After the recent launch of The Wine Society’s sustainability plan (featured in our latest 1874 magazine) we’re very pleased to be hosting an ‘Ask Me Anything’ event exclusively for our Community members with our Director of Sustainability and Social Impact, Dom De Ville.
New: AMA with Dom De Ville, our Director of Sustainability and Social Impact
We’re giving our Community members an opportunity to hear directly from Dom, and to ask any questions you might have about our sustainability plan.
How to take part
Please send us your questions in advance by midday on Monday 11th July by replying to this topic. We’ll then host the event on Friday 15th July at 1pm - Dom will be live on The Community to answer your questions and the answers will be posted in written format - like a regular topic here.
We really hope you will take this opportunity to ask Dom questions and understand more about The Wine Society’s sustainability plans!
My question - we hear a lot about carbon footprints etc, but what is the society doing to work with producers about biodiversity loss in wine-growing areas (across the spectrum of taxa - plants, insects, birds, the whole lot)? This is particularly important given that the Mediterranean biomes across the world, where most wine is grown, are the most threatened and least well protected.
Also, in all honesty, how much leverage does TWS really have with different kinds of producers and shippers to make them change their practices? Is it chipping away at the margins or is it something more substantial?
I think it may be useful for Dom to have a read through this thread, there were a lot of useful points raised around sustainable wine production and transport . He could maybe answer some of the questions debated on there
Thanks @Leah, I’m sure Dom will have a read of it, as it’s an extremely interesting thread although a reminder to members, if you have any questions directly for Dom, please do post them on this thread to receive an answer!
Sustainability ‘points’ - can TWS provide an indicator, some kind of measure against each wine on the website ? on a scale of 1 to 5 how does that wine rank?
We have ‘Parker points’ etc.
Bio / Organic labels.
Wines are graded by sweet/ dry and light/ full bodied.
(and behind the scenes there are measures of sugar concentration, Sulphur, Tartrates etc)
Clearly any system will be imperfect, but surely SOMETHING is better than nothing? as Britain’s largest wine importer this would be an important step.
It couldn’t just be ‘sustainability’ as there is no agreement on what this includes. If there are specific, relevant, types of information (water and soil information, labour standards, bottle weight…) which are known to the buyers, these could be included in the descriptions of the wine. (As the wine notes have recently become very perfunctory, adding almost anything to them would be an improvement.) But I don’t want an arbitrary index.
I am concerned about taking sustainability too far.
By all means do whatever is under your control to make TWS a model company in terms of what you believe is sustainability but I am against trying to enforce principles upon suppliers. Our suppliers wrestle with many different environments, governments, pests and diseases etc without also having a customer demanding changes to their practices. Their practices may not seem dieal to us but they will have evolved because of their particular geography, history, land and weather. By all means report to us where you think they are doing well but as said before me, there are no definitions of sustainability so just state the facts and leave it at that.
I am sure we all have different views on sustainability even at the Society level.
I prefer glass bottles and may be able to find papers about the cost of producing bag in box packaging plus the evils of disposing of the plastic element.
I prefer cork to screw-top for several reasons, one being to continue the nature that is suported by cork tree growing.
I am not convinced by electric vehicles as so much electricity is still produced from hydrocarbons and the conversion to electricity is inefficient.
These are just a few personal examples and probably not well expressed or explained.
Can you please explain in simple terms what parameters you will use to make TWS sustainable?
Do members get to vote on what we see as most important?
P.S. I guess in a perfect world you will engineer enough savings to pay for the costs of all sustainability staff including yourself!
I’ve been recycling bottles and cans as long as I can remember, I used to sell scrap paper in the 1980s/1990s, I buy very few ‘things’ so I think I am fairly low-cost on the planet.
Along comes ‘Extinction Rebellion’, blocking our roads and generally being a nuisance.
I am furious and now want to burn as much coal, gas, diesel and wood as I can.
To try to get back on thread, Dom, don’t overdo it!
Hello everyone, very good to be here. Looking forward to receiving any questions you have on sustainability. I have already prepared responses to some of the questions you posed ahead of time, which I will post throughout the hour. Apologies if they are a little long - I just wanted to give a full explanation where I can.
@Rio_Jano I agree, I don’t think we can talk about tackling climate change without also tackling biodiversity loss. That’s why we have made protecting and enhancing biodiversity a key pillar of our sustainability plan. As I’m sure you know, diverse life around vines increases soil health (from organic matter, fungi, bacteria, nutrients etc.), it draws down and cycles atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, it supports the air and water cycle in the soil to ensure maximum water retention. And we believe a thriving vineyard, in tune with nature, can help improve wine quality and better reflect a sense of place.
As you suggest, achieving this requires doing a range of different things. For example, having a diverse mix of ground covers (e.g. the right mix of grasses, root vegetables, clovers, legumes, flowers etc.), incorporating grazing animals for fertilisation and pest control, encouraging the right mix of insects and birds (using life to manage life), investing in wetlands, woodlands, hedgerows and other habitats etc.
To help growers increase biodiversity, we’re planning on doing three main things:
• Setting up a Supplier Forum – a mechanism whereby information, tools, guidance notes, best practice, lessons learned etc. can be shared between our growers on how to increase biodiversity in their own vineyards, improve resilience to climate change and maximise the commercial benefits (cost reduction, wine quality)
• Provide financial support to some of our key growers to help them achieve credible and useful sustainability certifications, particularly those which have an emphasis on biodiversity
• Invest funds to set up/increase biodiversity projects in our supplier’s vineyards to sequester carbon, as a way of offsetting The Wine Society’s carbon emissions - as we work towards reducing our emissions to net zero by 2040. This approach is called ‘Insetting’.
@Rio_Jano I think it is a mix. We obviously don’t have the buying power of Tesco, so there are definitely limitations. It might be easiest to answer this question by discussing wine producers and shippers separately, as the leverage is different for each.
When it comes to our growers and producers, we will have more leverage for some than others. For example, with our own label wines we have significant leverage to demand faster change. We will also have more leverage for those we regularly buy large quantities from.
That said, we have a long tail of suppliers where we have much less leverage. Whereas a large supermarket might only have 50 wine suppliers to deal with, as they buy in bulk, our Buyers have complete freedom to find and source the best wines from around the world in whatever quantities are available and appropriate. This means we have a large range of around 1500 different wines from over 800 suppliers – and we will clearly not be able to influence all of them to the same degree.
Additionally, whilst many of our growers and producers will have been working on sustainability for a number of years, there are also those who are just starting out on the journey – and everything in-between. Therefore, we need to recognise that suppliers are starting from different positions on sustainability and we cannot expect them all to reach the same standards immediately.
One way we are pushing change is from 2023 we will implement minimum environmental and social standards that all growers and producers have to sign up to. This will cover practices around water, energy, waste, biodiversity, chemicals, labour conditions, packaging, carbon emissions etc. These standards are still in development and will take a ‘continuous improvement’ approach, whereby they might be reasonably basic in year 1, but each year become tougher. Our approach will not be to punish suppliers by delisting them, but to support them to come up to our standards and improve year on year. This will of course have to change at some point if any of our suppliers are simply not willing to make improvements.
Also, from 2024 we will implement a sustainability scorecard, which will rank wines according to their sustainability credentials. As more and more members choose sustainable wines, and our suppliers see the commercial benefits, we hope this will also be an incentive to change.
We are a small-ish business, and so of course we have limited leverage with large scale shippers – unlike the big supermarkets and retailers. But there are still things we can do. For example:
Shippers are already under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental and climate impact. The likes of Hillebrand, DHL, DPD, for example, are all investing heavily in lower emission vehicles and modes of transport. By asking for their sustainability credentials, and putting pressure on them to improve, we are adding our voice to the crowd – and the more voices they hear, the faster they act.
We are also including sustainability criteria as part of our tendering processes. Now that things have calmed slightly from Brexit and the pandemic, we are taking another look at our shippers and who we work with. Along with price and service, one of our key decision criteria is sustainability.