Sustainability takes forever

Vanessa Wright, Group VP Sustainability & Responsibility, Pernod Ricard.

Going from strategy to action isn’t always as smooth ride. Especially when it comes to making major sustainability-changes in an organization. But for Vanessa Wright, Group VP Sustainability & Responsibility at Pernod Ricard, making a real difference has been a strong driving force to getting people enthusiastic about reaching the ambitious goals. And the road was in fact less bumpy than anticipated.

You’ve been heading the Sustainability work for Pernod Ricard since 2017. How has your work changed in during this time?

–  A lot, I’d say. When I joined the team at HQ, progress had already been made on some key sustainability issues. Responsible consumption was a key focus then and there was also a 2020 environmental roadmap in place. However, I thought that a more comprehensive strategy for a broader scope of our sustainability work was missing, so that was what I wanted to start with. In order to do that, I first had to do due diligence on better understanding the material issues of the business, followed by articulating the vision and then building a strategy so that the entire organization felt onboarded and included. For me, involving all parts of the business and getting engagement and support from all levels was fundamental in making such big changes. In April last year, we launched our strategic 10-year plan – our 2030 S&R Good Times from a Good Place roadmap – a strategy that addresses every aspect of our business from grain to glass.  So now our focus is on making the strategy come alive. From an outside perspective of the organization the whole view of sustainability has also changed a lot. It’s gone from being in the philanthropy box to being fully embedded in the business s. The level of maturity has increased and with that comes the notion to address broader topics.

What was most important when you started?

– Responsible drinking was the key focus in 2017. Today, all our four pillars (Nurturing Terroir, Valuing People, Circular Making and Responsible Hosting) are equally important. But key for us is of course terroir – all our products come from nature and are rooted in the countries where they originate from. So, it’s very important that we maintain and build good relationships with all the farmers and producers we work with and that we nurture nature and its ecosystems. Otherwise we simply won’t have a business for the future.

Corona, climate and changing the world: how do you see that the industry and business must change in order to help create a new, more sustainable society?

–  I think it’s a matter of looking at the bigger picture. Nature, climate and people are all interlinked. That means we must strengthen what we rely on. Conviviality is all about sharing and that goes beyond people. We need to take social responsibility and do what we can to help, both during this imminent crisis, but also in the longer run. Sustainability takes forever and that’s the point. We need to balance all elements, from raw materials to finished product. From people to business.

2025 is an important year for Pernod Ricard in terms of sustainability, with some high set goals: 100% recyclable, compostable, reusable, or bio-based packaging and no single-use plastic in point-of-sale materials. How will this be achieved?

–  By hard work and a change of our mindset. By exploring different materials, by altering our marketing briefs to our agencies so that including eco-design principles is mandatory in execution. By working even closer with all our suppliers on how we, as a joint team, we can reach even further. And by making sure all our affiliates adhere to our guidelines. And by investing in innovations that we’ll enable us to impose change quicker.

Good Times from a Good Place is an initiative to be fully implemented by 2030, from what I understand. What can you tell me about this ambitious program?

– Our roadmap is for 10 years, so most of our targets are 2030 but some are 2025. However, we need to go step by step on this journey with our affiliates so that we help each other and learn collectively.  We’re all in this together and it is a long-term plan, fully aligned with the UN SDGs global agenda and timeline as well. The strategy was built like a pyramid, where the bottom is the fundamentals, the middle is more focused on business strategies and the top the most ambitious, where areas of leadership is addressed. The framework is key to ensuring that we all work in a consistent way towards the same goals.

What motivates you?

– I loved my job in communications. It was interesting, it was varied, I got to travel the world and do extraordinary things. But when I got the opportunity to take on this role, I felt a strong calling to be able to make a real difference. We are lucky at Pernod Ricard, we’ve got a young CEO (Alexandre Ricard, editors note) with his name on the door and that, for me, ensures a long-term commitment and a continuation of a great legacy started by his grandfather. We’re doing something valuable and that’s something I feel very passionate about. It feels good to do something that matters, driving change and working with others to achieve it.

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

– Launching the Good Times from a Good Place strategy. We’re a small team in a large, global organization and I’m very proud of the way we’ve galvanized our affiliates internationally and engaged them to build and drive their own local actions. Only eight weeks after launching the strategy, some 76 percent of the people working at Pernod Ricard said they were aware of the new strategy. The awareness of the importance of what we’re doing is very high and we’re also started to be seen as global leaders in within the industry.

Which sustainability issue is closest to your heart?

– All our four pillars are equally important, but for me, terroir is the closest to my heart. I am a scuba diver, so I have very strong affiliations with nature. I’ve seen the negative impact on our oceans firsthand, and that really motivates me to make a change. At Pernod Ricard all our products come from nature and I think this is a very important topic for us to address and help improve globally – nature, people and climate are all linked.