Following the WWFs recent report, criticising the advertising industry, Kathleen Enright of Ogilvy Earth decided it is about time that advertising speaks out about how it can benefit the sustainability agenda.  We went Kathleen’s first Kermit Couch talk to find out how. Kathleen invited Andy Wood, CEO of UK brewery Adnams, to be the first to sit on the #KermitCouch and talk about Adnams’ commitment to sustainability.

Andy explained that the average brewery uses 6-8 pints of water to make just one pint of beer, with the worst breweries using a gobsmacking 15 pints! The beverage industry, as a whole, frequently comes under fire over its sustainability agenda and the alcohol sector is no exception. There is so much to think about, energy consumption, carbon footprint, natural resource consumption, water usage and waste to name but a few. In addition, alcohol brands need to be aware of their impact on society’s health and be seen to be promoting a sensible level of consumption. With all this in mind, Adnams felt it was their duty to try and do something good.

To begin its new sustainable image makeover, Adnams made a controversial decision to replace its 100-year-old brewery in Southwold. Controversial because the building industry is a large contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions, with buildings and industry being responsible for around two-thirds of total UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For Adnams, however, the long-term benefits of a sustainable building far outweighed the detrimental effect of demolishing the old brewery. The new building recycles 100% of the heat it creates, capturing the heat in a steam tank and using it to distil and brew the beer.  The building also has a 1.5-acre turf roof and collects rainwater which is used to water the roof, flush the toilets and clean the lorries.  Another function is an anaeorbic digestion component which, Andy explained, is like a stomach. It uses the leftover food waste from Adnams’ hotels and the brewery and turns it into methane and carbon dioxide which is then cleaned to produce the green gas which powers the brewery.  Their plan is to distribute the nutrient rich digestate to local farmers for use as fertisliser.

These are all truly great achievements and Adnams is still working hard to support the community and engage customers. The brewery has managed to hold its prices for the last three years by utilising its own energy, it sponsors a number of local sporting events and is partnered with fantastic eco schemes such as 1010 and East Green. As a communications expert I wondered what Adnams’ challenges were in informing customers about these commendable activities and asked Andy how aware their customers and targets were of their involvements. “Not very.” He replied. “We don’t want to be perceived as being holier than thou or to force our commitments on our customers… We prefer to listen to what our customers want and respond appropriately.” Andy also explained that being too vociferous about their sustainability involvement can lead to criticism from the public, particularly as it is still a working progress.

Every company’s CSR and sustainability agenda should be evolving and developing, as we learn more about what society and the environment need. We can all be too quick to judge apparent altruism and the media enjoy pointing out mistakes because they make a much better story than highlighting good deeds.  A challenge which many brands face is communicating their activities to staff, stakeholders and customers. A brand should not be afraid to talk about the good work it is doing, however, as it helps to set a benchmark for similar brands looking for direction in this area. It also encourages the public to support the environmental agenda when they witness a brand they admire doing the same. There are subtle ways of building a company’s ethics and ethos into the brand’s identity and messaging. I would recommend that all companies consider a consultation with a branding agency to learn about the opportunities available to them and understand how to maximise the brand’s full potential. If a company is reluctant to alter their brand, it can always be run a parallel campaign. Nike’s Better World campaign is one of my favourite examples of this:

You can read more about Adnams’ sustainability journey and other exciting news, such their brand new gin, vodka and liqueur drinks, on their website: