The Spirit of Sustainability

Brown-Forman, producer and marketer of more than 35 spirits and wine brands including Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Bonterra and Fetzer Wines, has always placed a strong focus on responsibility.  From 1870 when Brown-Forman’s founder included a hand-written guarantee of quality on every bottle of bourbon to the company’s current day efforts to reduce its environmental footprint through innovative production processes. Responsibility is simply something we have always done. 

Over the last decade, two key environmental factors have changed.  First, our company has successfully expanded global sales of several key brands including Jack Daniel’s. Suddenly, our societal footprint is much larger.  Second, consumer interest in and demand for corporate responsibility and sustainability have grown exponentially.
While responsible consumption of our brands is always a focus, this article will showcase the environmental sustainability journey of two Brown-Forman brands: Fetzer Wines and Finlandia Vodka.  Please note how our efforts with these two brands have aligned with the checklist found in the sidebar.

Fetzer Vineyards: From walking to talking
Fetzer, located in Hopland, CA, is a pioneer in sustainable winemaking.  Sustainability is a way of life and the cornerstone of the way Fetzer does business.  It makes us better stewards of the land, better winemakers and better members of the community.

What began as a small organic garden in 1984, evolved into a full-fledged, triple bottom line philosophy by 1997.  Fetzer’s environmental accomplishments are extensive and well recognized.  For example, we’ve reduced our material hauled to landfills by 95% since 1990, while doubling production during the same period.  We also have installed the largest solar array in the industry.  It can generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually, which reduces 855 metric tons of CO2 and is equivalent to the electricity use of 113 homes.  Outside of our immediate facility we’ve advocated for more sustainable grape growing practices with our suppliers and the rest of the industry through our leadership in the California Sustainable

Winegrowing Alliance. 
In 2006, the Fetzer brand decided the time was right to communicate our environmental practices to consumers.In April 2007, Fetzer launched the $1 million Fetzer Green Tour, a mobile wine experience with two goals.  First, we communicate Fetzer’s deep green commitment to sustainable practices by describing our long history and accomplishments.  Second, we educate consumers on how they can personally make a difference.

In approximately 30 US markets, the Fetzer Green Tour has visited garden shows, sustainability expos, and food and wine festivals.  During these visits we introduce consumers to Fetzer and communicate the brand’s sustainability stories. We also pitch brand spokespersons to broadcast and print reporters in each market so they can share Fetzer’s story and green living tips. This allows us to reach an even broader audience.

Consumers who engage with the tour can enter a sweepstakes to win a hybrid vehicle and are invited to register for Fetzer’s Green Newsletter.  The newsletter allows us to continue to build a relationship with key consumers via simple, personal sustainability tips and non-intrusive communication.

The first 100 people to sign up for the Green newsletter at each event receive a tree seedling from the Arbor Day Foundation.  This partnership is crucial because it plants 30,000 new trees, adds the brand equity of a recognizable, independent third party, and it empowers the consumers to make a difference.The sweepstakes is also promoted locally via two sets of Fetzer-decorated hybrid vehicles & trailers, which tour each market sporting a “Spot the Fetzer Car” motif that directs consumers to a website to enter the sweepstakes.

Finlandia Vodka: Leveraging Strengths to do it Right
Finlandia is a different story.  Finlandia’s brand essence flows from its namesake.  It is directly tied to the Finnish appreciation for nature and environmental responsibility.  In fact, Finland is ranked as one of the most environmentally sustainable countries in the world.  In part because of this innate connection, Finlandia Vodka also has an environmentally-friendly production process.  At the same time, our research shows that our target consumer group values sustainability about 25% more than the general population.

So, while this brand does not have Fetzer’s 25 years of environmental credentials, there is still an opportunity for the brand to leverage its existing sustainable strengths..  However, given the current sustainable branding bandwagon, it is critical that we do it right and avoid being just another light green “follower.” We’re still working on it, but here’s our approach:

A critical first step was to leverage the marketing strength of the global Finlandia team and empower them to own the plan.  We conducted a two-day offsite session to develop our strategy.  The team discussed global environmental trends and changing consumer perceptions and behavior.  We explored the opportunity for Finlandia to strengthen the environmental credentials of its brand proposition and identified specific opportunities for the brand.

Our next step is to integrate sustainability through the planning process and existing marketing programs.  The idea is that it shouldn’t be an add-on promotion program.  At every consumer touch point, Finlandia’s sustainability positioning should be reinforced. Sustainability is not necessarily the primary message, but integrated throughout.  It is a reason to believe the overall positioning.

Simultaneously, we are working diligently to fully understand and quantify our environmental footprint.  Sustainability is a journey, not a destination.  We do not aim to be the best, but to be honest.  We want to know where we are today and to have a commitment to improve as we move forward.

This process will allow us to build a credible story based on our strengths and create a platform for communicating our sustainability message across our entire marketing program.  These two brands are great examples of how established consumer brands can leverage the rapidly growing green marketplace.

This article was written by Rob Kaplan, senior corporate responsibility analyst for Brown-Forman. It is featured in the recently released PR News Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Volume 1 Guidebook. For more information on this and other PR News Guidebooks, visit