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It doesn’t need to be said that 2020 completely uprooted the world as we know it.
As Pernod Ricard brushes itself off from the year past, the French spirits giant is taking to heart the idea of ‘return on responsibility,’ with new campaigns and continued plans for big change in 2021, plus the ambitious pursuit of its 2030 sustainability and responsibility roadmap.
Much of these plans are focused on advocating for social change. “We have a fiduciary obligation we have to our stakeholders, but that’s not a zero-sum game; we also have a responsibility to be able to return to society,” describes John Tran, Pernod Ricard North America’s Director of Sustainability & Responsibility. Here, he looks back on the brand’s 2020 and speaks to what’s to come.
A Year in Review
In February, Absolut partnered with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to roll out a #SexResponsibly campaign. The campaign examined the oft-toxic relationship between alcohol and sex.
In March, Pernod Ricard led the shift to halt alcohol production and use distilling facilities to create hand sanitizers for first-responders and frontline healthcare workers. “It was monumental to be able to work with the US administration and get the clearance for it,” says Tran. “There were so many backend approvals you needed to fight for so a food and beverage business could to turn to sanitizer.”
“That was really the catalyst for all of this change—having to consider what is our role, and how can we help?”
Large donations to racial justice non-profits followed. A #VoteResponsibility campaign launched in September, giving Pernod Ricard employees time off and calling to consumers to vote first, drink second.
In October, Pernod Ricard boycotted Facebook for 30 days to protest the company’s inaction on hate speech under the #EngageResponsibly campaign. This movement provided resources for small and medium businesses to control and report content.
“As recently as the US elections, we expanded that definition of responsibility to voting responsibility to say, ‘let’s make sure all of us as citizens have an opportunity to have our voices heard,’” says Tran. “That’s where we’re starting to see the intersection between bringing business value when it comes to finances and living the values that we see in the organization.”
This year also marks Ann Mukherjee’s first year as CEO of Pernod Ricard North America. In her short tenure, she has spearheaded compelling, though almost paradoxical campaigns, advocating for safer alcohol consumption and stricter underage drinking laws.
She’s also fostering a work environment that promotes diversity and healthy workplaces, pushing mental health and moderation as key agenda items.
“The last year has taught us the idea of return on responsibility,” says Tran. “For most companies, there’s this notion of return-on-investment. It’s a model organizations value, but we’re refocusing ourselves not just on our return on investment, but on our return on responsibility.”
Throughout 2020, Pernod Ricard funneled finances and resources towards the Restaurant Worker’s Community Foundation and the Bartender’s Benevolent Funds in Canada. Both provide financial aid and crucial resources, like pet food funds, advocacy and mental health assistance, to out-of-work restaurant and bar staff across the continent.
Pernod Ricard plans to continue these partnerships. “I think first and foremost, we want to expand the idea of not just being philanthropic,” says Tran. “It’s more than making a donation; it’s establishing these longer-term relationships. Part of our short term strategy is getting money in the hands of people who need it. But in the longer term, we’re also looking for understanding the reasons that got us into this palace in the first place.”
“In the future, we’ll be looking at different issues when it comes to bartenders, engaging in health and wellness, looking at economic disparity, livelihoods, and even the day-to-day life of someone who works different hours than most conventional Americans.”
One of the first projects out of the gate has been Pernod Ricard’s impressive free online training platform EducateAll. “Coursework will cover all aspects of sustainable and responsible practices, from fresh ingredient use to responsible serving of alcoholic beverages to waste management,” EdApp CEO and founder Darren Winterford, as well as provide ways to boost a bartender’s skills and resumes.
To Greener Pastures
Part of this notion of ‘return on responsibility’ extends to stewardship for the planet.
Over the last few years, Pernod Ricard has worked closely with the Trash Collective. “Kelsey [Ramage] has taught me so much about bartending sustainably,” says Tran.
Ramage will continue to work with Pernod Ricard as the company embarks on its ambitious 2030 sustainability and responsibility roadmap. In her role, she will train over 10,000 bartenders on what the “Bar of Tomorrow’ looks like; covering all forms of responsibility, from reusing ingredients to responsible serving.
Announced in 2019, the roadmap is a hugely ambitious endeavor. Aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, it catalogs a series of holistically sustainable goals for Pernod Ricard and its brands to meet by the year 2030.
From a terroir sense, the group wants 100% of the group’s global affiliates to have strategic biodiversity projects, kickstarting regenerative agriculture projects within eight major wine regions with the end goal to improve watersheds and ecosystems. Once in place, Pernod Ricard will open-source the information to a web of over 5,000 farmers.
By 2025, Pernod Ricard will cut out single-use plastics and 100% of brand packaging will be recyclable, compostable, reusable or bio-based. This is well on its way; today Absolut announced that paper bottles will be rolling out in the U.K. and Sweden.
“One of the things we want to make sure is, donations are great,” says Tran. “It moves needles when you get the money in the hands of people who need it. But this does not wipe away any obligation that one person or any one organization has at the beginning. Action is important. What have you, as an organization, done to amplify voices of those who do not have one?”
As another layer of the group’s 2030 long game, Pernod Ricard is pursuing equal pay across the business. It aims to have all management teams gender-balanced by then.
While many of these initiatives were fueled by the pandemic, “once December 31st comes, it’s not like everything stops and is solved,” continues Tran. “We’re trying to avoid this idea of throwing away 2020; saying good riddance. It dismisses a lot of the lived experiences people have had throughout the year.”
“As an organization, we’ve been fortunate to get through this pandemic. Not everyone experiences that. I think part of addressing some of the systemic inequities in our society is not to dismiss that—it’s to take these expressions as a lesson learned on how we can be more proactive and promote a more equitable future for everyone. We’re looking at the long term.”
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