Ben Cooper

Sustainability in Wine - Part III: Collective Engagement

By | 26 November 2012

The penultimate part of this management briefing, which looks at environmental sustainability in the wine sector, looks at how the wine companies are pulling together to soften their collective footprint. 

One noticeable differentiating factor between wine and the other three beverage sectors is the absence of large wine companies in the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER).

First convened in 2006, BIER has a strong participation from the major global spirits, beer and soft drinks producers. BIER director Tod Christenson states that he has had dialogue with large wine companies and it remains an objective to recruit the world's largest wine producers.

"That is still the objective," Christenson tells just-drinks. "Our goal, our vision is to aggregate the world of global beverage leaders." 

However, as Christenson himself observes, the absence of companies such as Gallo Family Vineyards or Constellation Brands around the table at BIER in no way points to a lack of collective engagement by the wine industry.

Indeed, Christenson says the wine industry is "well advanced" in terms of addressing sustainability and it is the wine trade associations, such as the Wine Institute in California, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) and their peer organisations in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, that have "taken the lead".

Michael Alexander, head of environment communications and policy at Diageo, says there is recognition within BIER that the wine industry "is doing well" with regard to environmental sustainability.

Wine trade organisations in a number of countries and in some individual wine regions have strong and established sustainability platforms aimed primarily at fostering best practice and information sharing, but also - in some instances - incorporating measurement, benchmarking and the setting of impact reduction targets.

In fact, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) says it was because of the existence of various national processes and regulations that it decided to "to standardise these approaches"  with the adoption in 2004 of its own definitions and general principles of sustainable development applied to vitiviniculture. In 2008, the OIV published official guidelines for sustainable vitiviniculture.

For Michael Othites, senior VP production management at Constellation Brands, the sustainability work being undertaken by organisations such as the California Wine Institute embodies the spirit of collectivism which he believes runs through the wine industry. "There's a general feeling that we've all got to improve and grow together," Othites says. "We're competitive and we're all striving to get the highest quality and the lowest cost but truly the tide raises all boats."

Constellation's involvement in the collective sustainability push by the California Wine Institute underlines the breadth of support that programme enjoys, from the smallest growers to the largest wine companies. 

Allison Jordan, director of environmental affairs at the Wine Institute, says the organisation's environmental mission, now over a decade old, is a "very significant" aspect to the Wine Institute's work.

The Wine Institute's Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP), which aims to give growers and vintners "educational tools to increase the adoption of sustainable practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement",  dates back to 2002 when more than 50 members of the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) introduced a Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices workbook to promote environmental stewardship and social responsibility in the California wine industry.

The workbook is described as a "self-assessment tool for California's vintners and growers" which provides "practical information on how to conserve natural resources, protect the environment and enhance relationships with employees, neighbours and local communities".

The two organisations formed the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), a non-profit organisation, the following year. Its aims are to promote the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, enlist industry commitment and assist in implementation of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program.

The workbook includes practical guidelines on winegrape growing, soil management, pest management, ecosystems management, water and energy conservation, materials handling and human resources, and most recently a chapter on air quality was added. The workbook's built-in scientific measurement system helps track the industry's progress in adopting sustainable practices; more than 3,000 workbooks have been issued since its introduction. 

In December 2006, an updated edition of the workbook was published, and an online self-assessment system was added, which allows participants to go online to assess and re-assess their operations, generate reports and access other resources. The CSWA is also conducting new sustainable winegrowing targeted education workshops focused on the most challenging areas, including integrated pest management (IPM), ecosystems management, air and water quality and energy efficiency.

More recently, the CSWA has developed a third-party certification system related to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, aimed at achieving greater transparency, encouraging state-wide participation and advancing the entire California wine industry towards best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources and socially equitable business practices.

Allison Jordan reports that, in the two-and-a-half years since the certification programme was initiated, 54 winery facilities have been certified, along with 177 vineyards representing 12% of state-wide acreage.

Meanwhile, the number of companies now participating in the SWP has reached 1,800, accounting for close to 75% of the wine grape acreage and 70% of California's total wine production, Jordan states.

The growing participation, Jordan continues, is in itself indicative of the strides being taken to improve the environmental profile of the California wine industry. The Wine Institute will publish a progress report on its sustainability efforts in January.

Moreover, while acknowledging that the overarching involvement of an association like the Wine Institute plays "a critical role" because of the staffing and resources it provides, Jordan stresses that the programme was initiated by "a group of thought leaders" among the membership and that it is the members which continue to drive the programme. 

"It's really our members, their involvement, that have made this such an interesting programme," says Jordan. "It's so important to have that peer to peer exchange of information."

Like the Wine Institute, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) was an early mover in the environmental sustainability field. The CIVB's environmental mission is examined  in detail in the final section of this briefing.

To head to the fourth and final part of this briefing, click here. Part two can be found here. For the full table of contents, click here.

Sectors: Environmental issues, Wine

Companies: Constellation, Gallo, Diageo

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