Jim Beam distiller puts $1 billion behind sustainability, diversity, responsible drinking plans

  • "The environment is shifting around us and we need to be consumer led in everything we do," Beam Suntory CEO Albert Baladi told CNBC.
  • As part of those initiatives, Beam Suntory will spend $500 million globally to educate consumers on responsible drinking.
  • Sustainability, diversity and responsible drinking plans are a growing trend in the alcohol business.

Alcohol company Beam Suntory announced Wednesday a $1 billion investment in new sustainability, diversity and responsible drinking initiatives.

As part of those plans, the producer of the Jim Beam and Maker's Mark whiskey brands, pledged to reduce by half its water usage and greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

"The environment is shifting around us and we need to be consumer led in everything we do," Beam Suntory CEO Albert Baladi told CNBC. "The planet urgently needs it. Our consumers and stakeholders are expecting it. So, the time is right for us to climb the ladder of commitment as we say and get going on those bold ambitions."

Beam Suntory, which also is behind the Effen vodka and Cruzan rum brands, is also setting goals of 50% of leadership positions being filled by women globally, and aiming for minorities to make up 45% of its U.S. workforce by 2030. Beam Suntory will spend $500 million globally to educate consumers on responsible drinking and reduce harmful drinking with the goal of engaging 300 million people globally by 2030.

Sustainability, diversity and responsible drinking plans are a growing trend in the alcohol business, partially due to a rise in investors who care about environmental, social and governance issues.

  • AB InBev, the brewer of Budweiser beer, has pledged to get all of its electricity from renewable sources and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25% by 2025.
  • Diageo, the distiller of Johnnie Walker and brewer of Guinness beer, has set a target of 50% of all company leaders being women and 45% of leaders coming from diverse backgrounds.
  • Molson Coors has promised to reduce water use in breweries by 22% by 2025, and it's launched responsible drinking education programs in 10 out of the 13 countries where it operates.

Beam Suntory is a private company and not necessarily beholden to ESG concerns, but the CEO believes the $1 billion commitment will make the brands more attractive to key demographics.

"We believe that diverse companies are better companies, they innovate, they are more competitive they succeed better in the market," Baladi said, "Consumers are resonating to this for sure, particularly the younger consumers. Gen-Zs and the millennials are responding very favorably to those plans."

Beam Suntory — a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings Ltd. of Japan, based in Chicago — reported U.S. sales growth of 4% in 2020. Baladi expects to see continued growth, but said the alcohol business remains "uncertain" during the Covid pandemic.

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