Sustainability

We have announced our plan to reduce our emissions and be more sustainable in all that we do from vineyard to glass. You can read more about this in our CEO’s update, ‘Making wine more sustainable, from the vineyard to your glass.’ 
 
We have had great feedback from members, the vast majority of whom have said they welcome the initiatives. Our plan is ambitious and covers various elements of sustainability, including tackling climate change, caring for the environment, looking after our people, and sourcing responsibly. Below, you’ll find responses to the most frequently asked questions from members below. 

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We outlined some of our reasons in our recent update and have developed our strategy having listened to members, our committee and what our growers and employees are telling us. We, like many businesses, recognise that there are many sound reasons for taking a strategic approach to our sustainability activities, be it through making savings by improving efficiency, by reducing waste or by offering a stronger, healthier business for our members now and in the future.  

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Given our member-owned model, this is a pertinent question, and we will be open and transparent about our plans as they progress. It’s important to emphasise that a number of the measures we are planning will actually provide significant financial savings. Our solar panels, for example, will pay for themselves in just over six years and with a lifespan of more than 25 years, will make a significant ongoing saving against our electricity costs. Currently these generate between 30-40% of our requirements and have additional panels planned that will help us reach 60-70%. Other activities will enable us to reduce the amount we pay in future waste taxes or will add significant value to the membership, for example by making additional product information available to help inform purchasing decisions. 

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The glass bottle itself contributes a significant amount (nearly 30%) to the overall carbon footprint of a bottle of wine. Tackling this issue is complex, particularly as glass remains the container of choice for wines destined for ageing. That said, we are working to reduce the weight of bottles across our range – ‘right-weighting’ to ensure they are light as possible without sacrificing the durability necessary to get them to your table. We are also keenly following British Glass plans to develop a more environmentally friendly furnace that will reduce CO2 from bottle production by 50%. We are exploring alternative packaging formats including bag-in-box wines, cans, ‘paper’ bottles and PET to see what might work for wines intended for drinking in a shorter period. We plan to run trials of some of these and will be asking members for feedback.

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There can be considerable environmental advantages to bulk shipping wine and bottling in the UK. Historically, this has favoured larger-volume and lower-priced wines and hasn’t represented a viable solution for much of our range, but the situation is changing and already a small number of our wines are UK bottled (for example, the Fistful of Schist range from South Africa). We will be exploring how more wines can be efficiently bottled in the UK without negatively impacting wine quality and in the quantities that we require.  

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We pride ourselves on working directly with many smaller producers and are very aware that many do not have the resources to make the changes necessary to either respond to climate change or to reduce their own carbon footprints. This was firmly in our minds when we set our target of 2040, to ensure that we are able to bring producers with us. We are currently exploring how we can make financial support available to our producers that want to make changes and are planning a supplier forum to enable producers to share experience and best practice. For example, one of our growers in New Zealand already working to reduce their carbon footprint might be able to offer practical advice to a grower in the Loire experiencing similar challenges.

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Understandably, many members are keen to learn what our producers are doing in this area. Currently, we only have limited information available on our website, such as organic status. In the short term, we are planning to make more information available to you, be it membership of a formal sustainability scheme or more informal local action that will make a positive impact to the sustainability of that particular producer. In the longer term, however, we plan to adopt a standardised format – a scorecard – that will enable those members who wish to do so to compare the sustainability criteria of wines across our range and make purchasing decisions based on that information.  

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Keep an eye out for our communications in the coming months, where we will outline more of the targets we shall be working towards. We will also be asking members for feedback on wine packaging trials and how we best present sustainability information to members when selecting wine. 

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Under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol of 2001, all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are categorised into three groups or ‘scopes’ largely depending on how much control one has over them.

Scope 1 – These are direct emissions from activities that we undertake, such as a small amount of gas combustion emissions from our boilers, larger vehicle fuel emissions from our own van fleet and the leakage of gas from our air conditioning systems.

Scope 2 – These are emissions produced as a consequence of our direct business activities, but which occur at sources that we do not own or control. For us, this is our purchased electricity. Currently, we reduce the amount of purchased electricity we use through solar panels on the roof of our warehouses which currently generate 30-40% of our requirements.

Our target is by the end of 2028 to have reduced our scope 1 & 2 emissions to as close to zero as possible.

Scope 3 covers all other indirect emissions, both ‘upstream’ – the products that we buy, packaging and shipping – and ‘downstream’ – deliveries by our carriers, e.g. DHL and the disposal or recycling of bottles and cardboard as well as business travel and commuting by employees.

Scope 3 generally accounts for a large part of overall emissions and for us, glass and shipping account for a significant proportion of wine’s overall GHG emissions. Because we are so reliant on working with others in the industry to reduce these emissions, our target is to be certified net zero across our business and supply chain (scopes 1, 2 & 3) by 2040.

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Wine sustainability schemes have been around since the 1990s with the ‘Lodi Rules’ in California one of the first. Since then, many other regions, countries and certifying bodies have introduced schemes covering vineyard and winery practices.

Organic viticulture

Organic certification is tightly regulated and only those wines that are labelled as organic and have the necessary certification can be listed by us as organic. In addition, The Wine Society must be registered as an organic importer and our warehouses are audited by Organic Farmers & Growers to ensure we handle organic goods correctly.

In the vineyard, organic certification prohibits the use of substances of synthetic origin. Maximum levels of sulphur are also lower than for conventional viticulture. Substances such as copper are permitted and are frequently used to prevent mildew in vineyards. This attracts some controversy as copper levels can build up in the soil over time.

Biodynamic wine

Biodynamism takes organic production as a starting point but, adopting the theories of Rudolf Steiner, takes a holistic view in which the vineyard is treated as a living organism impacted by the phases of the moon and the use of natural preparations to enhance soil health. Whilst some winemakers adopt biodynamic principles, not all seek certification which is currently only available through Demeter. As some preparations make use of cow’s horns and deer bladders, some consider it impossible for biodynamic wines to be vegan.

Sustainability Schemes

Many winemakers are supportive of a lower-intervention approach to winemaking but are reluctant to commit to the cost and restrictions of organic certification, particularly in challenging areas of wine production. Others are keen to also recognise the social issues that are a consideration in the production of wine. Here, sustainability schemes have their place with numerous local and national certifications available. Given that schemes do vary in requirements and that not all involve independent audit it can be challenging to be sure of how meaningful some of these logos might be.

The vast majority of New Zealand and South African wines are signed up to their relevant national sustainability schemes, with other schemes such as Terra Vitis and Haute Valeur Environnementale gaining in popularity in France. Typically, these cover environmental standards such as preserving biodiversity and reductions in fertiliser and water usage whilst allowing the use of some limited application of chemicals in particularly challenging vintages – recognising that a harvest is necessary for a sustainable business. Often, local priority issues can also be included. For example, in South Africa there is a particular focus on the health and wellbeing of workers.

 

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Whether you or a loved one want information and facts about alcohol consumption, need support, or are looking for tools and strategies to reduce or stop drinking, visit www.drinkaware.co.uk. Drinkaware is an independent charity which aims to reduce alcohol-related harm by helping people make better choices about their drinking.

Furthermore, should you find it helpful to take a break from receiving online or printed offers from The Wine Society, you can amend your preferences online under ‘Manage my details’ or by contacting Member Services.

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We are unable to collect empty Wine Society cartons from members, and currently have no plans to restart doing so. This is because the cartons are not reusable when returned to us. We are, however, continuing to explore the marketplace for sources of suitable reusable cartons.

 

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How to dismantle a Wine Society 12-bottle box

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How to dismantle a Wine Society 6-bottle box

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