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💥 #8 - Meet the Brands: How Sipsmith's 5-part plan includes a 46% emissions reduction target.
Featuring Ellie Stirk, Sustainability Lead at Sipsmith.
Sipsmith believe while taking shortcuts might be crafty, doing things properly, that’s craft. For them, it all began in 2009 in a tiny workshop in London. Three friends – Sam, Fairfax and Jared – set up London’s first traditional copper pot distillery in nearly 200 years. Their mission was simple: to bring London Dry Gin of truly uncompromising quality and character back to the city where it first earned its name. With global sales reaching ~175,000 9L cases a year, they’ve truly pioneered the revival of London Dry Gin. Mission achieved? They’re not stopping there.
We caught up with Ellie Stirk, Sustainability Lead at Sipsmith, to learn more about the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes to measure, mitigate and manage their impact. Sipsmith’s core values have been defined by their family of employees, spearheaded by their commitment to uncompromising quality, but ultimately come down to their desire to be a force for good in the world. From B Corp, to aligning with the Science Based Targets initiative, to aiming for a 46% emissions reduction across all scopes (yes, you read that right) - there’s no stone they’re leaving unturned.
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“You can’t just say ‘we think this is better, but we’re not 100% sure’. Collecting good data and analysing it well is how you can do better.”
👉 You recently announced that Sipsmith have achieved B Corp certification, alongside having your Science Based Targets approved. It sounds like it’s all guns blazing - could you give us an overview of how Sipsmith is approaching sustainability, and an idea of where you started?
Great question. Sustainability for us started with applying to be B Corp certified, it’s really been our diving board. We started focusing on it in 2018-2019, and it’s taken a lot of work since then.
To achieve certification we had an internal team called ‘Kaizen’, which is a Japanese phrase for continuous improvement. It’s a great representation, because now that we’ve achieved B Corp certification we’re keen to take a step back and look at our longer term ambitions. For us, B Corp certification isn’t a box ticking exercise, we really want to be improving all the time. One of the things we’ve looked into a lot is the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We want to make sure we’re aligned with those goals for our path to 2030.
We've developed a pretty extensive sustainability strategy which will guide us to ‘Crafting a Better Future’. It took six months of engaging the whole Sipsmith team.
We’ve landed on 5 different focuses, covering people and planet:
Better than net zero
By 2025, we’re hoping to eliminate our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and by 2030 the goal is Net Zero emissions across our entire value chain (so including Scope 3). We’re reducing them in line with clear Science Based Targets, aligning with the most ambitious 1.5C reduction pathway. It’s a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.
I'm very passionate about the environment, and so is one of our founders Sam Galsworthy - who is a huge driver in our sustainability mission. Reducing our emissions is going to be a key part of any work we do.
Better resource use
Aligned with our ambition to reduce our emissions, is our ambition for better circularity in our resource use. We want to really focus on our packaging and reducing the amount we use by implementing the principles of a circular economy - this will directly link in with reducing our carbon emissions. I think it's a fascinating area of sustainability
One example of how we’re currently doing this is by working with Refood to use our spent botanicals and food waste to produce green gas by anaerobic digestion.
Bridging both people and planet is our focus on better sourcing. We want to make sure that we're aligning with suppliers that are considerate of the environment and their workers, and are truly aligned with our overall sustainability goals.
Better for our swans
We’re also going to be focusing on our own team - we call them our ‘swans’ (to stay on brand). We're looking at engagement, wellbeing and happiness, and increasing our diversity. This year, we have launched our first wellbeing plan which includes 2 mental health days, a subscription to Headspace and regular yoga and HIIT classes.
Better for our communities
We have created a community engagement committee, called ‘Sipping For Good’. This group focuses on our charitable efforts and is looking at how we can increase our fundraising and launch our 2 paid volunteering days later this year (COVID-19 permitting!). One example of a community partnership in 2020 was with Imperial College London to produce hand sanitiser during the COVID-19 pandemic. We produced over 12,000 litres in total!
Our strategy to ‘Craft a Better Future’ is quite extensive which is exciting! We will continually review and refine our focus as we progress and learn more along this sustainability journey!
Amazing! Where does the original Kaizen committee fit into this new strategy?
Kaizen will still focus on the overall sustainability ambitions of Sipsmith, and on delivering this strategy. We’ve also created a Ministry of Sustainability! We’re in the process of designing our environmental management system, and they'll focus more on actioning our strategy and communicating with the wider team.
We have a lot of passion to do better, it’s just a case of organising the team in a way to deliver this. Sipsmith as a company is still quite young, compared to the rest of the market, but we’re passionate!
👉 In your 2020 Impact Report, you’ve really distilled where your greenhouse gas emissions are coming from. How did you go about calculating this?
When the Impact Report was launched, we'd just completed our product footprint which includes all the emissions associated with our products, including our London Dry Gin. The emission sources for our products include the distilling and bottling process, the packaging of our gin, the distribution to our UK sippers and the sipping of our gin in a classic gin and tonic.
We very much appreciated that we didn't have the full expertise in house. We partnered with The Carbon Trust to create our product footprint model, and to get all the data we created a team that covered the full breadth of the business. Doing our product footprint has meant that we have a really clear idea of where the emissions associated with our product come from. A lot is from our packaging, and also a lot is from the end user - which really surprised us. Nearly half of our product’s emissions are from the glass, the tonic, the ice, the lime - everything that goes into our user drinking Sipsmith.
Since we published our first Impact Report, we have also completed our full value chain footprint. This includes our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions (our product footprint feeds into this model)!
Again, some extremely interesting findings. 97% of our emissions sit in our Scope 3, which is huge. About 30% is our packaging and secondary products, 10% is our ingredients and around 25% is transport. Having a really in-depth view of our value chain is great, if not slightly overwhelming!
How long did the full measurement exercise take?
Six months to do all our data, if not longer but it has been worth the effort! Both footprint models are proving invaluable to model different business scenarios to help in decision making.
How are you using these findings?
It’s a massive document, and we’re using it internally to assess key projects as a form of a life cycle assessment. For example, we’re looking at our packaging at the moment and we’re using our footprint model to drive decisions. If we didn’t have this, I think we’d be struggling to know what options were actually better as so many factors feed into sustainability. We wouldn’t be able to quantify the differences between the options.
A business case for a more sustainable choice is really important.
👉 You mention having a group focused on collecting all the data you need, across the business. Collecting data, internal and external, is a real challenge that brands face. Can you dig into how you approached this?
To be honest, we struggled. One of our action points for our ‘Better than net zero’ pillar is to refine the data on our emissions that we have. We have some data from our suppliers, especially our top 3 suppliers which we have really strong relationships with. However, collecting data from many of our suppliers was a challenge. It was a huge benefit of working with The Carbon Trust, because they were able to make estimates from their data, for example, the emissions associated with our botanicals.
I can imagine that smaller brands would really struggle with this, but I think it’s important to build those relationships with suppliers and be clear around what data you really need - especially for product footprints. Scope 1 and 2 emissions are very achievable, some of Scope 3 is more achievable, but for a full product footprint it’s a real challenge.
👉 Aside from the Carbon Trust and Refood, are you working with any other partners?
We are very excited to have just launched our first circularity initiative in partnership with Loop and Tesco. Our returnable bottle has been launched in 10 Tesco stores and we are looking forward to seeing the impact of this. As well as a reduction in packaging, we are expecting to see a considerable decrease in carbon emissions associated with this product! Watch this space!
👉 Setting goals that align with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a big step for any brand. How have you found that process, and how did The Carbon Trust help?
With all the information The Carbon Trust gave us, it was quite easy to go through the process of setting Science Based Targets. The main decision for us was whether we want to follow the ‘2C pathway’, the ‘well-below 2C pathway’, or the ‘1.5C pathway’. As a company we felt very passionate about aligning with the 1.5C Science Based Targets pathway, and I believe it’s the pathway every business should choose. It’s much more ambitious. For us, that will require an absolute reduction of 46% across every scope, which is big.
The SBTi gave us really great resources, especially regarding how to calculate our emission reduction targets. For any brands with limited resources, it is still an option. However, unless you’re an expert in carbon footprinting I’d imagine it would be an extremely difficult process.
👉 How are you planning on achieving a 46% absolute reduction across all scopes? What are your hotspots and how are you tackling them?
Interestingly for the Science Based Targets initiative, you can exclude the consumer phase of your product’s footprint, which we’ve chosen to do. The influence that brands have on this phase is limited - how much can you alter the behaviour of your consumer in their home? There are definitely some campaigns we can do about making your G&Ts more sustainable, but for now, we’re focusing on the phases where we can have a more direct impact.
A major hotspot for us is our packaging. Our glass bottles are heavy, similar to many premium gin brands. We want to make our bottle more lightweight, and optimise where it is produced and how far it is transported. It’s one area that we’re hoping to cut down on, but it won't be the full 46%.
We’re really keen, as I mentioned, to hone in on some of the data we have and work with our suppliers to make that more and more accurate and to improve their processes too. We know quite a few of our suppliers aren’t on renewable tariffs, so we’re keen to influence that shift to cleaner energy. In March 2020, we made the switch to renewable energy from hydropower for all on-site activities, saving 33,000 kgCO2e in just nine months. In September 2020, we switched our gas to come from Anaerobic digestion (a very low impact renewable energy source). We know what a huge impact greener energy can make! Beyond that, optimising our transport, reporting for employee commuting and reducing employee travel (for example, for sales meetings) are other examples of where we hope to cut down.
Additionally, we’re also looking at having an internal carbon budget. As I mentioned, we have a lot of carbon data influencing different business decisions, but I’m keen to look at expanding that to see how we can monetise and quantify our impact on the environment through these decisions. I’ve seen a lot of fashion brands do environmental profit and loss calculations, which is definitely an inspiration. We’d be looking to achieve a scheme like this by 2025, but it’s not on the cards just yet.
How would that work for you internally? What does that look like?
It would need a lot of research to figure out, and we’d need to assess whether we would do it for carbon alone. Alternatively, it could quantify impact across different environmental factors like water and waste. I’ll let you know!
👉 You’ve publicly stated that you’re aiming to improve your B Corp score by 25 points by 2025. How are you planning on achieving this?
That’s emerged from me looking at some fairly ambitious modelling on the B Impact Assessment tool, I’ll admit. However, I feel like it’s definitely achievable. Some of those points will be gained by implementing new policies as a company, and improving some of our employee training. If we can reduce our carbon and improve our packaging, as I’ve mentioned, we could gain some key B Corp environment points.
👉 It’s great to see that you’ve included water in your impact calculations. How are you monitoring your water use?
We operate on site with two big stills and one smaller one. One was operating via a chiller, which is a cooling system using continuously circulated water.The other two were running on mains water, meaning they had a really high water usage. To reduce this, we installed an enhanced chiller system, switching to two chillers which now power all three of our stills. It’s reduced our water consumption on site by 40%, as it’s a loop of recycled water. We also now have on-site water metering across all of our stills, so we can see in really fine detail our water usage. This means that we can assess our water usage every month and track it really closely, which is a really proud achievement for us.
Currently, water isn’t directly part of our sustainability strategy. It does impact our carbon footprint, but because we’re a gin distillery, our water usage is tiny compared to other products like whisky, for example. It’s such a different process. We only use water to cool the stills, fill the stills and for cleaning, and this works out at about 5 litres of water per 1 litre of pure alcohol. Whisky can be 100-150 litres for 1 litre of pure alcohol. However, even though water isn’t in our top-level sustainability strategy, we are looking at getting our environmental management system ISO 14001 accredited. Within that, our water does need to be continuously improved, so it’s still an important consideration for us.
👉 What is a challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it? Any tips for other brands?
There were lots of challenges, but also lots of solutions. I think an ongoing one is always going to be ‘Sustainability vs Cost vs Premium’. We are a premium gin brand and we’re known for having amazing quality gin in a great quality bottle, so it’s going to be an ongoing challenge to get the balance right.
In terms of solutions, I think having good data is essential. The more I progress in this role, the more it becomes apparent to me. If you’re the sustainability expert in the room, you have to be able to present your ideas and make a business case for sustainability. Having good data is an essential part of this.
If you don’t necessarily have a sustainability background, and you present any stakeholder with a graph which illustrates the balance to be found between costs, sustainability and being premium, they will instantly get it. You can’t just say ‘we think this is better, but we’re not 100% sure’. Collecting good data and analysing it well is how you can win!
Do you have any tips on collecting data? Your team approach is really inspiring.
It’s essential to empower and engage the rest of the team, and get them involved. That way, it’s much easier to get all the information. Also, having conversations with everyone in the team about what the goals are, and what we’re trying to achieve, is really important.
👉 How has your role evolved? How have you become the Sustainability Lead at Sipsmith?
My role didn’t exist at the start of this year. Before this role, I was working in the distilling team. From there, I moved across to the Kaizen team which was focused on achieving B Corp, and now it’s a permanent role. It’s a big commitment from Sipsmith to focus on our impact, and it’s really exciting!
👉 What’s next for sustainability at Sipsmith in the next 6-12 months?
Internally, we’re going to be focusing on regrouping our Kaizen group to re-engage and kickstart our strategy and action. Externally, it’s hard to say how much the consumers are going to see. It’s like a swan paddling very hard under the surface, but looking calm and serene above. A lot of our changes will be packaging and operational. We’re keen to try new engagement methods too, and find innovative ways to share the journey of a product and our sustainability efforts with customers. We've got more than enough ideas, we’re now focusing on execution.
We’re all extremely passionate about trying to do better and becoming more sustainable. It’s now a case of making those changes!