A man working in a tequila agave field
A tree with orange and green leaves

Beam Suntory has established the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky, which supports a curriculum to educate the next generation of distillers

Kim Marotta is head of sustainability at Beam Suntory, the drinks behemoth behind Jim Beam, Courvoisier and Sipsmith with annual revenues of more than $4bn. She speaks to Ella Johnson about what the sector can do to help preserve water and agricultural resources, and why more companies need to be putting their necks on the ESG line
A blonde woman wearing a black top smiling at the camera

Kim Marotta

LUX: Why has the spirits industry been slower to act on ESG than food?
Kim Marotta: The spirits and food industries share several foundational environmental concerns: the sustainability of agriculture, helping fight climate change, looking after water resources and working towards more sustainable packaging.

While the spirits industry may not have been as visible in communicating its work as the food industry, I do think these have been central concerns for a long time. From agave, to corn, wheat to barley, and of course, water, I’m glad to see both industries on the same page in terms of the importance of environmental sustainability.

A man working in a tequila agave field

Tequila from agave fields can take between 8 and 12 years to harvest

LUX: Where do the challenges lie?
Kim Marotta: Water, transport and packaging. It goes without saying that water is one of the two foundational ingredients in the spirits industry, presenting enormous opportunity for positive environmental impact. We have established water sanctuaries in Loretto, Kentucky, at Maker’s Mark and in Clermont, Kentucky, at Jim Beam. We’ve also set out an extensive program of peatlands water sanctuaries in the Highlands of Scotland, not to mention our pioneering work in the tequila industry where our Casa Sauza brand has the lowest carbon footprint and water usage.

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With transport, just looking at the amount of products spirits companies ship all over the world, there is a fantastic opportunity to influence and partner with logistics groups to ensure everyone is working together for more sustainable methods of transport.

Packaging, one of the most crucial parts of the customer relationship to any premium spirit brand, is also a critical area. Brands all around the world are looking at how to make it more sustainable, whether it’s conducting a lifecycle analysis on every piece of packaging, as we do, to prioritising right weighting to minimise materials usage and waste, to total redesign of bottles, which we did this year with Courvoisier.

A waterfall surrounded by red and orange trees

Following Beam Suntory’s establishment of Natural Water Sanctuaries in both Japan and the US, their new initiative focuses on peatlands water sanctuaries in the Highlands of Scotland

LUX: What is the biggest obstacle the industry faces right now?
Kim Marotta: Mobilising the industry, governments, NGOs, communities and customers to all come together and drive real change. This is obviously a huge task and needs to be a global effort. While there has been significant progress in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done.

LUX: Which group is most important?
Kim Marotta: I’m not sure any one of these groups can be singled out as the most important, but what we do often see is that change is accelerated by consumer preferences and activism. That said, corporations and governments play a central role in ensuring the important issues are addressed for the long-term.

Read more: Unilever’s Rebecca Marmot On The Sustainable Everyday

LUX: Beam Suntory saw sales up by 11% in 2021, the same year that it launched its Proof Positive program. Does this imply a correlation between profit and purpose?
Kim Marotta: Proof Positive only launched last year and is a long-term initiative over ten years, so I don’t know that that alone demonstrates a correlation between the two. However, what does show that connection is that the foundation of Proof Positive – what we refer to as ‘Growing for Good’ – has been part of our DNA for generations. That certainly has helped our performance, and, I would argue, has shown itself as a commercial imperative.

LUX: How are you embedding social justice into your sustainability strategy?
Kim Marotta: Our ambitions, by 2030, are to have 45% racially and ethnically diverse employee representation in the US and to achieve an industry-leading sense of belonging among employees. We are also committing to achieve one million volunteer hours to communities and initiatives that promote social justice and to reach 50% women representation in leadership positions.

green fields from a bird's eye view

Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky

We partner closely with our employee impact groups to ensure that we are guided by our people and values in how we support social justice. We’re committed to financially supporting the important work undertaken by leading social justice organisations.

For example, Courvoisier has partnered with the National Urban League to support Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs facing hardship as a result of the pandemic and committed $1 million to provide support to Black-owned businesses over the span of five years. Hornitos, another of our brands, has also made significant donations to The League of United Latin American Citizens and We Are All Human to support the Fair Shot program, which supports immigrants seeking US citizenship.

Read more: GreenBiz’s Heather Clancy On Corporate Climate Action

LUX: How can companies move their ESG agendas beyond reporting and compliance towards business enablement?
Kim Marotta: Companies should not be afraid to set out the most ambitious targets that they can, even if the specific road map isn’t totally clear. Whether they’re unsure if the technology is there, or what the commitment to R&D might be over the years, the solution is simple: set aggressive targets, make the investments in technology you need to make to hit those targets, and be accountable and transparent, showing evidence of progress along the way. If companies aren’t setting aggressive targets, they aren’t going to make as much as of an impact as they can.

Kim Marotta is Global Vice President – Environmental Sustainability at Beam Suntory

Find out more: beamsuntory.com

Reading time: 5 min
woman sitting on a green couch in a green dress
Surina Narula with a group of children

Surina Narula, founder and patron of the UK-based Consortium for Street Children

Based between London and Delhi, Surina Narula has founded philanthropic endeavours as diverse as Jaipur Literature Festival, the Consortium for Street Children, and the TVE Global Sustainability Film Awards, among others. The governing principle underlying them all? A passion for learning and justice. Here, Narula speaks to Samantha Welsh about personal responsibility and the importance of South Asian representation.

Surina Narula is on a mission for social justice. Having dedicated the best part of three decades to delivering aid to women and children in the UK and India, she is also a patron for South Asian art and a fervent advocate for sustainability through the medium of film. If those causes sound disparate, they are deliberately so – for Narula is dedicated to equality above all else.

LUX: When did philanthropy become a way of life for you?
Surina Narula: I don’t think I had anything specifically in mind [when I started]. I just believed in justice and in a fairer world. It all changed when I had to fight for justice for my sister’s murder, which made me think a lot about human rights and justice for all. I realised it’s a very unfair world in India, where only people like us, with money and contacts, get any kind of justice. So, I started advocating for the most vulnerable sections of society. I knew it would take an entire lifetime to make a tiny difference, but it didn’t mean I had to stop enjoying my life. It is a basic responsibility for every able-bodied person to engage and make a difference.

LUX: Your work spans literature festivals to film awards, sustainability to women’s rights. Is there a single philosophy underwriting them all?
Surina Narula: You could say that everything I’m engaged in is interconnected. Everything is for a cause but also satisfies my desire to learn. [That’s why] I started fundraising through art exhibitions, theatre productions and literary festivals. I first began with working for street children through the Consortium for Street Children (CSC), based in London, and then looked at communities supporting children through Plan UK and helping charities like Women and Children First. My focus now is on advocating for environmental causes and global sustainability through the Television for the Environment (TVE). I felt the environmental crisis was becoming the greatest cause of human suffering, with the worst affected always being women and children. My philanthropic journey has been a continuous and evolving process.

Surina Narula sitting on a green couch in a green dress

Surina Narula celebrating Diwali at COP26

LUX: Your own involvement in these projects frequently transcends setting up foundations and providing aid. Why is it important that you engage on a deeper, more personal level?
Surina Narula: The personal commitment comes from a love of life. I don’t think the idea of foundations, charity, aid is what excites me; they are a means, not an end. It has been a privilege to be on the boards of many organisations, because I meet amazing people who devote their lives to work for the causes they are passionate about. I love meeting these people and learning from them.

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LUX: You are a fearless advocate for women’s rights and ask difficult questions around religious strife, marriage and prostitution. Does it ever feel like you are fighting a losing battle?
Surina Narula: It is very difficult to measure success in these areas, but unless we have the courage to question bad practices, how can we start a dialogue? By starting a dialogue, however difficult, we can start the process of change.

LUX: Is that how the Difficult Dialogues initiative came about?
Surina Narula: Difficult Dialogues is part of a wider agenda of regional development which aims to involve the voices of key stakeholders in the process of policy formulation. Policy is eventually what really changes the plight of people, and this process needs to be structured, transparent and more inclusive. We organise events debating ‘difficult’ issues with Government, policy formulators, academics, corporates, NGOs and last mile implementers of policy, before making specific policy recommendations for the area.

LUX: What reforms have your teams been able to effect?
Surina Narula: Thanks to the work of the CSC, we have succeeded in adding a general comment in the UN Rights of the Child, guaranteeing that whenever governments discuss the welfare of children this expressly includes street children. We have also had success with Plan International, where our teams work hard in law reform to support the rights of women and girl children in the UK and India. Through Women and Children First, our teams are effectively reducing the mortality rate in newborn children in parts of Africa.

Surina Narula holding an award

In 2012 Surina founded the tve Global Sustainability Film Awards. Left to right: Giorgos Lemos, Surina Narula and Nikos Fragos. Producers of, ‘Amerika Square’, the film won the Founder’s Award at the GSFA2018

LUX: Your work is heavily focused on South Asia, as well as the UK. Why is that a priority for you?
Surina Narula: I believe it’s best to start with what you know. South Asia is closer to the language and culture I grew up in. I learned about South Asia through western writers in English. I also read Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare. They were great, of course, but I grew up imagining I was Hardy’s Tess, not Vikram Seth’s Lata. Now, I am much clearer about my own identity and have learned so much about people in our region.

LUX: Was this the motivation behind the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature?
Surina Narula: Yes, it’s about sharing the cultural richness and diversity of South Asia, and bringing our literary talents to a global audience. We encourage a wide range of entrants: the Prize is open to writers from anywhere in the world provided they write about our region. Over the last decade, it has become the definitive international prize focused on South Asian fiction writing.

Read more: Philanthropy: James Chen on providing vision for all

LUX: How do you develop such nuanced conversations across a region with so much diversity?
Surina Narula: If you know this region, it’s clear there is great diversity in language and dress. The Prize is focused on nine South Asian countries which include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Maldives and Afghanistan. Translation has helped capture the nuance of conversations; we also celebrate our diversity by physically presenting the award in different countries by rotation.

LUX: How does neo-colonialism intersect with the storytelling of that region?
Surina Narula: Every nation in the South Asian region has suffered through our shared colonial history, as well as civil and religious conflict. The entire region is connected in this way. Before Independence, English literature and the English language were prevalent because of colonialism: we were forced to speak and write in the language of the conqueror. So the DSC Prize brings to the English-speaking world a deeper understanding of the vibrancy and richness of South Asian culture.

LUX: The TVE Global Sustainability Film Awards celebrates a different kind of creativity. Tell us more about that.
Surina Narula: Television for Environment (TVE) has been at the forefront of amplifying messages around sustainability for the last 36 years. My journey with them began ten years ago, when I was introduced to them as a fundraiser. The organic natural next step for us was to give awards for well-made environmental films, leading to the conception of the annual TVE Global Sustainability Film Awards. The awards are unique because film submissions are judged not only on the quality of their content but on their message and impact. Our greatest success was when we highlighted the film My Octopus Teacher at the TVE GSFA 2020 and won the Oscar for the best documentary.

LUX: How would you like to see the next generation taking forward your legacy?
Surina Narula: One of the greatest Sikh Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, once said, ‘Shiva, grant me this boon! May I never, ever shirk from doing good deeds!’. He acknowledged how hard it is always to do the right thing. This is because life is all about choices: we are always trying to make choices that help us enjoy our lives to the full and to fulfil our personal responsibilities. I think the next generation has a lot going for it [in this sense]. Access to technology and economic independence makes young people more capable. If they can develop and remain compassionate, the world will be a better place.

Find out more: jaipurliteraturefestival.org



As with all of our philanthropists, readers who have their own foundations and philanthropic interests are encouraged to reach out to our interview subjects and their institutions directly.

Reading time: 7 min