“We want to be a proponent of a culture where it’s cool to really know what you’re buying and buy something with real purpose,” says Tom Roberts, Director of Communications and Social Impact for luxury vodka Absolut Elyx. It’s a bold and mission-driven statement from Tom underlining the brand vision that doing well in business can, and should, go hand in hand with doing good for the planet.

As a social campaigner, in both his personal and professional life, Tom was the mastermind behind Absolut Elyx’s partnership with charity Water for People, that to date has provided 12,000 people with safe drinking water. Tom is very clear that a new ethical or moral accountability and action plan should now be integral to a brand’s proposition. “I think the most important thing for a brand, to be relevant, is to be informed about what issues are important today. And then it’s a very natural step once you’ve become informed, to take action and do something.”

We were recently invited to the Absolut Elyx apartment in the heart of New York City to chat to Tom about some of the issues driving and challenging today’s brand leaders such as innovation, sustainability and the changing face of CSR. Tom is obviously a firm believer that brands have a key role to play in actively changing and impacting culture by finding a way to stand for something. “We want to be a brand that’s an icon, that stands for something, that stands for a cultural movement that makes it cool to care again.”

Successful icons are those that never stop challenging the status quo. The Absolut master brand has already shifted so many brand and creative paradigms and now Absolut Elyx is impacting on social and cultural expectations by taking us beyond the brand and product to build in a new sense of purpose. “When you buy a bottle of Elyx it’s not a vote for another huge billboard, it’s actually a vote for a brand that really has purpose. An amazing quality product that’s trying to make a real difference.”

And this thinking also underpins the brand’s approach to reframing the luxury sector and how we experience luxury brands. “It comes back to this cultural transition I think we’re in right now where the days of bling and excess are dying away. And I think for us, we’re much more about integrity and authenticity. Our expression of that, and our passion as a team, is about delivering that in a way that makes real impact.”

There is a need today for brands to radically change the brand experience and attach real value to the brand proposition and how it is experienced – from the inside out – as with the Absolut Elyx apartment which was created as a physical manifestation of the brand: “We wanted Elyx to be a vision of progressive luxury and needed to create a fully immersive experience around that. It’s not just a vodka or a bottle… This is a different model of how to create experience around a spirits brand. I don’t think anyone has really done this before.”

This thinking pays testament to a more fluid and flexible brand approach that welcomes change and the capacity to learn and adapt to an ever-changing environment. “My advice is spend a lot of time thinking about your values and your purpose and keep that as your North Star. But then don’t be afraid to experiment and learn about how you execute that…because I think a lot of us can fall in love with an idea, an executional idea that doesn’t necessarily fit with your purpose or the market or it doesn’t resonate as well as you would want.”

Innovation and its role in developing a more sustainable future sits at the heart of what Tom and the Absolut Elyx team see as a driver for all. “When the big brands start to put their minds behind innovation and sustainability, it’s something that can change industry… I think for me the next challenge is really to solidify this in our business and prove that this is something that isn’t just a nice thing to talk about, it is actually a driver of business. And for me that’s what true sustainability is.”

A passionate campaigner and exciting challenger brand make for a dynamic combination and both Tom and Absolut Elyx will undoubtedly effect yet more brand and cultural change in new and unexpected ways. We’ll be following their journey with great anticipation!