Grain to Glass: What this means for Pernod Ricard

December 2021

Yvonne Cooney, Sustainability & Responsibility Manager, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard


Irish Distillers is one of Ireland’s leading suppliers of spirits and wines, and producer of some of the world’s most well-known and successful Irish whiskeys. Led by Jameson, the world’s bestselling Irish whiskey with 30 years of consecutive growth, Irish Distillers’ brands are driving the global renaissance of Irish whiskey, and are exported to 130+ markets with over 70 of those experiencing double or triple-digit growth.

At the core of everything the company does is a passion for craft and an ambition to create drinks that can be enjoyed the world over. Here, Yvonne Cooney, Sustainability and Responsibility Manager at Irish Distillers, explains how this is only possible through embedding sustainable and responsible practice at every step of the journey – from grain to glass.


From grain to glass – our approach

At Irish Distillers, our future relies on skill, craft, innovation and passion to deliver the excellence that our brands stand for. We recognise that setting clear, ambitious and realistic targets is crucial to maximising our positive contribution. However, real impact comes from truly embedding these goals at the heart of everything we do. To go a step further, we recognise that with success and ambition to grow comes significant responsibility.

It’s imperative that when we discuss potential future growth, we also consider what that means for the sustainability of our business in the long-term. This may entail adopting new sustainable technologies and innovative practices, or perhaps working with our suppliers to shape solutions together.

All efforts are framed by our ‘Good Times from a Good Place’ sustainability and responsibility model, which is based on four key pillars: Nurturing Terroir; Valuing People; Circular Making; and Responsible Hosting. The implementation of this model, which is also linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, is facilitated by a strategic project roadmap.

Our approach is also designed to reflect the ‘grain to glass’ journey, whereby sustainability is considered from the growing and sourcing of raw materials, right through to the moment of consumption.


Traceable, certified, sustainable

Cereals, our raw materials, is where the story begins. Dedicated Irish farmers are the custodians of our land, nurturing and encouraging biodiversity, and are very much at the front line when it comes to responding to the climate challenge. They are among the first in our society to experience climate-related change in weather patterns and the knock-on consequences this may have for crop production.

As our whiskeys are made from cereals which rely on balanced ecosystems in order to be cultivated, our business is both linked to and dependant on the health of the natural environment. That is why we play a role in assisting farmers to employ sustainable practice on-farm wherever possible.

Specifically, our unique and accredited ‘Sustainable Green Spring Barley Scheme’ aims to support the long-term viability of the spring barley sector in Ireland, incentivising farmers to continually improve their sustainable practice. The scheme assists farmers in better understanding the carbon footprint associated with tillage farming which, in turn, helps to identify action areas. Knowledge is power when it comes to identifying the sometimes very small changes which can have a significant and meaningful impact.

This scheme has gone from strength to strength, with 100% of participants now Irish Grain Assurance Scheme (IGAS) certified. Our scheme has also brought additional transparency and traceability to our supply chain which assures our consumers as they continue to trust and enjoy our products safe in the knowledge of its truly authentic origins.

Just like Ireland’s farmers, we also employ several strategic biodiversity projects across our own production sites – a truly holistic approach – from wildflower gardens at our Midleton offices in County Cork to facilitate pollination, to bee lodges at our warehousing facilities in Dungourney, also in County Cork.


Our distillery

Recognising that we have the most control over our own operations, it’s important that we address challenges which are within our direct control. In practice, we aim to minimise wastage at every step by producing and distributing our products in ways that optimise and help preserve natural resources, as well as contributing to energy and carbon reductions in line with our ambitious climate targets.

We’ve had some great successes to date. Between 2010 and 2019 at Midleton Distillery, we reduced water usage by 33% per unit of production, energy by 30% and Scope 1 carbon emissions by 46%. 100% electricity used on-site is provided by green electricity contracts.

In recent years, we’ve also achieved zero waste to landfill across our operations. This was made possible through innovative practice, such as the conversion of by-products from the whiskey-making process to high quality animal feed for consumption by Irish livestock – a great example of the circular economy in practice.


Planet-first partnerships

It is clear by now that people and partnerships are a central tenet to our achievements. In particular, our colleagues are our biggest sustainability and responsibility advocates.

We place a significant focus on health and safety in our workplace, striving to create an environment where accidents do not happen. Taking care of each other and seeing each other thrive is very much part of our ethos and, in recent years, we’ve also progressed our commitment to ensuring that management teams are gender balanced. This is part of an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion in and outside of our workplace.

Along with collaboration through partnerships with our suppliers, our collective passion and dedication shines through. We practice responsible procurement to have a precise knowledge of the sustainability risks in our supply chain.

A good example is of this collaboration in action is our approach to sustainable packaging. Our Jameson bottle is fully recyclable and made with high recycled glass content. We don’t use PVC in our packaging and, in recent times, we’ve removed all plastic inserts from gift packs, eliminating 15 tonnes of plastic. Partnering with Encirc, a supplier that takes sustainability as seriously as we do, has allowed us to push the boundaries in reducing our packaging footprint.

Working with our transport and logistics partners, we have also made the switch from diesel-powered vehicles, utilising smart, low-emissions transport which has resulted in our ability to bring our products to market in a much more sustainable way.


Responsible consumption

At Irish Distillers, our responsibility does not end when our products reach the shelf. We apply the same consideration and rigour to informing our consumers on how to enjoy our products in a responsible manner as we do to reducing our own energy consumption. Evolving our business and marketing activities and taking action on harmful drinking has been pivotal in this pursuit.

Promoting responsible drinking is addressed through engagement and training. We aim to educate our employees and equip them with the tools and knowledge required to become ambassadors for the responsible consumption of our products.

Importantly, we provide our consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions, as well as marketing our products responsibly with consideration given to how they are presented and sold in-store. We’re one of the original funders of DrinkAware, whose mission is an Ireland where alcohol is not misused.


A sustainable future

As we continue our efforts and recognise that there is always more to do, we feel it is also important to pause and reflect on the significant strides we have made as a community.

This year, we were proud to be awarded Origin Green Gold status, which recognised our achievements to date. Origin Green is the world’s only national food and drink sustainability programme which enables companies to set and achieve measurable targets in pursuit of a more sustainable future.

We know, however, that continuous improvement is crucial and we commit to working tirelessly to ensure that our business is part of the positive solution on climate and social sustainability. Continued engagement with like-minded partners and suppliers, such as Encirc, will be pivotal to success and we look forward to tackling this challenge together.

Related Articles

Planet-first Production October 2022

Ulster Wildlife – Planet-first Production Achieving sustainability goals

Read Article
Planet-first Production September 2022

Food Contact Chemicals: Promoting Healthy Packaging Jane Muncke, Managing Director at Food Packaging Forum

Read Article