I am new to wine. Although I’ve been in sustainability most of my 20-something-year career, 12 months ago my knowledge of wine was pretty much limited to price and colour. So, joining The Wine Society this time last year to launch and lead its new sustainability plan was both daunting and exciting.
‘Being successful at sustainability is as much about having the right mindset as anything'
But things have moved impressively fast, with our members, suppliers and colleagues all responding positively to the challenge. In my view, being successful at sustainability is as much about having the right mindset as anything. There is often no right or wrong answer – it is about being willing to challenge how things have always been done and finding sensible ways to do them better.
Over the last year, we have certainly started doing things better. I have built a sustainability team at The Wine Society, set aside a fund to invest in vital projects and got going on our ambitious plans, which include:
- Measuring our carbon footprint, right across our business and supply chains, so we can now put in place aggressive carbon-reduction plans
- Improving how we’re packaging wines, as this is our single biggest source of carbon emissions
- Working towards fairer, ethical and more responsible supply chains
- Strengthening relationships with our growers and winemakers on sustainability, to work together to protect our climate, the health of our vineyards and benefit our wines
- Exploring ways to create a more diverse, inclusive and fair culture across our workforce, membership and supply chain.
These are great foundations, but there’s a lot more to do. You don’t have to look far to see the growing pressures on the wine sector – from climate change, growing risks of poor worker conditions and exploitation, skyrocketing costs from new legislation, price increases or the lack of key materials (such as glass). Now, more than ever, we need to act to help our growers and producers and ensure the long-term future of the wines we love.
That said, as a newcomer to the world of wine, I’ve also been impressed with how much is already happening that can be built on and accelerated. This includes the expansion of more regenerative farming practices in vineyards; water, energy and waste-saving initiatives in wineries; a fast-growing alternative packaging movement; or fantastic collaboration enterprises from organisations such as The Porto Protocol, The Regenerative Viticulture Foundation and The Sustainable Wine Roundtable (the latter of which I am honoured to be on the governing board).
However, we also have to be honest in recognising that wine, as a sector, is considered to be behind many others in some areas of sustainability, notably on the social side (human rights and labour conditions) – particularly for migrant and temporary workers. There are certainly some hills to climb.
Our aspirations for the year ahead
Looking ahead, we will be building on the foundations we’ve made in 2022, with highlights including:
Increasing our on-site renewable energy production, one of the fastest ways to reduce our carbon emissions, taking us from producing 22% of our energy requirements to around 55%
Launching our full carbon footprint report, along with detailed 10-year carbon reduction targets and our plans for how to achieve them
Accelerating our packaging promises – trialling alternative packaging formats, such as Bag-in-Box, the flat plastic bottle and more wines in cans, alongside efforts to reduce glass bottle weights. With glass bottles accounting for 30% of our carbon emissions, this is the single biggest opportunity to reduce our contribution to climate change
Building on ongoing efforts to minimise waste – removing, reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible and sending nothing to landfill
Making it easier for our members to buy wines from producers who are making a positive difference. With so much conflicting and confusing information, we will start assessing the sustainability credentials of our wines, clarify which certifications come up to scratch and work together with our suppliers to improve social and environmental standards.
Helping members who wish to do so to have a healthier relationship with alcohol. This will involve the development of our leading low/no range, curated by our Director of Wine, Pierre Mansour, alongside more responsible drinking support to members and staff through our relationships with the Drinks Trust and Club Soda.
It has been a great start, and this is just a snapshot of what’s to come.
We will be updating members throughout the year on progress, with our first annual sustainability report coming out in the summer. In the meantime, if you have any questions or just want to get involved and share your views and ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – one of us will always write back!