Distillery Focus Issue 11 Phoebe Calver

Championing a better tomorrow

Bulleit Distilling's Shelbyville-based distillery exterior

Making changes for people, places and the planet

Written by Phoebe Calver

In this day and age the importance of implementing sustainable practices, be that as a person, small brand or large-scale conglomerate, is increasingly important. Despite certain individuals’ attempts to deny it, the changes to the planet we are charged with looking after for the relatively short time we are on it are now impossible to ignore. 

Those working in our beloved industry, and many fans of it, are well aware of the fact that resources used in the whisky-making process are often non-renewable or limited. 

In each issue of American Whiskey Magazine we will be taking an in-depth look at the work of brands to lessen their environmental impact, while cementing their legacy. First up we have Bulleit Distilling Co., the brand taking great strides through its distillery, distilling processes and partnerships. 

The Shelbyville-based distillery is housed by its parent company Diageo, which is known for its dedication to a sustainable future. To find out more about their initiatives and the recent celebration of Diageo’s ‘2020 Sustainability and Responsibility’ achievements, we caught up with Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of whiskeys at Diageo North America.   

Sophie begins by explaining, “It is imperative that we all do our part. It is critical, and simply benefits us all… We all need to be more conscious of our environmental footprints and be sure to put in place initiatives that neutralize the impact we’re making on our planet.”

When creating the brand, Bulleit’s focus was on building community and showcasing its passion for the environment is an imperative part of that. Sophie adds, “At Bulleit we are on a mission to support pioneers and communities pushing the frontier of sustainability forward and shaping the world of tomorrow. That means remaining committed to people, places, and the planet.” 

Recognising how intertwined those three factors are has been pivotal to the brand’s initiatives and drive in recent years, as well as acknowledging the fact that its business relies heavily on water, trees and other limited natural resources. Sophie says, “We want to use those resources responsibly, preserving them for future generations.

“In the coming months we will be announcing a new set of targets for the critical decade to 2030. In this strategy and through the Bulleit brand’s leadership, we will continue to be global champions for water stewardship, be vocal advocates for low-carbon and explore circular economy approaches.”

As part of the new set of targets, Bulleit has made a commitment to sourcing 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, as well as aims for electrification of operations that includes on-site vehicles, scalable energy efficiency, and the minimization of water usage and waste. 

Bulleit Distilling Co. Shelbyville

While the brand ploughs a lot of focus into the work it can do closer to home within the distillery, Bulleit has also recently announced its partnership with American Forests. As the oldest national non-profit conservation organization in the US and leader in forestry innovation, American Forests was the perfect partner for Bulleit and its Frontier Fund; the fund reaffirms the brand’s long-standing commitment to a sustainable future for the bartending and hospitality industry.

Through this partnership, the aim is to plant one million trees over the next five years, reforesting eastern landscapes that are dominated by white oaks used in the American whiskey industry.

Sophie continues, “We’re so excited about our partnership with American Forests, because it allows us to further our commitment to sustainability and help in the fight against climate change by planting these trees, which will provide a variety of environmental benefits for years to come including carbon sequestration, air purification, water conservation, and providing vital wildlife habitat.”

Bulleit has prioritized white oak restoration because in addition to being
a cornerstone species of forests in the
eastern United States, white oaks are essential to the future of so many
industries, including the whiskey industry.

As we know, in order for a spirit to be named Bourbon it must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Once one of the Bulleit barrels is used to age Bourbon, the life cycle of the barrel continues with the majority of barrels being used for many years to age other spirits like Scotch, rum, and tequila. 

It is this kind of forward-thinking partnership that showcases the evolution of the brand and the direction it is moving in. As Sophie adds, “Our sustainability initiatives and commitments are constantly evolving as we learn how we can better serve our communities and the environments in which we operate, and as technology advances.

“For example, with the creation of the new Lebanon Distillery, we’ve implemented a number of operational efficiencies that reduce our carbon footprint. Some of these efficiencies include sourcing as many ingredients as we can locally, reducing the carbon footprint that would normally result from sourcing ingredients from distant locations, and using solar panels to electrically power the forklifts used in our barrel warehouses.”

Of course, some aspects aren’t as easy to solve and there are still gaps in the supply chain that Bulleit, and on a larger scale Diageo, will need to work on moving forward.  

Bulleit’s full portfolio of whiskeys

“Measuring and managing our environmental impact is not only important for our planet and the communities in which we work, but it is also essential for the financial sustainability of our supply chain and our business,” Sophie explains. “At Diageo, we are committed to minimizing our environmental impact across our operations, embedding our sustainability principles throughout our supply chain and helping our supply partners improve their practices as part of our wider environment strategy. In this context, we are taking specific measures in three key areas: water stewardship, carbon reduction and sustainable packaging.”

When it comes to the aforementioned sustainable packaging, Bulleit is dedicated to ensuring that the market is ready and susceptible to recycled glass bottles. Sophie goes through the targets, “We are committed to making 100 per cent of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030, and a minimum of 10 per cent being recyclable, reusable or compostable in countries where we operate.”

Looking to the future, Bulleit’s new distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky will lead with the production of Bulleit Bourbon, while also highlighting Diageo’s commitments for the next decade. Sophie adds, “The new distillery… reflects Diageo’s commitments to achieve net-zero carbon emissions once operational and moves our company closer to our previously established goal of sourcing 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

“This, combined with electrified operations, will result in zero fossil fuels used at the site to produce whiskey. The new distillery is reflective of the Bulleit brand’s commitment to achieve a more sustainable future. 

“Once operational in 2021, the Lebanon distillery will use electrode boilers powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity with a capacity to produce up to 10 million proof gallons per year, officially making it one of the largest carbon neutral distilleries in North America.”

It is hoped we will see this replicated in the industry over the next decade, and Sophie explains the benefits, “To achieve carbon neutrality at the site, Diageo will incorporate a variety of features that will avoid annual carbon emissions by more than 117,000 metric tons. This is equivalent to taking more than 25,000 cars off the road for an entire year.

“These features include the electrification of operations, energy efficiency embedded into facility design, sourcing renewable electricity, water savings design and adding zero residual waste to landfill.”

The future looks bright for Bulleit in Lebanon, but also at the established Bulleit Distilling Co. and Visitor Experience located in Shelbyville, where the brand’s real drive for the betterment of sustainability in the industry began. Sophie says, “Sustainability has been a priority for us since day one when we began to draw up the blueprints for the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, Kentucky. At our state-of-the-art facility, we employ a variety of practices to ensure that we’re reducing our carbon emissions, we’re enhancing our water conservation and waste management during production.

“We continued our commitment to a more sustainable future when we opened our Visitor Experience at the Bulleit Distilling Co. in 2019. From our work with Oceanic Global to ensure we’re making sustainable, environmentally conscious decisions at our facility, to partnering with the University of Kentucky to bring an organic garnish garden to our cocktail bar, to working with local graffiti artist Braylyn Stewart to design our eco-friendly, green fuel-powered graffiti bus for the Visitor Experience Tour, we’re continuing to collaborate on the modern frontier for a more sustainable future to come.”

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