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Making wine more sustainable, from the vineyard to your glass

Just received an email with this header. Body of the text below.

2040 sounds like a long way away, but to include the entire supply chain strikes me as rather ambitious (in a good way). One question, is a net zero GHG (Greenhouse Gas?) the same as Carbon Neutral, or is it something different?

Our Society is owned entirely by our members, without any external shareholders, and we pride ourselves on listening to your feedback.

With increasing regularity, you have cited climate change and sustainability as among the most important things you want to see The Society address.

More extreme and unpredictable weather is becoming a normal feature of our climate, affecting viticulture and winemakers in a very real way, from wildfires in California and Australia to droughts in South Africa to unseasonal frosts and floods in Europe. And beyond climate change, the Covid pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the need to take better care of each other – to do more to ensure the health, wellbeing and fair and equitable working conditions of colleagues not only in our own businesses but also those throughout our supply chains.

We at The Society care deeply about these pressing issues: we have been in business for nearly 150 years, and we want to flourish for the next 150. To do this, we need to help make wine – from the vineyard to the glass – more sustainable.

We are therefore taking the opportunity of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, to announce that we are undertaking an ambitious project to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across our business AND supply chain by 2040, as part of our mission to be the most ethical and responsible wine retailer in the world.

The Society has committed to achieving the following short, and longer-term, science-based targets on GHG emissions:

** Next year will see the publication of our new sustainability strategy, which will include a net-zero roadmap that sets out how we will mobilise our entire business around taking action now and hitting the interim targets below.*
** By the end of 2023, The Wine Society will be a certified carbon-neutral business, having undertaken short-term measures to reduce our energy consumption and emissions, moved to 100% renewable or green energy and offset any remaining emissions from our direct operations through an accredited scheme.*
** By the end of 2028, The Society will have reduced the GHG emissions associated with our own direct operations to as close to zero as possible (for example, our offices, storage and company-owned van deliveries), whilst still remaining certified carbon neutral and purchasing 100% of our energy needs, that we can’t generate ourselves, from renewable or green sources.*
** By the end of 2040, The Society will be certified net zero across our business AND supply chain (covering scopes 1, 2 & 3). This highly ambitious target covers our entire GHG footprint, from how grapes are grown through to how wine is made, transported and consumed by members. We are proud to be a founder member of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable – a global coalition of producers, retailers, industry experts and consultants working together to make the changes necessary to achieve this net zero target and to ensure that wine has a sustainable future.*

Ultimately this is not about commitments, it is about action.

As we embrace these opportunities, we must be honest about the challenges we face in how to achieve these targets and what we are doing to overcome them. We are already on our way in several areas: for example, 25% of our power is obtained from solar panels, and our forthcoming new warehouse will be fitted with further solar panels.

25% of our power is now generated by solar panels on site\ 580x300

However, we and the wider industry do not yet have all the technology, processes and know-how we need to achieve all our goals in as timely a way as we would wish. For now, therefore, we need to prepare. We chose the year of 2028 to be net zero in our direct business operations, because we foresee this being a time when we will be able to run successfully an entirely electric van fleet. In the meantime, our forthcoming new warehouse is being designed to accommodate this new fleet.

We are also working on finding a fair but proactive way of bringing the talented growers with whom we work with us on this journey. Members understandably also tell us that they can struggle to make informed decisions given the myriad standards and certifications worldwide. In some cases, great initiatives are being lost amongst the noise. We are therefore excited to be working in a collaborative manner with our growers, shippers, agents and members to make meaningful change.

While our staff are passionate about sustainability and achieving these goals, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is an expert in this field and therefore strengthening expertise is vitally important. To this end, we are working with industry-leading sustainability consultancy, Sancroft. The Society has also appointed Dom de Ville, who is highly experienced in this area, to the newly created role of Director of Sustainability and Social Impact, and he will be joining us in December.

We won’t be able to achieve these ambitious targets without the support and collaboration of our suppliers, our members and industry partners. It will require revolutionising many winemaking practices, working together to find new ways to reduce emissions, capture carbon and enhance biodiversity in and around vineyards. We have already taken action and we know we need to do much more.

As with everything we do, our guiding principles will be to consult our membership along the way and to be transparent and honest about what we are doing and why. We are committed to following the most up-to-date scientific research and helping our members, staff and suppliers to see the benefits and opportunities that come with doing the right thing for people and our planet.

We continue to welcome feedback from all our members on all these issues and look forward to carrying on this conversation and hard work for the years to come. If you would like to get in touch, please email societynews@thewinesociety.com.

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In the current climate (no pun intended) it is hard to find too many negatives to this viewpoint which is both timely and on message. I suppose one of the concerns that I have is the section that covers

For my money, it pays to let the producers innovate for themselves and not be directed by organisations like TWS.

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To me it’s something like: if I leave my house and walk to the shops it’s roughly carbon neutral. If I mug an old lady on the way, steal her money, and then put the money in a charity collection, it’s net zero! But I don’t know if this is a reasonable analogy or not.

“… We are committed to following the most up-to-date scientific research …” Maybe follow the best and most relevant research rather than the latest, but I’m just being picky.

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It’s difficult isn’t it? It’s all very well for TWS to ‘go green’ and declare themselves environmentally friendly, but when the overwhelming majority of the environmental impact of their business happens upstream, it could be described as half-arsed tokenism.

I think if it is to be considered meaningful, any plan needs to be holistic.

Without seeing how they intend to bring suppliers along with them on the journey, it’s hard to criticise. You’d hope it would be based on consultation, support and advice, but I suppose there will need to be a delicate balance of carrot and stick to ensure that the very best suppliers remain on board.

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I tend to see it a pair of scales. A few good eggs on one side and China/India/USA etc on the other. Corporate Self-Satisfaction is all very well but the big boys are firmly in charge of the playground and are not going to give us our ball back anytime soon.

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An odd change of tone, about half way through the email. The first half is specific commitments with specific tools to reach them. The second collapses into buzzwords about ‘proactive’, the ‘journey’, staff being ‘passionate’, etc. Did the marketing people get hold of it?

It’s an email to members, not the strategy document itself. I’m certain it was written by the marketing team.

The first third is scene-setting marketing waffle, the next third sets out firm commitments and the final third a bit more waffle, with a couple of relevant examples.

Given the twenty year timescale and developing technologies, I think it’s about as specific as it can be. It’s relevant, timely, addresses concerns raised by members and clearly communicates long term goals; we’re just not on the method yet.

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My understanding is that an organisation, or individual for that matter, can be carbon neutral by offsetting all their carbon emissions. It’ll be expensive, as they will have to pay a lot to offset these emissions as the price of carbon increases, but they can continue all their ‘business as usual’ carbon emitting activities unchanged.

Net zero carbon requires organisations to remove or replace practices and activities that emit carbon in the first instance. Offsetting can be used, but only as a last resort - the idea being that you’ve already taken all possible/reasonable steps to eliminate carbon from your value chain.

So regardless of whether you mug the old lady or not, you’ve already taken your first step to being net zero carbon by walking instead of driving. Lots of brownie points.

But if you drive, mug the old lady, and use the money to plant a tree that will absorb the same amount of carbon emitted by the fuel you use, that will be carbon neutral. Not so many brownie points.

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So I had that pretty much back to front then. From subsequent research I’ve found that you are absolutely right. It doesn’t help that the two terms seem commonly to be used almost interchangeably, and seem to me slightly counter-intuitive. Thanks for clarification @Brandshatch.

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Good to read other members views as very much not my area of expertise. Notice TWS have both appointed consultants and then appointed an ex-employee of said consultancy as a director. The consultancy also have an interesting “Team” looking at their website.

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Interesting and commendable target - but I don’t quite understand how TWS can enforce that goal across the supply chain - except by an embargo on non-compliant suppliers?

The 2nd question I have, is how do you possibly make glass production zero GHG (glass production requires very high energy input), or indeed ship wine halfway around the world without fossil fuel for the ships. As far as I know, that technology does not exist yet - but it’s a good target.

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The Sustainable Wine Roundtable looks interesting. Some pretty punchy founding members. You have to hope they are under no illusions as to the potential threat to their existence as part of the wine industry and have the clout to spread best practice globally and enact significant change.

I agree it is a good target. I don’t know how either elements you refer to can be achieved.
However, in reference to the timescale of some of these goals, do you set a target that you know now can be achieved in 20 years time or take a considered look at technologies and innovation that might be coming and set an ambitious, meaningful target you think is achievable with the right focus?

I’m no expert and can’t comment on the viability of some of these options but as far as I’m aware industries with high input energy needs (including things like steel production) are looking at options such as green electricity, not sure if that can give the temperatures necessary realistically, and hydrogen, which certainly can. And there are a number of zero carbon ways of producing hydrogen both already available and in development.

Shipping needs are also moving forward. Aircraft engines are moving towards electricity for short haul and pure bio fuels for long haul. Yes bio fuels emit CO2 but only (in theory) the same amount absorbed in their production (I’m a little less convinced on that one but that’s what I’ve read). Ships can also move towards bio fuels and hydrogen.

I’ve been saying it for years that personally I think hydrogen is a better future technology than batteries as it is fundamentally cleaner, whilst batteries, currently, are totally dependant on rare metals that are also difficult to recycle.

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Emissions from international freight ships are not included in current carbon agreements because no one can agree on which country should have responsibility for them - where ships depart or arrive, or where ship is registered.

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Resolving that question would need some kind of international forum, perhaps with a green agenda?

I must have missed the part of COP26 where Mr. Johnson raised the topic for discussion. But then… wouldn’t be in the UK’s short term interests ref: Brexit / Freeports / Island nation dependant upon international freight.

Ah well there’s always COP27

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Well, he popped back up to Glasgow this week to avoid answering questions about corruption in his government and in his parliamentary party to keep up the momentum for a new carbon agreement, and I’m sure he’ll use the time very productively. Unless the Telegraph throws another party. He’ll have to go to that instead then.

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A quick google search for vested interest against carbon agreements for international shipping brings up:

Chris Grayling, Epsom and Ewell (Conservative)

  • Strategic adviser to Hutchison Ports Europe, earning £100,000pa for 336 hours work,

Former Transport secretary, former etc, etc.

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Brexit and Climate Change denial are inextricably intertwined.

If it isn’t clear now, when the powerful ‘ooh, there may be some doubt’ or ‘China isn’t doing anything, why should we’ lobby swings into full gear, you’ll recognise the same old faces, hear the same old arguments trotted out.

It is pathetically depressing.

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I heard an ad for Nando’s on the radio this morning, to the effect that “We’re carbon neutral now and aim to be net zero by 2030.”

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At least he is “Former…”