Kendall Jenner’s award-winning 818 Tequila brand is working to become a leader in sustainable spirits.
After backlash over cultural appropriation in ads promoting 818 Tequila last year, the Kendall Jenner-owned 818 Tequila brand says it’s now increasing efforts to support the Mexican agave spirits producers and protect the region through sustainability initiatives.
“As we continue our mission to find actionable ways to support Amatitán and the broader Mexican community where our tequila is produced, we’re honored to work with S.A.C.R.E.D., who has established tremendous relationships with the people producing heritage spirits in the region for generations,” Mike Novy, 818 Tequila president and COO, said in a statement. “At 818 Tequila, we want to create a new standard for sustainability while also giving back to those who are so integral to our tequila-making process.”
S.A.C.R.E.D. x 818
S.A.C.R.E.D. stands forSaving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education, and Development. It’s the leading nonprofit supporting the men and women who cook, ferment, and distill agave-based spirits. Many of those communities face water and food insecurity as well as the impact from climate change. Since its inception in 2017, the organization has donated more than 35,000 agave seedlings to families in Mexican agave communities most in need.
818 and S.A.C.R.E.D. say they will work together on a new program called the 818 Bricks Program. It mixes post-production agave fibers along with water and adobe soil to create bricks for community-based developments. The first batch of bricks, which was completed earlier this year, went to build a school library and a tasting room for a family-run distillery 145 miles away from where 818 distills its tequila.
“I’m honored to work alongside 818 Tequila, especially on making adobe bricks out of agave waste and using those bricks to support Mexican communities,” said Lou Bank, Founder and Executive Director of S.A.C.R.E.D. “It’s our mission to support the people who make agave spirits, in hopes of sustaining the multigenerational wisdom and practices they inherited from their progenitors who made tequila, mezcal, and other heritage spirits. Our goal is to support the communities that are integral to agave production by working with them directly and asking them what they need.”
818 says it has also moved its operations to a state-of-the-art Jalisco, Mexico, distillery, Grupo Solave, known for its tequila production methods and its environmental impact innovation. According to 818, the distillery is powered by biomass waste, extending the life cycle of the agave and reducing CO2 emissions. The brand says this is critical to its sustainability initiatives.
Tequila is Mexico’s biggest agricultural industry. And the agave plant has become a focus for sustainability — extending the life of agave fibers and repurposing them in a number of ways.
The announcements come after Jenner, who is not Mexican, appeared in an ad for 818 last year riding a horse in an agave field while wearing jeans, an oversized shirt, a flat-brimmed cowboy hat, and two braids. Critics said her “chic migrant worker look” was culturally insensitive.
During a visit to The Tonight Show last year, Jenner told host Jimmy Fallon that she and 818 are invested in supporting the community where the tequila is made.
“At our distillery, which I was just at the other day, we found a way to take the agave waste — the agave fibers and the water waste — and build this sustainable brick that we are actually donating back to the community of Jalisco,” she said.
“We’re donating them and building homes for people that need homes,” Jenner added, noting the bricks are also supporting a “half-built hospital” in the area.
Jenner said the brand is now more “friendly to the planet” than other tequila brands. It has also partnered with the sustainability initiative, 1% For the Planet. “We donate one percent of our profit to planet-saving initiatives,” she said.
The changing tequila industry
Jenner’s 818 isn’t the only tequila brand embracing sustainability initiatives. Jose Cuervo — the number-one tequila producer in the world — is also working on making its supply and production chains more sustainable. Jose Cuervo has been growing agave in Mexico for ten generations, paying special attention to farming practices that promote soil conservation and resource management.
“[I]t’s our responsibility to continuously identify new ways to create a more sustainable future for agave,” a Jose Cuervo spokesperson told Ethos via email. “Without agave, there’s no tequila and no Jose Cuervo. That’s why we’re committed to discovering new ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose 100 percent of the precious agave plant and ultimately implement sustainable solutions that give the plant new life beyond tequila.”
The company says it has a long history of repurposing the agave plant and identifying “creative solutions” to everyday problems with the agave. In 2019, it launched The Agave Project, an initiative that supports upcycling agave fibers into sustainable items including car parts for the Ford Motor Company. It also helped to create the world’s first 100 percent agave surfboard. The brand also makes biodegradable straws out of agave. Last year, it debuted a tequila bar made entirely out of the agave plant.
For Jenner’s 818, the steps seem to be working. Demand is ever-increasing in the less than two years it’s been on the market. Over the summer, the brand announced its first distribution outside of the U.S., with distribution in China and Canada, with more markets to come.
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