On World Environment Day, City A.M. speaks to an iconic British brand that’s put going green at the heart of its business
“Other than keeping people safe, the most important part of my role is nosing and tasting the gin.”
So says Dr. Anne Brock, with the airy nonchalance of somebody who doesn’t quite understand how envy-inducing that sounds to anybody locked up in a home office all day.
“That’s what I’m here for. That’s what my nose is for.”
Dr. Brock’s nose, however, has helped plenty of locked down Brits get through the past few weeks. As the Master Distiller at Bombay Sapphire’s Hampshire distillery, she is responsible for ensuring that each bottle that rolls off their production line tastes exactly as it should – even during lockdown.
“It’s kind of normal but not,” she says of life at the plant during the Covid-19 pandemic, which sounds as if it may not be the perfect building for social distancing. “The distillery is a bit of a rabbit warren, and we’ve had to install a one-way system.”
But, with staff safe and gin still flying off the bottling line, Dr. Brock can focus on the longer term. For Bacardi-owned Bombay, the future of the iconic blue bottle is very much a green one.
Being environmentally friendly is, she says, in the brand’s DNA.
“We had a great opportunity back in 2010 when we set up the Laverstoke Mill distillery, taking over a heritage site on a site of special scientific interest. We had the chance to design and build a distillery that was as sustainable as possible,” Brock tells us.
And what a site it is, set in the rolling hills of southern England with a centrepiece designed by starchitect and designer Thomas Heatherwick. It’s a far cry from the urban environs of Brock’s former home at the much-loved Jensens Gin on Maltby Street, in Bermondsey.
“It’s just an absolutely stunning view to come into,” she says of her new-ish surrounds, having joined three years ago.
It’s undeniably green. A biomass boiler sits at the centre of the distilling process, with solar panels providing energy alongside a hydro-electric turbine in the River Test. It became the first distillery to receive an ‘outstanding’ BREEAM rating, dished out only to industrial designs that are considered to be at the top of the sustainability game.
But whilst the gin is bottled in pastoral splendour, it is sourced from all over the world. Bombay Sapphire’s flavour comes from 10 botanicals – with juniper from Italy, grains of paradise from west Africa and cassia bark from southeast Asia amongst others. How does any brand ensure it is sustainably sourcing raw materials from the four corners of the globe?
“They’re all grown in the optimal conditions for them,” says Brock. “What’s unique for us is that we have a master of botanicals, Ivano Tonutti, who sits in Geneva.
“Instead of working with a middleman or a broker or a commodities trader, he works directly with the producers and he’s built those relationships up over many years in the industry.
“Because of that he can work with them to ensure sustainable practices.”
It’s worked. In the near future all ten of Bombay Sapphire’s botanical ingredients will soon be certified as sustainable. No doubt conscious of Ivano’s air miles and indeed the carbon emissions that come with shipping thousands of glass bottles across the world, too, Bacardi has a target of cutting greenhouse gases by 50 per cent and water consumption by 25 per cent in the next five years. They’re also attempting to become plastic free by 2030.
It’s quite an effort, but as Dr. Brock tells us, it’s now something that consumers expect.
“It’s good business sense, in terms of what consumers want. But if I found a company that wasn’t doing that, I probably would look for another brand.”
The firm has certainly stepped up during the Covid-19 pandemic, quickly adjusting the plant to produce hand sanitiser for local GP surgeries. “It’s about giving back to the community in which we live and work,” says Brock.
As businesses use the pandemic to reassess how they operate in society at large, expect many more firms to go down Bombay Sapphire’s route. It’s been quite the tonic, after all.