Misha Wilkinson’s description of “pirouetting” through Covid-19 seems apt, given the industry’s need to stay on its toes throughout this…
That was the message from New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW) General Manager Sustainability, Dr Edwin Massey, at Grape Days in June. “Taking climate change action now is critical to protecting your bottom line,” he told packed audiences in Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago. “The more we can actually contribute to and show leadership in this space, the more we can contribute to slowing warming”.
Climate change is fast becoming the most talked about area of sustainability, and the wine industry needs to be swift to adapt, Edwin said. “It really boils down to two things. Firstly reputation - the vineyard is our most visible industry asset.” And consumers care, he added. “They want to buy New Zealand wine in part because of its reputation for sustainability.”
The second aspect is cost. “We are already paying at the pump. The cost of emissions is going to increase… You will pay more for every single element of greenhouse gas emissions through the Emissions Trading Scheme.”
The New Zealand Government has a target of net zero emissions by 2050, and in 2020 the NZW board committed to the industry becoming net carbon zero ahead of that deadline, Edwin said. “We want to get ahead of the curve.”
New Zealand wine’s longstanding focus on sustainability stands it in good stead, but sustainability is “not about saying that everything is great”, he said. “It’s about continuous improvement and acknowledging the challenging issues and circumstances that we face. We need to work on these issues and develop solutions that help to mitigate our risks.”
Another plus for viticulture is that when it comes to measurement of emissions, based on tonnage per hectare, “grapes are almost at zero”. That’s not as good as growing an exotic forest, but far better than many other primary producers, from pastoral to kiwifruit. “The wine industry is in a little bit of a sweet spot in that we produce a high value product with a very low emissions footprint… We can make those claims with confidence - we have got the data behind it.”
But the industry needs to take measurement more seriously, he said. Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) has introduced carbon emissions to its questionnaire to help measure, reduce, educate and communicate. “Our plans aim to assist members to reduce emissions as much as possible, as quickly as possible,” Edwin told audiences.
SWNZ will never be a carbon certification programme, he added. “We don’t have resource and cannot operate in that space.” But getting a “snapshot” of industry emissions, along with the ability to benchmark year on year, will be “critical” to helping the industry achieve its target of being carbon neutral by 2050.
Meanwhile, members can access guidance through the recent ly re leased Toitū Envirocare report, commissioned by NZW, which looks at packaging, freight, electricity, transport fuels, and fertiliser and vineyard activities as five key elements, viewing them through the lens of scope 1 (direct company emissions), scope 2 (indirect emissions from purchased energy) and scope 3 (upstream and downstream emissions). The report provides some “first steps” members can take in their vineyards and wineries to manage and reduce emissions, said Edwin.
Targeting climate change emissions begins with ownership and governance, because it will have a significant impact on every business moving forward, he said. And it can begin with small steps, such as picking an individual emissions source and making a reduction plan around it, asking “how are we going to do things differently in the future to reduce costs and reduce emissions?”
From there, companies can develop a plan on how to reduce emissions on a broader scale across the business. But the ultimate is to go through a company like Toitū Envirocare, with a carbon reduce or carbon neutral programme. There is an increasing number of members around the country doing just that, capturing the value to marketing, while showing leadership in the climate change space, he said. “In conclusion, you have the opportunity to become a climate change champion.”
New Zealand Winegrowers Chief Executive Philip Gregan told Grape Days audiences the New Zealand’s wine industry needs to be a leader in environmental reforms in order to maintain its social licence. “In this this Covid-crazy world, maintaining that social licence to operate is incredibly important. Both for now and going forwards.”
Looking back at the Alert Level-4 Lockdown, the wine industry, having been deemed an essential business, operated extremely carefully and “validated the trust” put in it, he said. That helped maintain its social licence, and continuing to do so was vital, he added.
The current Government has a “very active reform agenda”, but wine’s good environmental credentials stood it in good stead. “Our industry is not the target for a lot of the environmental reforms that are going to happen in the next few years”, he said. “But, we need to play our part and we need to be leaders… We need to demonstrate leadership around issues such as water, climate change, waste and recycling.”
If there ever a question about being an essential business, he said, “let’s make sure we are on the positive not the negative list”.
Climate Action in the Wine Industry
In New Zealand's wine industry, Yealands Estate and Lawson’s Dry Hills are certified Toitū carbonzero, while Villa Maria Estate is a Toitū carbonreduce certified organisation. New Zealand Winegrowers is also carbonreduce certified, while Wineworks Group and Riversun Nursery Limited are both carbonzero. Riversun Managing Director Geoff Thorpe has an ambitious strategy for the company to be carbon negative by 2030. “We believe that being ‘carbon neutral’ is not enough - look around the world and in our own backyards, we are already paying a very high price for the 50 percent increase in atmospheric CO2 we humans have generated since the start of the industrial era - we believe we should all be focused on reducing CO2 levels from the current highs, not stabilising them at even more elevated levels in 30 years time”.
Toitū carbonreduce and carbonzero certification means the organisation has measured its operational or product emissions and developed a management plan to reduce emissions over time. Meanwhile, the footprint and plan have been independently verified against the highest international standards. In the case of carbonzero, emissions have been offset with high-quality carbon credits.
Josephine Rudkin-Binks, General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Toitū Envirocare, says they are “proud to support organisations in the wine industry to measure and manage their climate impacts”. Toitū certified organisations not only recognise the need for the sustainable future, she says, “but also are well positioned leverage the commercial opportunities and differentiate themselves in the global marketplace”.