Two Drifters founders Gemma and Russ Wakeham

Two Drifters’ Gemma Wakeham: “There has to be accountability for sustainability goals”

10 January, 2023

Since Devon-based husband-and-wife team Russ and Gemma Wakeham launched the carbon-negative Two Drifters rum in 2019, the brand has gone from strength to strength – despite not necessarily doing things the easy way.

Now, following the announcement of a partnership with British Airways, Drinks International caught up with Gemma Wakeham to talk about how to be scalable while remaining sustainable and the spirits industry’s trouble with greenwashing.

“We have always loved rum.” Says Gemma. “Rum tasting was our first date and we went to St. Lucia on our honeymoon. We are from Devon and wanted to move home after years of travelling around the world for work. Russ was a scientist, working on ways to capture COand make it useful, he wanted to get out of the academic echo chamber and show the world how people could do more to reduce emissions, not discussing ideas and setting future targets, but doing it now. So, we put all our loves together, and created a rum distillery, achieving a genuine carbon-negative footprint, in Devon.”

By having clearly defined goals from the outset, Two Drifters was able to build carbon negativity into the brand from the word go.

“We’ve been carbon negative since day one. We wouldn’t be doing this if we couldn’t do it sustainably, it’s our ambition to own a rum distillery, why should the world suffer for what we want to build? It amazes us that you can just create a business that hurts the planet so easily.

“One night, Russ woke me up and said he thinks we could go one stage further than carbon neutral. If you’re going to all that effort to be carbon neutral, why not go a small step further and be a force for good? Be a business that actually removes more COthan it creates.”

Through a cynical eye, carbon emission targets and sustainability have become important but hollow marketing speak for spirits brands. More generously, the industry at large is beginning to realise and account for its environmental impact.

“It’s the same way that every industry feels the need to talk about sustainability to grow sales,” says Gemma. “At some point, there has to be accountability for each business’ sustainability goals and messages, we have to stop damaging the planet for personal gain. The impending catastrophic results of continual global warming are just too huge to let lies go unnoticed and unchallenged.

“It’s a tricky path though, as calculating environmental impact can be difficult and very subjective. Our aim at Two Drifters is to show that genuine sustainability is achievable, profitable and scalable, so many more will follow.”

There is a mountain to climb, but Two Drifters can represent a model for small distilleries invested in making a positive change.

“The easiest area for a spirits producer to have an impact on carbon reduction is the bottle they put the liquid in. Ours is a very lightweight, British glass bottle and it’s a huge saving in COcompared to a heavy, old-fashioned bottle.

“[Our raw ingredients] are one of our biggest COremoval costs, and where currently, we have little influence. Our molasses is a waste product from the Tate & Lyle refinery in East London and is used for agricultural feed, but we accept responsibility for the emissions from the sugarcane plantation in Central America. It’s our choice to make rum in the UK so we knew needed to remove the COcaused by shipping the molasses to our door.

“We use mainly carbon-neutral processes, we find carbon-free technologies wherever we can, where we can’t influence, we calculate the footprint and permanently remove these emissions with Direct Air Capture. We use Climeworks, who capture COin Iceland, turn it into stone and store it underground. So far, we have removed nearly 36 tonnes, a third of this is for the emissions from shipping the molasses.”

In January 2022, Two Drifters became a Certified B Corp, meaning the brand was independently verified to be a business that “acts in ways that benefit society as a whole”. It may be easier to make a positive impact when operating at a smaller scale, but Two Drifters’ ambitions are big – Gemma and Russ have outlined their mission to capture 1% of the UK rum market by 2025 and to have 1% of the Global rum market by 2030. It’s easier to talk a good game when it comes to sustainability, but for any distillery that wants to get serious, Two Drifters are one to watch.

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