With rebellious roots dating back to the 80’s, Absolut is not afraid to take a stand in matters that matter. For John Tran, Director of Sustainability at Pernod Ricard in the US, this is his everyday mission. To advocate for changes that will help make the world better.
What does a director of sustainability do?
– Working in sustainability in the US market means working across the value chain to meet our sustainability roadmap for 2030. For me, sustainability is not just terroir, but also valuing people. It’s very much about being in tune with the zeitgeist and being relevant to the market we’re in and having a positive impact on society. And here in the US, there are more pressing things than just the environment. We need to mitigate our impact and be transparent in everything we do. And that’s where my role comes in.
Can you give an example on what you do?
– By actively promoting equality and being anti prejudice, we’re trying to dismantle a lot of prejudice that we see in the US. Right now, there’s a heavy focus on race and I don’t think that was on anyone’s bingo card a few years ago. People and businesses that have been called out for discriminating are now actively trying to do something. I’m not saying that that’s the case for us, but we’ve also shifted a lot of our attention to equality related issues. My responsibilities also involve working with public affairs on matters regarding responsible drinking. We’re advocating these important topics, which I think is kind of new territory for us. We used to focus on three areas: under-age drinking, drinking and driving and binge drinking. To that, we’ve now also – through our Absolut #SexResponsibly campaign – added consent, meaning not using alcohol as an excuse. Only a yes means yes.
You’ve been with Pernod Ricard for quite some time now, how has the view on sustainability changed since you started here?
– History is always written by winners, right. And in the past 10-20 years it has been in the hands of a small amount of people, governing the narrative. But this is about to change. Newer generations have access to so much more information which has changed the narrative. And you have to take into consideration the fact that Gen z have experienced so much in their short lifetime. A lot of baby boomers and millennials grew up in a prosperous time with relative stability. But Gen z has already experienced house market and stock market crashes. They’ve seen businesses being too greedy and politicians being too powerful. To give an example: In the US, getting an unexpected $2000 bill will bankrupt 50 percent of all Americans. And I think that Gen z has become atoned to the needs of the future. That’s why social advocacy is as important as environment.
How do you take action to meet the expectations from the new generations?
– We’re currently exploring some new business models. Take the brands Our/Vodka for example. They’ve produced a basil infused vodka using only leftover basil that would otherwise just have gone to waste. But by asking their community to help with this, they’ve managed to create a whole new level of engagement and commitment. And in return, they donate back some of the profits to their community. So, the business model is all about partnerships. We recognize that one organization can’t make a difference on its own. So that’s why we essentially are working harder than ever before on bringing people together.
How do you find inspiration and information on zeitgeist related issues?
– Over my career, my inspiration has shifted a bit. My interest in how to make a cultural impact began through listening to different business leaders, like Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard and such. I still get info from them and I always ask experts when I need input. But I’ve also broadened my horizon. I now listen more to community leaders, to non-profit organizations and I follow social media. I also put a lot of effort into actually meeting people face to face. To learn about what their struggles and challenges are. And social media has had a huge impact on my understanding of the needs of the newer generations. This is their home turf and I get a lot of inspiration from future leaders who educate me on their point of view.
Who do you follow on Instagram?
– Oh, I follow so many great accounts and people, but if I’d give you three recommendations, I’d say to follow the conscious kid, soyouwanttotalkabout and teenagetake. These are all great platforms that help me stay updated on various sustainability issues.
Absolut has been taken some bold actions in the US lately, with controversial campaigns like SexResponsibly and VoteResponsibly. Almost an echo from the 80’s. What do you think about this strategy to cover lost ground?
– I think it’s great. For a company like Absolut, it’s important to take a position and be courageous. The newer generations are looking for organizations or brands that have values that are the same as their own. And I think that by actively taking a stand on relatable issues, that are so close to our own history, can act as a bridge between people. As you say, in the 80’s Absolut was cutting edge and pushing boundaries. Our US CEO Ann Mukherjee is all about pushing for a more just society. There’s a timeless story in our DNA about pushing the development for good, justice and equality. We’ve continued to keep our ears to the ground.
What’s your view on the Absolut VoteResponsibly-campaign that’s currently running in the US?
– I think it’s a perfect example of what we want to advocate. And the reception has been incredibly positive. I think that there’s a notion that politics andsociety have never been as interlinked as now. That’s why it’s so important to raise your voice. And we will continue to advocate this. It’s not a privilege to vote, it is a responsibility. In America, only about 50 percent of eligible voters actually vote and we have consumers from across all spectra of beliefs. And that’s important to keep in mind. So, we’re not advocating for any party, but for the fact that your vote matters. Decisions that are being made have an impact on society and the world we live in.