Recently I had a conversation with one of the wineries I work with, and the following question came up: should we get certified as sustainable? And if we decide to go that route, which certification is the best fit?
Much like their quality counterparts, sustainability certifications arose as a way of generating awareness of more sustainable consumption and production practices that comply with certain established standards.
Considering the great diversity of the wine and grape sector, many of the sustainability certification programmes created over the past decade focus on specific wine-producing regions.
In New Zealand, Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ) was founded in 1994 by the New Zealand Winegrowers, the industry body that represents the country’s wineries and vineyards. Given the success of the initiative, it was adopted commercially, leading to the establishment of a certification programme. It operates on a national level and certifies every aspect of the production chain, including vineyards, wineries, bottling plants, and brands. Wines originating from 100% SWNZ certified vineyards and wineries can feature its logo on the bottle, a guarantee that the production was sustainable from the vineyard to the end consumer. The programme has been very successful and at this time 96% of the wine-producing areas in New Zealand are SWNZ certified. In neighbouring Australia, AWRI and Australian Grape & Wine developed the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia Certification in 2019. With the aim of assisting winegrowers and winemakers in the continuous improvement of the environmental, social, and economic aspects of their business, the certification process focuses on five main areas: land and soil, water, people and business, biodiversity, energy and waste. Despite being a young organization, its member base represents 70% of Australia’s wine production and regions. The hope is to keep growing and become a permanent fixture in the Australian wine and grape sector.
California, among the pioneers in terms of sustainability in the wine and grape sector, boasts a significant number of certification programmes, including Napa Green, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Sustainability in Practice (SIP), and Lodi Rules. They exist alongside each other without regarding themselves as direct competitors, given that it is very common for the same winery to obtain more than one certification.
Generally, the aim of these programmes is to provide comprehensive soil-to-bottle certification for vineyards and wineries with baseline metrics for energy, water, and waste management that make it possible to certify a growing number of wineries.
With a significant emphasis on environmental aspects, such as efficient water use, these certification programmes reveal their primary weakness in the lack of lateral communication regarding the certification itself: what it means and requires, including the time the winery has to dedicate to completing the certification process, and how it really aligns with the company’s business strategy to become a priority for its day-to-day and governance functions.
From the point of view of the winery, the reasons driving the decision to become certified as sustainable are centred on maximizing the use of resources, greater efficiency, providing the community and employees with a different leadership style, as well as establishing better relations that generate value and, of course, provide a competitive advantage.
Another new world example is the Wines of Chile sustainability code created in 2011 by the industry and administered by a non-profit organization. Although the initiative initially focused on vineyards exclusively, it now pursues a more balanced approach centred on green areas (vineyard), red areas (social), orange areas related to wine production, and purple areas that cover all of the physical sites where a company carries out wine tourism activities.
In the old world, we find national certification programmes such as VIVA in Italy. Introduced by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea, the programme has been promoting sustainability in the wine and grape sector since 2011. VIVA aims to improve vineyard and winery sustainability by analysing four indicators: AIR, WATER, VINEYARD, AND TERRITORY. The certification makes the audit results available to the public, thereby promoting full transparency. It also has an educational focus, albeit indirectly.
Terra Vitis is a French initiative launched in Beaujolais in 1998 by a group of committed winegrowers who championed responsible viticulture. Today it comprises seven regional associations from the leading French wine regions and offers a certification system based on the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental commitment, social responsibility, and economic sustainability.
With the aim of unifying the sector and offering a more universal certification, Jackson Family and Bodegas Torres joined forces to found International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) in 2019. The association is open to all companies in the wine and grape sector, independently of their geographic location, and centres its efforts on helping them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, improve land management and biodiversity. This means the certification has a very clear focus on mitigating the climatic impact of the activities carried out in the vineyard and winery.
B Corp, launched in the United States in 2006, is similarly international in scope but pursues a more holistic approach. Known as the B Corp movement, it consists of for-profit companies committed to sustainability-related initiatives that are fundamental to their core mission. The objective is to bring companies and the society they operate in closer together, with efforts directed at addressing some of the greatest challenges of our time.
B Lab is the non-profit association behind the B Corp movement and provides the necessary infrastructure to support the movement and help it grow. It certifies companies based on how they create value for interested parties that are not shareholders, such as employees, the local community, and the environment.
Interest in this certification, which places significant emphasis on a company’s system of governance and its statutes, is growing in the wine and grape sector. Wineries such as Château Maris, Viña Concha y Toro, and Lagarde are all B Corp certified.
Regardless of the reasons you might have for seeking sustainability certification, what matters most is choosing the right one for your organization. In order to do so, it is essential to answer the following question: what is your goal in obtaining this type of certification?
The answer will allow you to assess and select the certification that is best suited to achieving this goal. Finally, and just as importantly, it is always worth remembering that these kinds of initiatives help increase the credibility and standing of companies in the eyes of consumers and the market.