Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Use Your Words - er, Numbers: Sustainability Grows Up (But Fast Enough?)

Sustainability programs are growing up. While practically every winery in the state says they're "sustainable", the term has become virtually meaningless, despite regional programs and the statewide California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) program. (CSWA is a program of the Wine Institute and the California Association of Grape Growers). Meanwhile mass confusion reigns, as even a prominent wine blogger doesn't understand that sustainable is not necessarily organic.

And the stakes are getting higher as Walmart and other major retailers (Costco and Safeway, to name a few) ready their sustainability guidelines for wine. For now, Walmart in particular is in its initial stages of canvassing wine suppliers to understand the current landscape, but guidelines are expected to be created in the near term.

In addition, California's wine industry must also compete internationally against other countries' sustainability programs. For example, New Zealand has a goal of having 100% of their export wines certified sustainable by 2012.

California's wine grape growers and wine makers are not alone in having ineffectual terminology for sustainability. In many industries, large scale efforts to come up with across the board standards have failed. It's no one's fault - sustainability standards often are beset by regional differences, making state, national or international standards impractical. Yet suppliers and consumers want certifications that actually mean something.

The tide in the sustainability movement is getter more sophisticated, and moving more from practice-based standards towards performance and process metrics. California's wine industry is heading in this direction, too, as two industry spokespeople - Andrew Arnold of SureHarvest and Lisa Franconi of the CSWA - told the audience at the 3rd annual Ecowinegrowing Symposium July 19 in Hopland.

Although the Wine Institute is no EPA, the industry body is in fact responding to changes in the overall sustainability movement by launching new programs focused on more valuable information gathering and reporting. It's not mandating standards but it is moving in the direction of measuring steps that participating wineries want to measure in terms of progress.

Performance Metrics Index Initiative with SureHarvest

One initiative is a new performance metrics index. Andrew Arnold, Sure Harvest's program manager for professional services, said the CSWA has partnered with SureHarvest to develop a metrics based program that will launch this fall as part of the CSWA's ongoing self-assessment program.

SureHarvest works with a large variety of agri-food industries to measure sustainability, including almonds and pears.

One of the big drivers for adoption of sustainability programs has been the potential to receive credit for ecosystem services, an area which could represent a new vineyard profit center, Arnold said. Arnold showed the conference participants a variety of new programs based on rewarding farmers for valuing ecosystem services provided on their land, citing the USDA's newly opened Office of Environmental Markets, the Chicago Climate Exchange (now defunct), the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Program, the Williamette Partnership, and other pay-for-performance programs.

Examples of services provided range from reducing nutrient runoff into watersheds, to improving water quality, to increasing soil health through cover cropping. In vineyards specifically, Arnold said wine grape growers could be rewarded with payments for improving water quality, reducing nutrient runoff, and offsets for carbon and biodiversity.

Andrew Arnold of Sure Harvest shows a variety of ways vineyards could be paid for environmental services in emerging environmental services markets, in a new program that will launch this fall in California (click on photo to see larger image)
Additionally, Arnold said, Ann Thrupp, director of sustainability at Fetzer/Bonterra, and Louise Jackson at U.C. Davis have also been looking at carbon mass (vegetation beyond the cultivated vineyard landscape) for its potential in carbon offset credits for vineyards. That would include the trees on vineyard hillsides, for example. Other research is looking at no till or minimal till projects and cover crop offset potential as well as credits for insectiaries, buffer areas, riparian restoration and composting, Arnold said.

The CSWA performance metrics project is scheduled to launch after this year's harvest in the fall when the company's Sustainability MIS will be rolled out to SWGA participants. It is slated to measure water, energy (and associated GhG emissions) and nitrogen inputs.

Wine Institute's New Process-Oriented Approach to Certification

Meanwhile the CSWA's certification track program (separate from the self assessement program) is moving towards a process based certification, said Lisa Franconi, program manager for CSWA.

Franconi presented a history of sustainability programs in the wine industry beginning in the 1950's with a U.C. Davis paper on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), followed by regional programs like Lodi Rules, and SIP.

CSWA, a statewide initiative, originally began in 2002 as a self assessment tool which awarded points based on practices and facilities. Though the CSWA says the tool was developed by a committee of growers and vintners representing a variety of sizes of organizations, small wineries have charged that the tool is weighted in favor of the largest wine corporations, including Gallo, Diageo, and others, who make about 80% of the wine from California and are the majority of the Wine Institute's leadership.

Smaller wineries have complained that the points system in the current CSWA self assessment program was rigged against them (since they did not have huge facilities and costly high tech equipment that qualified for high points in the current system).

In 2010, CSWA launched a certification program, California Certified Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) that measures continuous process improvement, rather than a specific set of standards or practices.

The new certification program adds a process-based requirement to the certification track concentrating on constantly improving performance over time. The new program uses auditors to monitor progress on goals each vineyard or winery's self-directed improvement plan. Lisa Franconi said that a certified vineyard or winery would set goals for the coming year and then an auditor would audit vineyard or winery to monitor progress.

Lisa Franconi, program manager of the Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (click on photo to see larger image)
Process-based certification, Franconi said, mirrors the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 14000 approach of letting businesses design improvement plans for themselves and then having a third party audit monitor their progress.

"The program lets individual wineries pick their targets and then meet them in order to retain certification. It's also a continuous process. There is no end, no point at which the process of improvement ends," said Franconi.

The CSWA has accredited 20 auditors throughout the state with environmental management backgrounds and auditing experience, she said. The program is open to anyone and the auditing and inspection costs are determined by the size of the operation.

The Bottom Line

Like other industries, it's likely that the CSWA program will encourage wineries to start implementing sustainability measures that impact the bottom line - saving money through waste reduction and energy and water conservation - but less likely to impact overall quality improvement like the ecosystem services marketplace work that Sure Harvest discussed.

The two approaches seem to be complementary. One is a gentle, self-inflicted stick (both CSWA's assessment and certification programs) and the other a tangible carrot (getting paid for ecosystem services - if and when that becomes a reality).

It's nice to see a one-two punch approach to the daunting issues facing California's wine industry and its use of natural resources. But is the industry moving fast enough?

No one at the conference discussed the ecosystem benefits they already receive [from Mother Nature] - or the rate at which they are being depleted. This a topic of great discussion elsewhere - especially from figures like Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, and Natural Capital authors Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken. And even at Walmart.

Sustainability expert Tom Miller, the former CEO of Blu Skye Consulting, whose leadership role in Walmart's sustainability efforts is chronicled in the book Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Walmart's Green Revolution (by Edward Humes), was alarmed when he and his team did the math in 2010 to update work done in the 1990's by Robert Costanza in valuing natural capital. Miller's team came up with estimates that the overall global services amounted to about $72 trillion. Unfortunately, according to his team (the story is told in Humes' book), ecosystem services were being used up at a rate of $2 to 5 trillion a year. Humes writes:

"At that rate factoring in the current growth in population and manufacturing set against nature's innate ability to replenish itself, the world's natural capital - fresh air, fresh water, all the other things we depend upon - will be depleted by the year 2046. Unless there is a profound change in the way we do business, Miller says, the natural economy will collapse..."

Which in a backhand sort of way brings us also to the subject of Walmart - the (unacknowledged) gorilla - in the room. It's Walmart's sustainability programs that are creating the high-level awareness that change is in the air - catalyzing a tipping point.

But Humes' book shows us that other industries are moving faster, with greater visionary energy than California's wine industry. Take the dairy industry in New York, for example. Dairy farmers aren't exactly known for their innovation but the Dairyville 2020 project, chronicled in Force of Nature, looks to be pretty interesting and is a daring example of basically redesigning an industry from within.

Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director at CalCAN (click to see larger)
Would that California's wineries would sit down in a room and get that kind of vision and support to dive deep into the changes that are necessary for their industry to continue. As much as growers and wineries think about longevity, their industry is lagging far behind the kind of accelerated, visionary action plan required to save their vineyards.

As Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director at CalCAN showed meeting participants, a recent Stanford study predicts that if temperatures rise 2 degrees by 2040 (a conservative estimate, according to the Stanford researchers), the amount of land where pinot and cabernet could be grown would decrease 20-50%. But that's unlikely to propel action. Walmart's new programs are a likely bigger catalyst for the next chapter in the wine industry's sustainability focus. But the wine industry could - and should - do much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment