Action speaks louder than words

Sep 23, 2021

To alleviate the threat of climate change, businesses need to take action now or they risk their future survival.

The businesses of the future will be sustainable. To be one, you need to start progressing there now.

The wine industry is a great example of a sector that has endured for thousands of years, and is having to take action to alleviate the threat of climate change. Investors are particularly interested to know if businesses have considered and taken steps to mitigate the impacts of changes in the climate, social and political environments.

So where to start? A common question for everyone progressing their sustainability. The answer is always – “by measuring your impacts”. Typically the major impact areas for winemakers are::

  • Viticulture
  • Packaging and distribution
  • Labour practices

Relative impact across the grape growth, harvesting and processing as well as packaging and distribution can be assessed using carbon footprint measurement. Around 35% of emissions are from vineyard activities, 15% the winery and the remainder in packaging and transport.

Climate change is already having significant impacts for the vineyards, as they have to cope with increased extremes and variations in heat and rainfall within and between seasons This has led to development of heat-resistant grape varieties, longer ripening varieties and new approaches to irrigation, cover cropping and rootstock selection.

Hilly terrain

To reduce carbon and increase resilience, regenerative agriculture is being adopted. This involves farm specific selection of a variety of sustainable agriculture techniques in combination. such as recycling farm waste and water, increasing rainwater capture and storage, adding compost from circular economy sources outside the farm, using electric plant and biofuels and enhancing storm water management approaches. The increase in extreme weather events are driving up insurance and site infrastructure cost. There is often potential to add renewables, particularly solar, to site buildings.

Wine bottles

Packaging is a big challenge. A tapered, round 750 ml glass bottle is not a carbon efficient vessel. Alternatives include lined cardboard cartons, boxed bioplastic bags and aluminium cans. Consumer perceptions are key here, with premium products reluctant to move away from glass currently. Wine companies are testing the market, aware that millennial consumers tend to be more environmentally concerned than their parents. Another consideration, highlighted by the success of canned wine, is different size options and potentially less waste consequently.

Winemaking is labour-intensive, especially in many of the historic growing areas that hilly and rocky terrain makes mechanisation challenging. Accusations of abusive labour practices in agriculture are not uncommon, and there have been several high profile incidents for winemakers. The market share consequences for them were significant, driven by viral social media sharing of the incidents. Some importers and buyers are now requesting labour statistics to be reported, including numbers and nationalities of pickers and conditions like working hours, accommodation and food provided.

Vineyard pickers

So what can other sectors learn from the wine industry? No industry can escape the effects of climate change, increasing ethical standards and the all pervading visibility of infringements care of smart devices and social media.

You cannot improve what you do not measure and report. From understanding your sources of emissions, to identifying your impacts on people and communities, effective change requires measurement, benchmarks, targets and good communication.

Technology innovation and adoption are an important part of the equation. The wine industry also illustrates the importance of collaboration, supporting local circular economies, and the emerging opportunities for supply chains to innovate with low carbon and technology innovations to improve on traditional approaches.

The biggest thing? They’re taking action with a long term view.

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