Recently widely publicized water footprinting by the world's fifth largest wine company and New-World-wine sustainability pioneer Concha y Toro has made this Chilean wine company the most famous footprinter in the world wine industry. Since the early part of this century, CyT has been calculating, tracking, and publishing metrics-based reports to reduce costs and risks and to inform and engage consumers worldwide, a critical part of their stewardship. Key indicators of performance and opportunities for improvement in their environmental profiles include carbon footprints (now 1 kg per bottle compared to the industry-wide average of 3 kg/750 l bottle) and also water footprints for their individual vineyards, wineries, corporate offices, as well as new partner and subsidiary wineries in Argentina, California (Fetzer, Bonterra), and elsewhere. Clean water scarcity is an issue in Chile as well as here in California, and superior performance in water conservation is a powerful selling point for wine consumers.
image by Neels Castillon
Leadership, followership and swarm intelligence
Consumer choices tilt the beam on the sustainability fulcrum towards degradation or restoration: 7 billion consumers choosing each product for best or less and probably deciding the fate of wineries--whether to keep growing high quality wine-grapes that are hyper-sensitive to small changes in temperature, or relocate to Wyoming or British Columbia, or how to negotiate limited water supplies with stressed consumers, busineses, and ecosystems, and other drought-related decisions.
Swarm intelligence provides a model of how species survival can depend on a few simple behavioral rules, with a few experienced members of an animal community providing de facto leadership.
Although doing the right thing is guaranteed by Evolution to engender feel-good feelings,and most people would like to do the right thing and feel good about themselves, what that right thing is at any point in time is often unclear, complicated, and too resource-consumptive. The pain outweighs the pleasure. Nothing is done.
A simple case in point: faced with several bottles of wine of similar quality and price (or other product), how can a consumer who would like to make responsible choices be sure of which one embodies the best environmental practices? Only the most forward-looking wineries publish useful information for consumer decision-making.
Wine producers looking to do the right thing face similar challenges: they want to do what is right by their winery, meaning world-class wines with the least cost to themselves and the environment, but what exactly is the right thing for a winery to do? Most artisanal, family-style wineries are already models of Best Practices. Yet most wineries are reluctant to publicize their practices, so how is a consumer to know? Too often, wineries' sense of stewardhip stops at the winery (or other business) gate. They practice Best Practices in private.
What lies beyond the gate
What lies beyond the gate are all present and future environments, including atmospheric greenhouse gases, weather extremes associate with Climate Change: drought and flood, the local watershed with its supply and demand and recharge possibilities, a global population of over 7 billion consumers, and the individual consumer, who has very scant idea of which products are produced according to Best Practices and which processes are in fact destroying high quality environments or how strong the link is between high quality and Best Practices. If quality of life is to be saved, 7 billion consumers (a proxy for Homo sapiens as a species) need to know what is really happening, at a detailed level of accounting, for wine and other products and they need to make quality of life the conscious goal of each decision made. Our future is in their hands and minds.
Facilitating the Move to Metrics-based Winery Management: Because of threats from Climate Change, winemakers who until now have taken an intuitive, natural approach to farming and reporting ("we farm sustainably") will be increasingly pressured to align their practices with numerical indicators such as kilograms or pounds of nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide emissions from both vineyard and winery, cubic meters of water applied to viniculture and viticulture, number of endangered species on winery land, carbon sequestered in soils, nitrification and denitrification, and other numerical data. Once benchbarked, these indicators will then be monitored by manafers and regulators over time for change and improvement. Simultaneous to measuring and tracking are increased profits from reduced costs through streamlining.
Metrics-based life cycle assessment provides opportunities for managers to increase profits by expanding markets, to streamline operations and cut costs; to create databases for policy-makers, regulators and researchers; to optimize values for both winery and consumers, including satisfaction; and in some cases, to allow consumers to more easily compare environmental performance across wine and beer industries in order to choose products most likely to secure a vibrant future.
Metrics provide managers with hotspots and help to prioritize ways to minimize common and new business risks: unnecessary expense, such as heavier than needed bottles that increase transport costs, and contribute heavily to carbon emissions, shipping by air, running out of water, not re-using or rcycling waste water, having to switch to drought-friendly varietals, or having to re-locate winery and lifestyle in Montana or polewards,increased government regulation and compliance
Wine footprints range from reports of 1.1gallons water/gallon wine (J Lohr) to the reported industry average (water Footprint) of 720 liters/750 ml bottle of wine. The huge range invites further research for clarification of accounting methods as well as performance.