By now the expression ‘carbon footprint’ has become a cornerstone of the wine industry. This key environmental indicator reflects the gas emissions generated by the direct and indirect activities of organizations or individuals.
When these emissions enter the atmosphere, they trap the heat released by the Earth, which causes temperatures to rise. They are responsible for what is known as the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) represents 64.3% of the gas emissions that are responsible for this greenhouse effect, which is why a carbon footprint is expressed in tonnes of CO2 eq.
The warming of the Earth is actually a natural process that has been taking place consistently since its formation. What makes it problematic is the fact that human activity is significantly accelerating the warming of the planet, and these emissions will remain in our troposphere – the lowest layer of our atmosphere – for over 200 years without any way of eliminating them.
How are these emissions analysed and categorized?
According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), greenhouse gases are classified into three groups: Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3.
Scope 1 refers to direct emissions generated by the operations of an organization, including vineyard and winery tasks or the transportation of the end product in company-owned vehicles. Scope 2 is more specific and focuses on emissions related to the energy that organizations purchase and consume. Finally, the OIV has defined scope 3 as the emissions produced by activities that are central to the operations of a company, but which have been subcontracted and are therefore beyond its immediate control. This includes emissions from the manufacture of products used in the vineyard or winery (pesticides, wine additives, etc.) and the dry goods required for bottling, as well as the transport of wine or employees from one place to another by a third party.
In order for an organization to gain an understanding of its carbon footprint and its real impact, it is essential to address and measure all three scopes, paying particular attention to scope 3, which is the most challenging to analyse.
In the wine and grape sector, a significant part of scope 1 and 2 emissions are linked to energy consumption, fossil fuels, and fertilizer applications. In terms of scope 3 emissions, glass production and transportation (the purchase of wine in bulk, transporting the final product to its destination, business travel, and employee commuting) play a central role even though the winery does not directly control these operations.
Is it possible to effectively measure something over which we have no direct control?
This is a common question in several sectors, not only in the wine industry. For a significant number of companies, especially wine importers and distributors, scope 3 emissions may represent the majority of their total emissions. And yet they are the most difficult to measure and manage.
With this in mind, the OIV published the OIV Greenhouse Gas Accounting Protocol for the Vine and Wine Sector in 2011 in order to provide a clear and consistent method to fully account for all emissions.
The key to quantifying scope 3 emissions is mapping a company’s value chain to identify, enumerate, and analyse the goods and services it purchases and sells, in conjunction with all of its suppliers and partners. This calls for a high degree of cooperation between the different participants in this value chain, not only to obtain accurate data, but to establish responsibilities among the various agents involved.
Companies in other sectors such as textile production can provide us with examples that highlight the importance of this emissions category. In the case of Patagonia, 97% of its carbon emissions derive from its supply chain. In an effort to reduce these emissions, the company focuses on analysing its shipping routes to minimize travel distances, as well as switching to more energy-efficient modes of transport (in other words, shipping by sea rather than air).
Within the wine industry, the main initiatives are aimed at reducing bottle weight (a 25% reduction in the weight of glass translates into a 20% reduction in emissions) and increasing the amount of recycled content in new glass bottles.
Some wineries are seizing other opportunities for improvement, such as redesigning their distribution networks to integrate rail freight for long-distance transport, while still meeting their logistical needs. Optimizing the use of additives and switching to electric equipment in the vineyard and winery also contribute to a significant reduction in emissions.
Carbon farming is another area of interest, because it promotes practices that not only cut down on emissions, but increase soil carbon sequestration. Then there are initiatives that involve transporting wine in bulk to the point of sale and bottling it on arrival. Borough Wines in the UK exemplifies such a system. In addition to reducing transport-related emissions, it allows for the implementation of circular strategies such as bottle return and re-use schemes.
At this time, only a handful of organizations in the wine sector are focused on establishing a transparent collaboration with their suppliers to develop a joint strategy that would facilitate the measuring and management of scope 3 carbon emissions.
Glass production is one area where this type of collaboration already exists. In order to secure the future of the European glass industry, 19 independent companies representing over 90% of total glass container production have forged an alliance called The Furnace for the Future. Their goal is to produce climate-neutral glass that is compatible with a circular economy.
A clear example of cooperation in the wine world is provided by International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA). This collaborative working group of environmentally committed wineries has a shared goal: applying a science-based approach to the reduction of carbon emissions.
If the wine sector wants to make a real contribution to solving the global climate crisis, it must focus its efforts on establishing joint objectives that allow for emissions to be measured effectively. In order to do so, every participant in the value chain must engage in transparent communication and collaboration.