Emily York discusses how she and her team launched Beam Suntory’s first annual company-wide global day of service, “Together for Good”

Late last year, Emily York, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Beam Suntory, and her team were tasked with putting together their first-annual global day of service, in honor of the company's fifth anniversary.

Beam — the world leader in Bourbon (with brands like Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and Knob Creek, as well as other iconic brands like Courvoisier and Laphroaig) — was acquired by Suntory Holdings with a spirits division that is the world leader in Japanese whisky in 2014.

The idea was to get as many people as possible at Beam Suntory locations involved in something that could help unify them around giving back.

“This is something we've been interested in doing for a number of years. Our new CEO is really passionate about it and said, ‘let's do it,'” Emily said.

“We're fortunate that our employees are passionate about giving back and we have a culture of volunteerism around the world,” she said. “So, it was natural to ask employees to volunteer for this initiative.”

She said it gave them the opportunity to get their global efforts aligned around a single day.

As part of “Together for Good,” a name that sprung from a team brainstorm, employees across 13 countries including the United States, Australia, Mexico, and India teamed up to support their communities and clean up their local waterways.

The new initiative was a natural addition to Beam Suntory's corporate social responsibility platform, called Growing for Good.

There was interest in understanding what other sites were doing to try to get aligned. Emily York
Their strategy is composed of three pillars: protecting water and the environment, supporting the communities where its employees live and work, and promoting the responsible consumption of its products. And according to Emily, “Together for Good” touches both the community pillar and the water and environment pillar.

“Water is critically important to our products,” she said. “If we're not doing our part to preserve and protect our quality water sources, then it could become a problem for our business and our brands.”

Beam Suntory employees are also encouraged to take two paid days off each year to give back in ways that are most meaningful for them.

“So ‘Together for Good' was established in addition to that program,” Emily said. “Our employees will still be able to use their two days. This is a company event created to bring people together and make one global impact.”

To get the ball rolling, her team divided up and started working with HR business partners and Growing for Good committees at different Beam Suntory locations.

From there, the team engaged champions who began considering what volunteer activities to undertake at different sites. Emily's team started holding calls with those champions to secure alignment with the concepts of the initiative, messages, and reasons to care.

“In some cases, people were looking for best practices for these activities,” she said. “There was interest in understanding what other sites were doing to try to get aligned.”

Emily's team worked with their global communications contacts to get the word out to employees across the organization.

If we’re not doing our part to preserve and protect our quality water sources, then it could become a problem for our business and our brands. Emily York
They have regional communications people in North America and across their international regions. The team let those contacts know what “Together for Good” was so they could start having conversations with their region and HR business partners to select the sites that would get involved.

Then, the team worked with the Chicago Growing for Good committee to start planning their local event.

“It was exciting to give them that charge and let them know they could lead the way on this global event,” she said.

“We created a new partnership with the Friends of the Chicago River, which actually runs right in front of our corporate headquarters,” Emily said. “They were able to work with a large number of people and plan a volunteer day with some educational components and get us all out into nature.”

The day of the event, nearly 2,000 Beam Suntory employees from 55 different locations in 13 countries participated in volunteer activities.

This is something we’ve been interested in doing for a number of years. Our new CEO is really passionate about it and said ‘let’s do it. Emily York
Most locations decided on activities surrounding their local waterways — including picking up trash in and around the waterways, planting trees, and removing invasive species.

Emily's team walked away from the day with some key learnings about how to ensure this initiative would continue to be sustainable and impactful.

“We partnered with an organization that had real work they wanted and needed us to do,” Emily said. “Our people were looking for physical work that would make an impact and they came back and talked about how much that had meant to them.”

She said they were looking to create a model that would be sustainable, so they had to be selective about the investments they made.

“We were happy we invested in buses to get our people to the different sites and make sure that everybody had a sack lunch waiting for them when they were done,” she said.

With a successful launch under her belt, Emily is looking forward to seeing participation increase in the coming years.

We partnered with an organization that had real work they wanted and needed us to do. Emily York
It's important to get HR involved early in the process, because blocking off employee calendars and discouraging meetings on the day of the event can go a long way in boosting participation.

And moving forward, she plans to engage senior leaders in a higher touch way to encourage them to get their teams involved. “We can stress the team building opportunities in an event like this,” she said. “And giving back on its own is powerful.”

“We've also seen some of our brand teams begin to jockey for support and because of the way our CSR platform is currently structured, I can see a possibility and opportunity to have different themes each year,” she said.

For other organizations attempting similar volunteer initiatives, Emily suggested getting started early.

She emphasized the importance of casting a wide net and having conversations about what the vision is and how regional teams' functions can get involved. “And make it easy for people,” Emily said. “Just make it hard to say ‘no.'”

Emily York has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.