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Running a company on sustainable values with Elephant Gin

20 May 2021

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

We caught up with one of our happy TravelPerk customers Elephant Gin to talk about all things gin, elephants, and sustainability.

Running a company on sustainable values with Elephant Gin

You’ve heard all the slogans. You’ve seen all the signs. Green is the new black. There is no Planet B. I don’t want to live in a pineapple under the sea.

The importance of sustainability cannot be denied. Ever since the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders back in 2015, the weight of the subject has continued to grow. Children who grew up with sustainable values like recycling became adults with a voice. Companies that put sustainability on the backburner suddenly gave it a significant seat at the table. 

For many, it’s been about becoming sustainable. About changing the way things are done in order to play a part in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Well, for Elephant Gin, it’s less about “becoming” and more about “being”. 

Elephant Gin was born with a mission to help save the African elephant from extinction. We sat down for a glass of gin with Tessa Gerlach, Co-Founder of Elephant Gin (a happy TravelPerk customer!), to talk about sustainability, branding, and a little bit of travel!

Can you tell us the story of Elephant Gin? What do you do exactly?

We founded Elephant Gin in 2013, and produce handcrafted award-winning gin products. We’re based in Germany, but the journey of our brand started with our travels through Africa. Robin had a great passion for gin and I had a strong determination to actively support wildlife conservation. 

Our premium gin products are made using exotic African botanicals and fresh apples from the orchards around the distillery. The result is a handcrafted London Dry Gin that gives back to the land that inspired its creation in the first place. We donate 15% of bottle proceeds to elephant conservation foundations that fight illegal poaching activities in an effort to save the African elephant from extinction.  We name each batch of gin after a great tusker or an elephant that our partner foundations are helping protect.

What inspired you to create a company with such a clear mission?

Robin and I were inspired by the trips we took to South Africa and Kenya. Especially the sundowner experience after a day out in the bush. 

The sundowner is the drink you have at sunset, overlooking the majestic African landscape and reminiscing about all the beautiful nature and animals you’ve seen during the day. Paired with the findings of the exotic botanicals and our love for the African elephants we were determined to support, came the (possibly absurd) combination: Elephant Gin.

Throughout our travels, I got involved with a foundation called Space for Elephants. I was immediately drawn in by the people I met and became passionate about the work they did. I had a particularly emotional experience with elephants during that time. I was able to see these animals in their full glory, but also witnessed those who were injured, dying, or killed at the hands of poachers.  Having met the people who dedicate their lives to conservation made Robin and me realize that we have a responsibility to the generations to come. Since then, we have been determined to find a way to aid elephant conservation.

Although we physically moved back to Europe, we still have strong feelings and emotions about our time in Africa. That’s how we came up with the idea for an African-inspired gin, when thinking about the ‘sundowner’ G&Ts we enjoyed on our trips. In the end, we set out to combine the spirit of Africa by using exotic African botanicals and German craftsmanship. We give back to what inspired us in the first place: 15% of bottle profits have been donated to African elephant conservation projects since the first bottle we produced.

Safari elephant background
Credit Jeremy Goss

What drives this passion now?

It’s the fact that today’s generation will make or break the future of this planet. Businesses and individuals alike need to own this responsibility to ensure that future generations will be able to experience the same natural landscapes and wildlife we do today. At Elephant Gin, we want to do our part to make the world a better place—with safer elephants, better gin, and more sustainable business practices! This is what drives us every day.

How do you make sure that everyone in your company lives by these values? 

We strive to hire people with the right spirit from the beginning and try to implement our values in our daily work. Once a year we also take the team on a trip to Africa to visit the foundations we work with and see with their own eyes the amazing work they do. It really turns our employees into lifelong ambassadors for the cause!

It’s very unique to see a company that was built around such a clear sustainability goal from Day 1. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey for the past 7 years?

Over the course of the past seven years, Elephant Gin has become an internationally known spirits brand. We’re really proud of that! As with everything, we start small but think big. We never lost the focus on the two things that are most important to us—producing a premium gin and giving back to what we love and what we want to keep for future generations. 

Robin and I started Elephant Gin with a passion for gin and elephants, some knowledge of marketing, and a natural ability for numbers. We had no experience in spirit making. But looking back, the road to success shows that passion and focus are most important. That, and having a good sense of who to hire to help the company grow.

Every stage of growing a business (and maintaining it) has its challenges, but we faced some tough ones at the very beginning. We wanted to create a gin unlike any other on the market in terms of design and taste. In order to do so, we researched and traveled to various places in Europe and Africa to find the right botanicals that would create the distinct flavor profile that makes up Elephant Gin today. We tasted and tested a whole bunch of African botanicals that turned out too bitter or woody, or weren’t easy to combine. After months of more tasting, drying, mixing, filtering, and distilling, we finally found the ideal 14 ingredients. This includes Devils Claw, Lion’s Tail, and Buchu that create incredible flavors. This experience really proved to us that time and patience really pay off!

We’ve managed to launch 3 award-winning gins in our 7 years. We donated over half a million euros from bottle sales and fundraising events to our partner foundations in Africa. None of this would have been possible without our loyal customer base. We are committed to continuing to raise more funds for elephant conservation in Africa, and to growing the Elephant Gin brand across Europe and the USA.

How did you grow a business based on sustainability?

As a purpose-driven company operating internationally with a strong commitment to sustainability, you work differently than your competitors. We think big but love to start small and make decisions wisely to make sure they fit within our brand moral compass. We have a strong company commitment which is ‘Better Gin. Safer Elephants’. This methodology determines the way we work and grow.

Why is it important to be a brand with purpose?

Modern consumers want to see value in the products they buy. This arises from the quality of the product but also transparency on where is the product made, who makes it, what’s in it. Elephant Gin has won multiple awards for its taste and quality, but we also focus on being as transparent with our production and business as possible. The fact that our product already comes with a story, purpose, and meaning rather than simply being created for consumption is of course a plus. People love stories – especially those that are told truthfully and that they can partake in. We tell our story so that customers can make an informed choice and see how with their purchase they can impact the environment.

How would you recommend enjoying Elephant Gin?

Ideally to be enjoyed as G&T with ice, a premium tonic, and a fresh slice of apple and of course in good company!

How companies can define and live by a sustainable goal

Finding something you believe in is the easy part. It comes naturally. The challenge comes from living by your values and sticking to them, even when times are tough. That’s why Elephant Gin and TravelPerk are such a perfect match. Our values define who we are as a company, as a brand, and as individuals. 

And that’s precisely what’s “valuable” to customers. The bottom line of who you are and how you do things comes through in how your product delivers value. This is what drives customer or client engagement and ultimately creates a strategic direction for companies.

When it comes to living by sustainable goals, there are a few things that companies can do to foster this commitment within their teams.

  1. Get your whole team involved – encourage ideas and ask your people to think big, while rooting ambition to reality.
  2. Inspire your people – motivate and uplift your employees. Empower them to achieve greatness by believing in themselves and your common goals.
  3. Think big – what do you want to achieve in the coming years? How do you want to be seen? What do you want to be known for? Make it happen.
  4. Make room for failure – learn from your mistakes. Never stop evaluating your decisions and seeking ways to improve.
  5. Don’t rest on your laurels – and keep thinking about what’s next. How can you take it to the next level? How can you get better?

The commitment to living by any values, not just sustainability, requires continued and ongoing effort. It’s one thing to say you believe in something, and another to live by it. If you want to be recognized as a values-first company, you need to be ready to put your money where your mouth is.

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