November 06 2016

Surfrider is proud to partner with Don Q to advance our Clean Water initiative

by Dr. Chad Nelsen

Photo: The Don Q Crew: Yisell, Chad, Reinaldo and Roberto on Isla Caja de Muerto talking about Don Q and Surfrider’s commitment to clean water. 

Roberto Serralles’ path to leading one of the greenest distilleries in the world isn’t as obvious as his name would suggest. The Serralles family has been making rum since the 1800s in Ponce, Puerto Rico and is best known for their rum brand, Don Q. Instead of following his obvious lineage, Roberto attended Brown University where he studied history, taught environmental education in Vermont, and earned a PhD at University of Oregon in Environmental Sciences. It wasn’t until his father called him with some wastewater challenges that Roberto decided to return to Puerto Rico. “I never thought I’d work in the family business, even though I’m a sixth generation rum maker. I came in through the back door,” says Roberto.

But we didn’t know any of this when we first heard from a Don Q rep in New York City.  

When Don Q Rum approached the Surfrider Foundation to support our work, I thought they were another well-meaning business looking to support our cause. It turned out to be much more.

When Roberto returned to his family’s distillery he embarked on an effort to green his distillery, first by eliminating any waste water from entering the ocean. All of the water used in the distilling process is treated, reused, and reclaimed. They can also use the bio-gas from the wastewater treatment process to produce steam, potentially reducing their imported fuel consumption by up to 50%. 

Like other truly green entrepreneurs, Roberto and his team are humble about their efforts. He shies away from the word sustainable and prefers responsible, which he feels is more honest. His long term goal is to completely close the loop on their system so there is zero waste of any kind. Roberto is the first to tell you they are not there yet but are striving each day to make incremental improvements to reduce the impact of their production processes. 

Isla Caja de Muerto, a beautiful nature preserve with critical sea turtle nesting habitat. 

Beyond their own efforts, Distillería Serralles and Don Q are also supporting Surfrider’s efforts to protect and clean our waters in Puerto Rico and around the country through our Clean Water initiative. Our Rincón, Puerto Rico Chapter leads the largest water quality monitoring program on the island and has partnered with leading agencies to monitor, report and also address water quality issues on the west side of Puerto Rico. 

Last summer I had the good fortune to spend some time with Roberto and the Don Q team to film a short video about Don Q and their environmental initiatives. We toured the Reserva Marine Tres Palmas, the first marine reserve on the mainland of Puerto Rico that was established by Surfrider to protect endangered Elkhorn corals and the amazing surf at Tres Palmas. Next we headed down to Ponce and Isla Caja de Muertos to learn more about the environmental initiatives at the Serralles Distillery to protect the amazing waters of Puerto Rico.

Despite having started from very different places, me a lifeguard from Laguna Beach and Roberto from a 6th generation Puerto Rican rum making family, our paths have been remarkably similar and it’s serendipitous that we met through our respective work to improve ocean health. Roberto and I overlapped at Brown University and have college friends in common, both sought doctoral degrees in environmental studies and found a way to making environmental work a central part of our professions. Now we are working together to improve water quality in Puerto Rico and around the world. 

Needless to say the Surfrider Foundation is proud to partner with Don Q and to work together to keep our ocean clean and healthy. I can drink to that.