Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Wine industry falling behind other sectors on creating a global sustainable standard

Published:  26 November, 2020

A global framework used by other sectors like palm oil, mining, textiles and even golfing is needed to build best practice for the wine industry, some of the world’s leading experts in environmental management have said.

The consensus, from panellists at one of this morning’s Future of Wine Forum 2020 seminars, brought together an audience from across the wine world to debate whether our industry needs to agree on a global definition of sustainability.

Yes, was the resounding answer – with caveats that acknowledged the difficulty that comes with such an ambition. Panellists agreed that common frameworks were needed to show leadership and build best practice. So far, they said, this is something that the wine industry has failed to galvanise.

“At a global level, we need some degree of consistency,” Anne Jones, Waitrose partner and category manager for drinks, wines, beers and spirits buying, said.

“The question is how we [tackle] confusing messaging around what sustainability is. Even in this audience, we would end up with hundreds of definitions. A global certification would enable us to have a much clearer conversation with our customers.

“We don’t even have a definitive for ‘sustainability’, let alone [sub-sectors] like ‘regenerative agriculture’… If you think about palm oil and deforestation, that has gained some traction because it was defined. Regenerative is such a laudable ambition, but at the moment, it’s confusing the conversation further.”

Karin Kreider, executive director at sustainability focused non-profit, ISEAL Alliance, went on to highlight a number of other global sectors which have come together to agree on a global definition. This included sugar cane, palm oil, soy. Beyond agriculture, there is forestry, jewellery, textiles, mining sectors and leisure sectors like golf.

Kreider said: “The benefit of coming together as a sector is to develop a common understanding of sustainability. It’s an opportunity to show leadership but also gives you a vision for change. It helps you to understand which issues are most important and what is needed to achieve those goals. By agreeing on key issues, that way you define best practice. And that process is also a marketing process. It eventually results in consumer buy-in and lifts standards.”

“Wine has a lot to learn from other sectors that have it more difficult,” Toby Webb, co-founder, Sustainable Wine, added. “If you think wine is difficult, try working in palm oil.”

Once the wine industry can agree on a global definitive, then collaboration – an often vital component on sustainability initiatives – will be possible.

The other question was whether global certification is vital to building greater collaboration and consumer understanding – and therefore buy-in – of the wine category’s efforts to improve their leadership on environmental action.

In sectors where there is agreement on what sustainability means, panellists mentioned that certification can be very effective.

More important, however, is an accepted global ‘standard’ on which best practice can be built.

David Horlock, managing director, global food and retail supply chain, British Standards Institution, said: “A standard enables people to get the basics right. Then they can build around the basics, differentiate and give meaning. For wine, this can be heritage, age, growing methodology, region, variety. There’s a lot of lovely attributes that people can wrap around their products in order to sell the product and the meaning, not the commodity.

“We live in a world where most of our farmers only have 30% equity, and retailers around the world are telling consumers ‘cheap is best’. If we want our farmers and our growers to have better regenerative agriculture, better top soil management, better traceability, better animal welfare, better social responsibility, and we want it cheaper, it’s not going to happen… That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in now.

“We’ve got to get land and the process back to the way it was before. To do that, we’ve got to have better prices so people can reinvest profit back into their people, their processes, their communities and their land.”