Older than the Kentucky Derby, Brown-Forman has been around since George Garvin Brown decided whiskey oughta be quality controlled just like any other fine medicine, so he sealed it up in a glass bottle and made history. The young pharmaceutical salesman couldn’t have known how significant that choice was back in 1870, five years before the first horses raced at Churchill Downs. But today, the company is a multi-generational success story in responsible stewardship, built on an enduring commitment to quality, character, and integrity. Their whiskey roster alone is enough to please any connoisseur, with Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Coopers’ Craft, and of course, crowd favorite Jack Daniel’s, but it doesn’t stop there. From agave to grape, they’ve got Herradura, el Jimador, Finlandia, Chambord, Sonoma-Cutrer, Fords Gin and more, sold in 170 countries worldwide. Six generations in, Brown-Forman is now a top 10 global spirits company with nearly 5,000 employees. We take a tour of this powerhouse family along their own bourbon trail to a more sustainable, inclusive future.
It was an expensive decision to give the U.S. its first bottled whiskey, ensuring safety in a time when unregulated contaminated liquor was all we had known, but 150 years later, America is still drinking Old Forester and Brown-Forman continues to actively engage with the challenges of the day, rooted in the conviction that doing the right thing is good business. Good business means planning for the future and implementing sustainable practices with the understanding that their company is reliant on a healthy climate supporting the essential ingredients of their brands: grains, grapes, agave, and clean water. In this spirit, Brown-Forman is pursuing four areas of focus:
Life on Land
Through DendriFund, its environmentally focused foundation, Brown-Forman supports sustainable farming and forestry practices, connecting with farmers, timberland owners, and other stakeholders to solve challenges related to wood, water, and grains.
Clean Water and Sanitation
Every single Brown-Forman product is made of water. They pay close attention to at-risk watersheds where they focus their water stewardship efforts, investing in a future of clean and accessible water with goals to reduce water use and wastewater by 30% per unit of product by 2023.
Good Health and Well Being
For Brown-Forman, this translates to responsible alcohol consumption and a reduction in harmful drinking. They take seriously their role in marketing their products responsibly, partnering with organizations like Responsibility.org, and local and national addiction recovery groups, including an employee resource group of their own, SPIRIT started by Brown-Forman employee Judy Spalding, who is celebrating 33 years of sobriety.
Affordable and Clean Energy
Renewable energy and energy efficiency investments are key priorities for Brown Forman. To reach a 2023 target to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 15%, they’re developing on-site renewable energy sources through solar, biogas and wind. With the new East Forks Wind Project in Colby, Kansas. they’re offsetting more than 90% of their electricity usage in the U.S.
The company is on target to meet their goal of zero-waste to landfill by the end of 2020 and it’s no coincidence that Brown-Forman’s Chief Production Officer is also their Chief Sustainability Officer. A recent annual report sums it up best: “At our heart, we are an agriculture company, dependent on the natural world.”
Brown-Forman’s stewardship doesn’t stop with the land. Rooted in their Louisville community, with an emphasis on West Louisville, the Brown-Forman Foundation supports arts and culture, education, social services, reduction of alcohol-related harm, and environmental sustainability. Beginning with a $70 million donation from the company in 2018, along with $20 million in planned contribution, the Foundation saw a significant increase in donations for COVID response which they directed toward One Louisville COVID-19 Relief Fund, the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund, and the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) Foundation Emergency Assistance Program.
When the nation shut down, Brown-Forman R&D went to work developing a product that George Garvin Brown would have likely sold had he been alive a couple hundred years later. They produced and packaged hand sanitizer for their production teams, with extra to donate to health care providers and first responders in Louisville, and Lynchburg, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel Distillery. When America took to the streets in June to stand for racial equity, the executive team issued a very clear statement with a programmatic commitment to “Be Better Do Better,” as an expansion of their Diversity & Inclusion strategy, “Many Spirits, One Brown-Forman.”
Now, their largest and most influential brand, Jack Daniel’s, is uplifting the life and legacy of its first master distiller Nearest Green, in a nonprofit partnership with the Uncle Nearest whiskey bearing his name to create developmental opportunities for Black talent in senior distilling roles and support Black entrepreneurs in distilling start-ups. Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey CEO Fawn Weaver said in a press release: “Generally, when companies talk about the need to improve diversity, few immediate action steps follow. Our group is different. We are doers, and we all agreed to work together to improve diversity in our industry, and specifically, a way to get African Americans into top positions within our industry. Nearest Green taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey and we’re incredibly proud our companies are joining forces to further their legacies of excellence, and to make distilling and the whiskey industry we love more diverse.”