BIER Member Spotlight: Jessica Merz

BIER Member Spotlight: Jessica Merz

Jessica Merz and headline "BIER member spotlight: Meet Jessica Merz" and the Bacardi logo
Image courtesy of BIER

Image courtesy of BIER

Thursday, June 30, 2022 - 10:00am

CONTENT: Article

Name: Jessica Merz, Vice President, Global Corporate Communications
Company: Bacardi
Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter

Welcome to our series aimed at spotlighting the individual leaders within BIER member companies and stakeholder organizations. Learn how these practitioners and their companies are addressing pressing challenges around water, energy, agriculture, climate change, and what inspires each of them to advance environmental sustainability in the beverage sector and collectively, overall.

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities and how long you have worked with your company.

I’ve been privileged to be part of family-owned Bacardi for more than 11 years and, during that time, have held a variety of communications roles. Today, as Vice President of Global Corporate Communications, I lead a team responsible for internal communications, external communications, social media, and our heritage collection, which encompasses archives protecting a 160-year-legacy. My aim is to share our unique story, showcase our culture and drive engagement with our people, our consumers and our partners.

Among the initiatives, I engage with is our Good Spirited Council, a cross-functional team of leaders responsible for contributing to our ESG agenda, which encompasses four focus areas:

  • Good Footprint: take bold action to have a positive environmental impact
  • Good Sources: respect people and planet through responsible sourcing partnerships
  • Good Choices: market responsibly to inspire mindful drinking and reduce alcohol-related harm
  • Good Futures: empower people in a fair & inclusive workplace and bolster our communities

How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2022?

Doing the right thing has been core to Bacardi since its foundation 160 years ago in Cuba as a single rum brand. Today, Bacardi is the largest privately held spirits company in the world with a portfolio of premium brands that includes BACARDÍ® rum, GREY GOOSE® vodka, PATRÓN® tequila, DEWAR’S® Blended Scotch whisky, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® gin, and MARTINI® vermouth and sparkling wines.

While our business has grown, who we are and what we stand for remains the same after seven generations and that includes operating sustainably.

We first began tracking our global impact on the environment back in 2006. Within 10 years we cut our GHG emissions and our water consumption in half. We continue to focus on the areas where we believe we can make the most impact, and now our targets are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This includes reducing water consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sourcing ingredients that are certified sustainable, increasing our use of recycled content, and ensuring our packaging is 100% recyclable.

We are focused on reducing our carbon footprint by optimizing distillery processes and using renewable energy wherever possible – for example at our distilleries in Scotland. Where it is not yet possible, we are adopting cleaner and more efficient energy solutions. At our BACARDÍ rum distillery in Puerto Rico we are cutting our GHG emissions in half by replacing fuel oil with a CHP (Combined Heat and Power) system.

And this year we took a major step towards achieving our 2025 goal of sourcing 100% of our key ingredients from sustainably certified suppliers with BOMBAY SAPPHIRE achieving this recognition for all of its 10 botanical suppliers – a first for an international gin.

These are just some of the priority areas for this fiscal year as we continue to push the boundaries and identify more ways to become greener while maintaining the same quality that consumers expect from our premium products.

How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2022?

Water replenishment and maximizing good in the communities we touch are among our ongoing priorities. One of those communities lies within Jalisco, the highlands that are homes to the fields where Weber Blue Agave is grown for PATRÓN® and CAZADORES® tequilas. The town and municipality of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga is among the biggest metropolitan areas in all of Mexico, with a large industrial base and where water supply needed a bit of love. That’s where BIER, Bacardi and other industry leaders have come together to launch an initiative to address the shared water challenges. This first-of-its-kind watershed collaboration is the kind of thing BIER does: bring together global leaders in the beverage industry to advance the sector’s environmental sustainability. This initiative, called the Charco Bendito Project, focused on the Santiago Guadalajara River—which bears significant environmental and cultural relevance to the area—through the introduction of a hydraulic watershed and routing clean water to surrounding communities where there is none. The scope of the project included the restoration and conservation of 65 hectares of land integral to the region’s water quality and quantity, planting native vegetation to increase groundwater levels and reduce soil loss, improving water infrastructure, and increasing awareness about the importance of water to healthy communities. This effort to provide a clean water supply remains a program this year and beyond, and it is thanks to BIER and our friends in the industry that we can make this greater impact. 

Name one of the practical solutions or best practices you learned in working with BIER and its members and why it was important to you and/or your company.

One of the most helpful resources from BIER are the benchmark reports which we use as a guide when setting our own sustainability goals. It is so valuable to have a standardized guide across the industry so that we are equally and consistently measuring our work across emissions, water, zero waste, and more.

It is so important that, across the industry, we are holding ourselves accountable to the same criteria and standards in order to drive real progress and transparency. Similar to how we have leveraged benchmarks to achieve Science-Based Targets certification for our greenhouse gas emissions, we leverage BIER reporting and expertise to help us achieve validations in other areas of our sustainability efforts.

Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.

Our mission to eliminate single-use plastic brings me great pride. It’s a journey that began in 2016 when we were the first global company to pledge to eliminate single-use plastic straws. Within a year, we eliminated one million straws from internal events alone and then started influencing hospitality and travel industry partners to do the same. It lit a fire in us to do more and now, we have a goal to remove 100% of all single-use plastic from gift packs and point-of-sale materials next year, with a longer-term goal for Bacardi to be 100% plastic-free by 2030.

This past holiday season, we hit a big milestone when we released holiday gift packs containing 50% less plastic than last year. The commitment from our marketing, sales, and operations teams to use innovative designs helped us remove a total of 147 tons of single-use plastic used annually.

Small and large changes in design allow us to remove the need for plastic by doing things like replacing plastic inserts or trays with sustainable alternatives made from cardboard certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

The work continues as we continue to find ways to impact change, but I never forget how our journey began with what was a bold idea at the time (before anyone was talking about straws) and evolved to a global commitment to become plastic-free.

As an ocean advocate, this commitment hits extra close to home because it pains me to see plastic floating in the ocean when I am out for a dive. I am proud to have helped our company take on this challenge.

If you had one superpower that could be used to radically accelerate and scale sustainable best practices, which one would it be, and how would you use it?

If all things are possible, I would embrace the superpowers of the Marvel character Storm. She can control the weather and the atmosphere, and so I would take her immense powers to fight climate change immediately. From cooling waters to rebuilding the ozone layer to controlling where it rains to other immediate actions that will help protect our water sources, reduce rising temperatures, and much more.

Comic book characters aside, I would also like the superpower of deflecting blocker-type thinking. I find that often solutions are limited because thinking is limited. If we could all approach ideas by focusing on the “what if?” and not the reasons something may not work today, then I believe we would have so many more solutions on the table.

BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
2021 Water and Energy Use Benchmarking Study