips, but that’s how we’ve been able to get it done for this past, for 2021 and for 2022. So just kind of following the same processes as our innovation team.

Nicole: Awesome, thank you. Sustainability really is a multi-stakeholder challenge. It touches every facet of your operations. You need data from everyone. So having a tool to track it and work towards your KPIs can be really helpful.

Aimy: One of the things that is helpful is we have a lot of things in software. So if I want to know all the retail points that my product as been to and all the warehouses that it’s been to, I can just go pull that. I don’t need to ask anybody. So that’s been helpful as well.

Sustainable Operations

Tri explains how they’ve incorporated sustainability in their operations prior to distribution by strategically building their wind-efficient rick house and choosing longer-lasting, more efficient systems for their equipment, ultimately resulting in a better whiskey product.

Nicole: Awesome. Thanks Amy. So Tri, the next one’s for you. Your product is still currently aging in your Rick house, which is super wind deficient if y’all get a chance to visit. But how have you incorporated sustainability in your operations prior to distribution?

Tri: Sure, yeah. So I can talk about the Rick House and our advantage of being able to think about sustainability from day one. So climate change really affects whiskey making and when I talk to people at the industry, they’re not so quick to believe me, but then we talk about like how it’s hotter and hotter every year and Texas is very hot in the summers. So when we were building our rick house, we decided on the property where it would be the most efficient. So we did a wind study. We obviously can’t really climate control the rick house in order to prevent evaporation, which is a huge whiskey issue. So we wanted to be able to take on the environment the best we could. So that’s really one way we kind of use sustainability to our advantage and hopefully make more money because we really considered it.

And then I think efficiency is really the main name of the game for us in terms of our carbon footprint. So when we’re choosing equipment, we’re always going to tend to choose the longer lasting, more efficient systems. Typically more expensive but they also produce better whiskey. So it kind of all goes hand in hand in creating a better product.

Regenerative Agriculture

Liz discusses how their distillery incorporates regenerative agriculture practices into their farm operations by focusing on crop varietals that grow best in their region and leveraging their own maple forest and oak trees for their barrels, ensuring a true taste of place.

Nicole: Which goes back to that water intensity. Like the product is literally shrinking down. Cool. Thanks Tri. So Liz your distillery is unique in that you’re the only farm operations on this panel. How are y’all working to incorporate regenerative agriculture practices into your farm operations?

Liz: Yeah, so I kind of mentioned I touched a little bit about some of our crops. And the fact that we did a lot of research on what specific varietals that would grow best. And that speaks to regeneration because we weren’t going to grow crops just to grow crops because they were popular, whatever it was about, how the agronomics sit and what was going to be best. And so I think that’s really speaks to kind of what we’re doing there. So rotation is hard for us though. So we’re 500 acres and 300 of it is dedicated to our crops. Because we are in a colder climate our rye takes a long time to grow. So that’s really hard for us. So crop rotation is a little bit tricky for us. So again, we do grow corn and winter wheat and our rye of course, which is a winter crop. So one of the things I wanted to touch on is about our oak. So one of actually my favorite of the core lineup is our 15 year. So that’s actually my favorite of the lineup. And also we do live, we have a maple forest as well because we’re in Vermont. That’s just requisite. And at any rate, so 15 year is one of my favorites because it’s a true taste of place and we actually grow our own trees for the barrels. So our estate oak so 15 year is a 15 year a hundred percent rye and it’s barely aged and in [30:55 inaudible], which has grown in the Champlain Valley.

Collaborating to Improve Recyclability of Packaging

Aimy discusses the importance of working with other companies and organizations to improve the recyclability of packaging materials.

Nicole: I have some general questions for our panelists. So Aimy, this one’s for you and I know you’re excited to highlight this one. So y’all have been navigating packaging waste challenges. We’ve already touched on some of those trade-offs, but how are you working with your vendor to actually improve the recyclability of your packaging?

Aimy: Alright, so I’m a pretty social person. I started a party punch company centered around music festivals. So I’m very into large crowds. So one of the things that I got involved with early on is a trade organization or a network called Naturally Network. And it’s a bunch of consumer goods companies started in Boulder, Naturally Boulder, that are trying to make the natural products industry more sustainable and inclusive. And so this is a national nonprofit that has chapters in 9 different cities, Austin included, because we started one here. And what it is, is it’s a platform to meet other brands. And so I noticed there are some other carton brands that were part of this group. And so what we did was created something called the Carton Champions, which works with the Carton Council. If you’ve ever looked at any kind of like posters that say how to recycle cartons or anything like that, they probably came from the Carton Council, which is a group of all the manufacturers of cartons that have come together to unite and try and improve carton recycling in the US.

However, there wasn’t a group for the brands to get involved. And you know, manufacturing companies are awesome, but they have their way of doing things. And y’all are here at South by Southwest because hopefully I’m a fan of how startups and entrepreneurial companies do things. And so I was excited to work with these other carton companies to try and see where we could take action, where we could. So the things that we’re doing are doing lifecycle assessment studies together. So having really good data about what are the impacts of using carton over a plastic bottle or a glass bottle, whatever it else is. And then the second thing that we’ve done is unite on communications and marketing. And so how to recycle a carton, how do you do it? You leave the cap on, you take it off, all that kind of stuff.

And so if all of the brands that are part of this, like myself, Boxed Water, Dr. Bronners, all these different companies that have joined are using the same language that’s going to help inform the consumer better. And also the tier of recyclers that we’re all one united kind of industry going for this. We’re also actually doing advocacy. So a lot of how things get recycled is determined by local government. So they decide what’s considered recyclable, what they’re going to collect and things like that. And so having more companies involved that have employees and customers and warehouses and things like that and all these local communities helps when you’re going to these elected officials and saying, hey, we really want to advocate for you to consider cartons to be recyclable, collect them. And then we’re also making investments on the recycler side.

So buying the machines that they need to actually separate these multi-layered products and recycle them and also working with them on the end products. So what do recyclers want when they recycle this stuff, is somebody to buy that recycled material. So you can turn Tetra packs into paperboard and the building materials, things like that. So we’re talking with the other beverage companies. Like one of the things my marketing team produces the most of are display racks and stores. You go in a grocery store, you see a display rack of beverages that are all branded and things like that. So we’re working with the other carton companies to try and figure out how to make all of our display racks out of recycled Tetra, for example. So really going through the full life cycle of working with the elected officials, the recyclers, consumers, and providing like an end customer basically for the recyclers to try and improve carton recycling in the US because I have climate change anxiety and so I picked this material because of the carbon crisis, but it doesn’t feel good to own a company that produces trash either.

So for me to look at the next generation and say I did everything I possibly could, that this is how we’re attacking that. So Naturally Network is a really cool network. There’s a lot of things going on in naturally network beyond just this group, but if anyone’s aligned with cartons, come join Carton Champions. And if anyone’s aligned with just consumer products in general, check out Naturally Network because there are all kinds of awesome things happening in that group.

Nicole: Awesome. Thank you so much. That like, spirit of collaboration amongst competition is so awesome to see and so important. Like this is a big challenge to tackle, like every consumer packaged goods company has some amount of waste. So the fact that y’all are working together to try to solve that is huge.

Aimy: And then we do the plastic offset thing that I mentioned earlier as well. So if there’s any more cool ideas, we’re here for it.

Nicole: Awesome. I love to see the solution orientedness.

Liz: Can I just. I’m building again. I guess a question back because I’m just thinking about Vermont and our recyclable opportunities there. So this is a question for you? Sure. Do you see, so it’s state by state right now. But do you see us going to a holistic recyclable opportunity from the states, the US of A?

Nicole: I would say we’re starting to see more producer responsibility initiative. So there are some laws coming out in co California, Colorado. So I do think there are initiatives in certain states. I also know the EPA is definitely tracking waste, looking at how much waste we send out of our country. I think that’s something we’re not always all aware of, of just like, where does our plastic go? Where does our trash go? Like when you put something in a recycling bin, you’re hoping that it ends up at a recycling facility, but is it actually going to a landfill? Is there the recovery facility in place that can handle that and do something with it versus incinerating with it? So it’s a challenge and it’s definitely regional and geographic and different areas are handling it differently, but Aimy really hit the nail on the head, demand for that post-consumer or post recycled material. Like the demand has to be there for it to be reused. But we’r starting to see an increase in demand for like, post-consumer recycled materials.

Aimy: Yes some really big companies have started adopting that material as their primary, like the beverage companies, soda companies, things like that, making out a post recycled bottle. So that’s the greatest thing to see is to keep pushing for that. Innovation companies can influence bigger companies by doing these things and kind of changing consumer expectations.

Nicole: And that’s something true of like any sustainability initiative. Like when you put a report out there, it drives your competitors to be better because they now see what you’re doing and what they can benchmark against.

Launching a Carbon Negative Bourbon

Tri explains how their limited release of a carbon negative Bourbon came to market.

Nicole: So Tri, most of your product is yet to be released, but you did do a limited release this past fall that was actually a carbon negative Bourbon. So how did you go about bringing that to market and what was the driver behind making it carbon negative?

Tri: Sure. So what brought it to market was really that we worked with CarbonBetter to quantify our emissions scope one, two, and three. And that really enabled us to kind of take the next step. So what brought us to do it? I think we really just wanted to show that it could be done. And it wasn’t such a big lift and it was possible and that we could really start to take concrete action. So we’re a little Texas distillery. But I think it makes sense that the first carbon negative bourbon came from Texas. I don’t know how many Texans are in the room, but we kind of just do things the way that makes sense to us. So we have this opportunity to lead this really large industry at scale. I’m excited that we were the first carbon negative bourbon, but it would be a shame if we’re the last. So we’re really setting the standard from Austin, Texas, showing the industry how it can be done.

Solar-Powered Distillery

Liz discusses how WhistlePig has become 100% solar-powered, reflecting their commitment to sustainability and renewable energy.

Nicole: Awesome. Alright. The next one, Liz, is for you. So I’ve actually had the opportunity to visit your farm and see your solar array. But can you speak to your goals around solar energy for WhistlePig and the significant amount of progress y’all made last year towards that?

Liz: Yeah, so we’ve made some significant progress. We’ve laid down, like I said, we’re in rural Vermont and we’re off the grid and we’ve put in a significant amount of energy, no pun intended, to make sure that we’re being sustainable. So we’re actually 100% solar powered at the farm. So that’s kind of what we’re about and it’s been a tremendous amount of energy. And so we’re committed to that and we’re really excited about it. So that’s kind of about our solar energy ambitions.

Sustainable Business Values

For Aimy, integrating sustainability into her business is about authenticity, responsibility, and caring for people, reflecting the ethos of peace, love, unity, and respect.

Nicole: Great. Yeah, thank you. Alright, I have a few final thoughts questions but before I dig into those, I want to talk just for just a second about why this matters and kind of tee up some of their passion as well. So this is some data, recent data from Nielsen IQ and one in three people globally have personally been impacted by extreme weather events. And these countries highlighted here have even higher percentages of folks that have been personally impacted by climate change. So we’re seeing it more in the news with severe weather events. If you’re based here in Austin, Texas, you’ve seen multiple ice storms in the last couple of years that have taken power out. So if you haven’t been personally impacted yet, you will. And so actual practical action is hugely important.

Driving change, this is an all hands on deck problem. And so it’s really cool to see brands that are being really pragmatic in taking steps, in doing what they can and hopefully pushing other brands to do what they can as well. Because like we as individual consumers can make choices and take actions, but we also need the brands that we’re purchasing to take action as well. So with that, Aimy, I’d love to know, like, what is driving you to integrate sustainability into your business? Because I know it’s not marketing, it’s not what y’all put out there, but what is your why?

Aimy: Yeah, so Beatbox was founded at music festivals and under the ethos of PLUR, which is peace, love, unity, and respect. So if you’re a raver, you probably know what PLUR is, if you’re not, look it up. So to me, responsible business is love in action. You can’t be a company that says you actually care about people and want to delight and make them happy if you’re not actually taking care of your shit as a business owner. And so as an entrepreneur, I don’t care if it’s going to help sell more products or not, it’s just being authentic to being that next generation company that’s serving the next generation of consumers. I think a lot of my industry is pretty old school and trying to do things the way they’ve been done for a long time. And so the whole reason we started this company was to make something that serves the next generation. I started this company when I was 23 years old, and so I wanted something that appealed to me. And so I’m not 23 anymore, by the way.

So for us, it’s not a marketing point, it’s just being true to our values and we wouldn’t be who we are without that. On social media we’re more focused on making people laugh and showing people cool music and that kind of thing. But being a responsible business is very important. And I love people, and if you love people, you have to do this. I’m a person before I’m a business, you know, profit machine. And so that’s what’s important. But a lot of times doing things that are more sustainable do make the business more efficient and save money as well. It’s not necessarily a counterpoint. So I think it’s just going to be what the next generation demands of us and what next generation business leaders will be expected to do. So why not just get used to it and figure out how to do it now?

Driving Industry Change

Tri sees the biggest sustainability challenge as driving change within traditional industries and inspiring others to make a difference.

Nicole: Awesome, thank you so much. So we’ve talked a lot about trade offs today in this panel and Sustainable Choices. Tri what do you see as the biggest sustainability challenge in your business? Specifically Fierce Whiskers.

Tri: The biggest, I really think it’s probably what everyone else is also facing. Is we work in really old industries. Bourbon is a very traditional thing and it doesn’t really make sense in terms of saving the world from one Texas distillery to be doing this stuff. So what can we really do to drive change within the industry and truly lead? That’s the stuff that I try to worry about. Just showing people that it can be done, that whatever you do doesn’t have to save the world, as long as it has a chance to inspire someone else to change the world. So that’s kind of our big problem.

Proud Sustainability Steps

Liz is excited about efficiently using resources, improving agronomics, and working on supply chain sustainability, while maintaining whiskey flavor.

Nicole: Awesome. Thanks, Tri. Alright and Liz, can you round us out with this last one? So what are you most proud of or excited about with respect to WhistlePigs sustainability journey to date?

Liz: So yeah, our journey obviously, I spoke a lot about being a farm distillery and us being solar powered, but I think we’ve got some room.

Nicole: We’re working on it together, right?

Liz: Yeah. And so one of the things that I’m most excited about is again, being stewards of the land. So how can we be most efficient now that we’ve dialed in our agronomics. I feel like there could be a touch there as well at the farm level, but how can we use those resources most efficiently to create the best whiskey on and for the planet? And that is about efficiency at the distillery. So that’s something that I’m most excited about. Sorry, Tri we can work together, it’s fine. While also considering flavor as well, because we don’t want to lose sight of that because flavor is key. And then also moving forward is how do we talk to our suppliers around our glass, our closures and also our supply chain. But for me, I’m most excited because I’m a technical person. I’m like, how do I use my grain most efficiently? That’s what I’m most excited about.

Nicole: And to that point, right? Like, there’s a common saying in this space, what gets measured, gets managed. So the fact that y’all are in progress on your environmental baseline, you’ll have a much better understanding of what you can do to work towards your KPIs once you have those numbers to work from.

Liz: Yes of course. So data is king and starting there and we’re on our journey. I know for sure. And I love data. So there we go.

Nicole: You can’t avoid data in this space for sure. Well, thanks so much, Liz. So with that, we’ve talked a lot about climate action, so I do want to just give a quick shout out CarbonBetter is hosting an earth day free day of climate action for businesses. So if you have a business and you’re looking to take action, we’re quantifying people’s impacts for a single day and offsetting, just to show that taking action is accessible. Like, you can get started somewhere and if you’re not already on a journey, we’d like to help you start. So with that, I am going to open the floor up to questions. There’s a microphone in the center there, so if y’all could line up and ask your questions into that, that would be great. And if you want to connect with our lovely panelists after this session their LinkedIn profiles are on this slide.

Shipping Concentrates

The panel discusses challenges in shipping concentrates or distillates due to strict industry regulations, focusing instead on reducing packaging and offering higher proof products.

Audience Question #1: You guys talked a lot about distribution packaging materials. It seemed like the water in your products is probably one of the biggest contributors to the footprint because of the weight and transporting it. I know some very large beverage and brewing companies are looking at how they can actually ship a concentrate or a distillate that is rehydrated at the end. I know there are some challenges with reproducing those volatiles water quality and so on. Is this something that you guys are looking at? What do you think is the future of this? Are we going to see it in the next five or so years?

Tri: We have a pretty simple take on that. So I guess we would love to do more. But we are highly regulated as an industry. Like I have to put exactly the proof into that bottle that is on the label, and that has to be guaranteed through and through. So kind of like our packaging philosophy is no extra packaging. So we were now putting it in boxes. There’s no plastic sleeve that it goes into. So we’re trying to really limit our packaging. But due to kind of the regulations, like we have to show what that product in that bottle exactly. So that’s kind of our approach.

Liz: So I’ll chime in. So one of our pillars at WhistlePig is that we are high proof. So 43% is kind of our lowest proof. So our tenure, which is our flagship, is a hundred proof, so that’s 50% ABV. So by that standards it’s concentrated. So yeah again, 43 is the lowest we’ll go. So yeah, we use less water.

Tri: This is literally my favorite reason to have high proof alcohol. It is more sustainable, everybody.

Process Heat & Hydrogen

The panel acknowledges the potential of hydrogen as an alternative to gas for process heat but highlights infrastructure and regulatory challenges as current obstacles.

Audience Question #2: My name is Matt from Sydney, Australia. I’m interested to know what you guys are thinking about process heat and the replacement of gas in process heat. I’m assuming it’s gas. The reason I ask, I work for a firm in Australia that has accidentally embedded a catalyst that turns hydrogen into about 700 degrees Celsius in three minutes without greenhouse gases. We think above the hundred degree level, we are probably unique. And by the way, we can use it for water treatment as well, but we you haven’t covered it. I’m, I’m wondering what you’re thinking a

Tri: So hydrogen is super cool. Even hydrogen itself is super complex. Because they always associate a different color with it and we’re not really sure what that means. But the reality is that the infrastructure that we have today is very gas related. I really believe that one day in the future, that exact same infrastructure will be retrofitted into hydrogen. And we’ll have hydrogen at scale. But as for today it would be really tough for us to have like a mini hydrogen plant at the distillery. And honestly, the city of Austin would freak out. I can’t express how much, like everything we do has to go through the fire department and we’d have to explain to the fire marshal why we had a hydrogen plant on this facility. But that’s really why we’re waiting for the day and we’ll hype it up whenever the technology is ready and I do think it will come through our existing natural gas infrastructure. But that’s the best I can do for that question.

Sustainability Reports

The panel discusses how sustainability reports vary between skews and are often calculated using weighted averages, but the lack of industry-wide standards and transparency makes comparisons challenging.

Audience Question #3: Foremost, thank you all for doing all of this work. It goes a long way to help push sustainability forward. It seems like most of these reports are aggregated, so it’s across the company you’re understanding what the total sustainability is. Are there individual level reports for say [56:05 Basag] versus your farm stock rye or one of your varietals? And then if so are there standards that exist for those different reports or are these kind of on a case by case basis?

Liz: Yeah, so it’s skew to skew dependent and I think it’s also case volume. So we just launched our first single malt last week. And so that packaging is pretty intense. I will gladly show pictures of it, but it’s pretty heavy, but it’s a small skew, it’s a small volume and you mentioned it. So we like to keep it, weigh it, I guess, a weighted average if you will. And so some skews are going to be different than the others, like a boss hog or a beholden, which is what we just launched last week. But I feel like our core skews, that’s what we really try to keep a hold of. So our piggyback rye, our 10 year, our 12 year, or 15 year, our piggyback bourbon. But yeah, I appreciate the question. So there is a little bit of a weighted average, so definitely we consider it and we do constantly and especially as we’re gathering data right now, it’s something that we consider. What each packaging component is going to be driving.

Tri: So just to add color to that, we do weighted average down to [58:04 inaudible] gallon. So from a production basis and when we make products, we don’t even really know what skew we’re going to go into at the end of the day. So that’s really why we consider it from a production perspective. But furthermore, I think you really hit on a really important point, not just for our industry, but many, is that due to the lack of transparency, we don’t really have good standards industry wide. So that’s really why we feel like it’s important to produce like a carbon negative bourbon, is we’re really putting our numbers out there, letting other companies compare to what we’re doing. And hopefully that facilitates conversations for better standards going forward, but we honestly don’t even have a lot to compare it to.

Covid-19 Impact

The panel discusses how the pandemic led to increased packaging and freight costs and longer lead times, emphasizing the importance of maintaining open communication with suppliers and partners.

Audience Question #4: So I know throughout this conversation you really were able to anchor on the importance of relationship between suppliers and different partners. What was the impact of Covid 19 on supply chain and partnerships and were there any lessons learned about different sustainability practices or partnership options for you?

Aimy: Alcohol is essential business, baby. So for us, like I mentioned earlier, a lot of my business is off-premise is what it’s called. So convenience stores, grocery stores, things like that. So we were operating the whole time. It’s not like we ever stopped making the product or anything like that. The things that did change were everything moved to be more packaging. So anything, like a draft beer was no longer, it’s all on cans now. So all of the items that go into packaging got a lot more expensive, hard to find, longer lead times. That’s all, still taking effect in my business. Also the cost of freight as a result is also like there’s many reasons why freight was so expensive, especially last year, but that’s definitely affected my business. So it’s important I think that we just keep open conversations with the suppliers all the time because ultimately, for me, I’m dependent on my contract manufacturer to like do a good job and prioritize me and things like that.

And so I never want my demands of my business to be making it so that they don’t have a good business. Like everything that, if they have an experience increase in prices on something or increase lead time on something, I want to know that immediately. So we’re working together and we’re partners in it always. I don’t have the luxury of like, owning my own place and so we definitely need to work with all of our partners. Like we try not to micromanage. Like we kind of do that. Like we try and check all the orders and everything, make sure the prices are consistent all the time because it affects us just as much as it affects them. So that’s what it was like for us.

Nicole: Thanks for the questions. And thanks to our panelist and for the time. Bye.

Conclusion

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Meet the Speakers

Nicole Sullivan, Director of Climate Services

Nicole Sullivan / Director of Climate Services

Nicole Sullivan leads CarbonBetter’s climate practice, helping organizations measure, reduce, offset, and report on environmental impacts, including carbon emissions, water, and waste.

Tri Vo / Co-Founder

Tri is a co-founder of Fierce Whiskers, a grain-to-glass and sustainability-first whiskey distillery in Austin, Texas.

Aimy Steadman / Co-Founder & COO

Aimy is a co-founder & COO of BeatBox Beverages, one of the fastest-growing alcohol brands in the US.

Liz Rhoades / Head of Whiskey Development

Liz is head of whiskey development and self-proclaimed right-brained scientist at WhistlePig Whiskey.


At CarbonBetter, we believe in progress over perfection. It’s not about doing everything—it’s about doing something. With over a decade of experience in the energy industry, we partner with organizations to guide them in the transition to a net-zero economy. CarbonBetter’s sustainability specialists work closely with partners across all industries to integrate sustainability solutions seamlessly into any business.

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