Since The Wine Society was founded in 1874, our raison d’etre – aside from sourcing fine quality, unique wines – has been to serve our members. As a co-operative, we’ve always been led by guiding principles of fairness and collaboration, so it should come as no surprise that sustainability is a priority for us. Ensuring our wines are grown, produced, bottled and shipped in sustainable ways not only reduces our own carbon emissions, but benefits our growers, the environment, and you, the members.
Before we explain how and why sustainability is woven into our ethos, let’s set the scene. Climate change is an increasing global threat to the natural environment, as the increasingly unpredictable weather shows. Temperatures have risen over one degree since the 1800s, and if they continue to rise, the knock-on effects will be greater – parts of the world will become inhospitable, crops will be more difficult to cultivate, and supply chains will be disrupted as a result. Therefore, it’s vital we all play a part in efforts to reach Net Zero, which means cutting emissions to as close to zero as possible.
A challenging climate
“Growing grapes in the 1900s tended to be relatively stable – you’d have ups and downs, but now, you find there’s extreme heat then extreme flooding,” explains Dom de Ville, director of sustainability and social impact. “Or you'll have frost at really random times, like May, and it kills the whole harvest. In Bordeaux, for example, it’s been a very wet and humid year, and some vineyards have had severe mildew issues. Then there are different sorts of pests. Growing grapes has become a lot more complicated.”
In simple terms, if climate change were to continue on the trajectory it’s on now, wine would be more difficult to produce, and likely lower quality. More chemicals and pesticides may be needed to grow grapes in challenging conditions, meaning the end product contains more contaminants. There are measures growers can take to future-proof their vineyards, like introducing new crops between vines to improve soil quality, reusing water throughout the production process, and investing in renewable energy.
In our first annual sustainability report for 2022/23, we detailed actions we’re already taking to reduce our emissions, and the things we’ll be implementing in future. We’ll be supporting our growers by investing in sustainability initiatives, such as tree planting and conservation or research into renewable agriculture, beginning in 2024, and measuring the impact of these investments in future reports. By measuring our carbon emissions, we could see where action needed to be taken to reduce them, and have already decreased our Scope 1 and 2 emissions (these are direct emissions from our own activity, and indirect emissions from the power we use) by 49% by moving to a 100%-renewable energy provider to power our offices and warehouse. You might also have noticed changes in our packaging, as we’ve removed unnecessary, non-recyclable elements. We have also chosen shipping partners that use greener routes, like rail instead of air travel.
Consumers going green
It is likely, Dom explains, that regulations will be introduced in the future that require companies to choose the most sustainable options, so by starting now, we’re pre-empting that eventuality. “In France, for example, there are already quite strict rules about how much chemical you can put on your grapes,” he says. “There will be more and more regulation.”
Research into consumer behaviour has shown that while the majority say they care about sustainability, beliefs don’t always translate into buying habits. “We tend to just take what we want off the shelves,” says Dom. “So we might care about these things, but the evidence shows it doesn't play out in our actual shopping habits.” When polled, many consumers said cost was a factor in why they didn’t always choose the green option. But with increased awareness of the importance of protecting the natural world, that is starting to change. “There is a trend of people choosing not to buy certain things,” Dom continues. “Look at palm oil – people look at the labels to see if it’s in the product. So I think that, if products contain something deemed to be harmful, it’ll become increasingly hard to sell those things.”
So, as well as ensuring we can continue to provide our members with the quality of wines we pride ourselves on, our commitment to sustainability also means wines that can be enjoyed in the knowledge that their production had the least possible impact on the environment.
Our future plans
It’s important to note that, while we have made significant progress in reducing our emissions, we still have work to do. Glass production and disposal, for instance, accounts for 31% of our overall carbon footprint, so we’ve set ourselves an ambitious target for 2027: for all of our still wines to be bottled in lightweight glass. We will also be installing more solar panels at our Stevenage HQ to generate our own renewable energy, and improving recycling facilities there, with a goal of 95% of our waste being reused or recycled by 2028.
We want to keep you informed of our progress, in keeping with our values of collaboration and transparency, so we’ll be reporting on progress annually. Above all, we believe that conserving the world (and the wines) we enjoy now, and safeguarding the livelihoods of our growers, requires action from all of us. We hope you’ll join us on the journey.