Selling sustainability to whiskey drinkers

By CEO, Suzanne Shelton

If I were to say, “Quick — name five green products!” I’m betting Jack Daniels wouldn’t be at the top of your list.

It should be.

I had the pleasure of touring the one and only Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, TN, this weekend and found the entire experience to be an excellent example of how to sell sustainability to the consumer segments we call Cautious Conservatives and Skeptics.

These consumers are folks who don’t buy into the idea that global warming is caused by man, and they run the other way when marketers start talking to them about going green.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t buy green and energy efficient products — quite the contrary.  They will buy, but they’ll buy to gain control, to earn a perceived ROI…and to leave the campsite better than they found it.

A lot of these guys are hunters and fishermen.  They’re connected to nature because of that — and they’re connected to their fathers and grandsons because of it. They want to protect that way of life, which is a different thing than simply protecting the planet.

That’s what the folks at Brown Foreman, the owners of Jack Daniels, tap into so well with their distillery tour.  Now, it appears that the tour is a solid marketing effort meant to build the brand’s mystique and showcase the craftsmanship and quality that goes into every bottle. But whether they intend to or not, they’re also selling sustainability at every turn, and doing that actually enhances the brand story.  Here’s what we can all learn from the folks at Jack:

– Without the natural, limestone-filtered spring from which the water for the product comes, there would be no Jack Daniels. So they bought up 1,000 acres to make sure they could protect the land around the spring and, thus, protect the quality of the product.  It’s a quality and commitment message…but it’s also a sustainability/conservation/protecting the planet message.

– They don’t believe in wasting anything, which is another sustainability message (and one our research shows plays very well with this group). They make their own charcoal through which the product is filtered — and when it’s time to replace that charcoal, it gets remade into briquettes you can buy in the store to throw a steak over. Same with the mash that ultimately becomes the whiskey.  If there’s a quality control issue, they scoop it up and sell it to a bunch of local farmers who, in turn, feed it to some very happy cows and pigs.

– At the end of the tour you can purchase some of the high end stuff in a special bottle — and a portion of your purchase will go directly to fund the conservation efforts of Ducks Unlimited.  Which means by buying Jack Daniels, Cautious Conservatives can help make sure there are plenty of duck hunting trips in their future.

So, as we consistently say at Shelton:  a successful sustainability message often won’t look like a sustainability message. In fact, in some cases, it can’t look like one in order to be successful. Jack Daniels offers us a masterful example of how to weave a sustainability message into a brand story in a way that its core audience can really swallow.

Patrick Hunt

About Patrick Hunt

Patrick Hunt is CEO of Fiveworx, a customer engagement energy efficiency solutions provider spun off of Shelton Group after nearly a decade polling American consumers about energy efficiency and learning about creating behavior change around energy. See more at

View all posts by Patrick Hunt →


  1. Seriously, this is really reaching. If you understood the buying criteria for Jack Daniels (and their competitor’s products), I think you would agree. I am an avid bourbon drinker and enjoy fishing, hunting and other “typical demographic” pursuits, so I am quite familiar with the customer mindset and motivations.

    Granted I said “bourbon” and Jack Daniels is not bourbon (if you have done research into this market, I hope you already understand that) – and that gets to the very heart of what drives sales – the flavor. Product pricing, distribution network/coverage and almost 150 years of traditional marketing are also key components. I don’t recall any of my discussions with fellow bourbon drinkers or in product reviews that made sustainability a major issue.

    I could spend quite a bit of time explaining why sustainability isn’t really relevant in the marketing message of this specific product category, but I won’t.

    People aren’t stupid and are generally highly skeptical – and sick of – sustainability claims that are irrelevant or overreaching. And thankfully FTC will soon promulgate rules to begin managing this to some extent. Unfortunately, the sustainability industry hasn’t yet figured that out and continues to run down the “irrelevant and overreaching” path, which creates greater public cynicism and hurts the overall credibility of sustainability. What a pity.

  2. This is awesome and makes me want to go out and get a bottle of Jack! I will certainly put this tour on my calendar for my next trip to TN. Great article about selling sustainabiltiy for the right reasons, to the right audience the right way. Nice. I want a drink.

Pin It on Pinterest