How sustainability practices in wine offer useful insights to others

Josh Prigge, CEO of Sustridge and most recently sustainability head at Fetzer Vineyards, says there's no doubt that studying sustainable wine has benefits for other business sectors.

Josh has spoken at a couple of Innovation Forum conferences in the last few years. I found what he had to say highly interesting, and I was curious about the above question and how he might respond, so I sent him five questions. Below are his responses.

TW: Most recently, you've been working to help Fetzer Vineyards become more sustainable. What does that actually mean in term of measured achievements that make a difference?

JP: I was at Fetzer Vineyards from 2014 to 2017, and it was such a pleasure to work at a company that had demonstrated such leadership in sustainability for so long.

My job was to really try to take the company to the next level in their sustainability journey, and become a model for sustainable business across all industries, not just the wine industry.

I developed a comprehensive sustainability metrics tracking system that allowed the company to more closely track and monitor it key sustainability indicators such as waste, energy, water, GHG emissions etc. This helped the company achieve a number of certifications including Zero Waste certification, B Corp certification and CarbonNeutral certification.

I also brought a new strategy to the company to move beyond sustainability and commit to being a regenerative and restorative company. We set a goal a to become Net Positive by 2030, meaning Fetzer intends to eliminate or offset all negative impacts by 2030 and only be producing positive impacts, and we joined the Net Positive Project to help grow that movement.

In this new direction towards regenerative development, Fetzer implemented a new regenerative wastewater treatment system that uses worms to naturally treat winery wastewater, allows for the reuse of treated water and provides the vineyards with worm castings to enhance the health of the soil.

We also began some research in the vineyards to measure the carbon sequestration benefits of the company's regenerative agriculture practices which include reduced tillage, sheep grazing, applying compost, cover crop usage and planting for biodiversity.

Josh Prigge: "We can actually sequester more carbon in our soils than we emit globally, and reverse climate change"

TW: Are there lessons other industries (particularly in agriculture) can learn from sustainability pioneers in wine, such as Fetzer, and what are these?

JP: I think the wine industry is doing a lot of great work, and Fetzer Vineyards, Jackson Family Wines and others can be great models for sustainability leadership in all industries.

As someone who now runs a sustainability consulting firm, I'm using a lot of the knowledge and experience I gained in the wine industry to help other businesses, government, universities and other organizations implement sustainability programs and initiatives.

Although every organization is unique and faces different challenges, many of the same sustainability issues such as GHG emissions, waste, water, energy, supply chain and social equity are important areas of focus for sustainability professionals in all industries.

These other industries can learn a lot from a leader like Fetzer that has been tracking and reducing waste since 1990 and is Zero Waste certified, has been operating on 100% renewable energy since 1999 and is CarbonNeutral certified, grows 100% of their grapes organically, uses regenerative agriculture in all 960 acres of owned vineyards and meets the highest standards for social and environmental responsibility as a certified B Corp.

Many of these practices can be adopted in some way by organizations across sectors, so it's important to highlight these organizations that demonstrate this type of leadership and learn from it.

TW: Lots of people are curious about 'natural' wine. What does that mean to you? It's been described as lazy wine making to me, by some winemakers.

JP: I'm definitely not an expert in wine making, but I believe natural wine refers to wine that does not contain added sulfites and is considered "organic wine". In the United States, we have "wine made with 100% organic grapes" and "organic wine." Organic wine does not contain any added sulfites, which help preserve the wine, and can then lose its quality quickly.

Wine made with organic grapes is allowed to add minimal sulfites (I believe it is under 100 ppm) to help preserve the wine on the shelf and allow the wine to remain of high quality for several years. Both wines are made with 100% certified organic grapes, but they differ in the added sulfites that help preserve the wine.

TW: Biodynamic approaches are seen by many wine businesses as increasingly credible. Some say they improve environmental resilience and offer better acidity in wines. Others say the approach is based on hippie mumbo-jumbo theories. What are you views?

JP: Those who say the approach is based on hippie mumbo-jumbo are likely referring to the mystical aspects of biodynamic farming such as certain planting and treatment practices that are based on the phases of the moon or astrological alignments.

We can debate the effectiveness of such practices, but I can tell you that many farmers who practice biodynamic farming will say there really are benefits to these.

Outside of a few of these somewhat unusual mystical practices, the majority of biodynamic farming is really aligned with what we know as regenerative agriculture, which uses nature as much as possible to manage the farm, incorporates livestock and wildlife into the farm and promotes a healthy and natural ecosystem in and around the farm.

The goal is to eliminate outside inputs into the farm and create a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem using nature. We know that there are several benefits to these practices such as building resiliency, enhancing biodiversity, reducing water use, sequestering carbon and creating healthier soil and plants. I am incredibly excited about the biodynamic movement in the wine industry and in other industries. Bonterra makes some great biodynamic wines.

TW: Do you think the agricultural sector is taking climate change seriously enough? If not, where should more focus and resources be placed, which could make a measurable difference?

JP: I do think the agriculture sector is beginning to really take climate change seriously. People who manage farms are the first people to truly notice changes in climate, because these changes can have huge negative effects on their business.

We are seeing some great work by large companies such as Land O' Lakes and Walmart that are developing programs to make large GHG reductions in their supply chains. We are seeing more companies explore organic regenerative agriculture at their farms and in their supply chains.

What is most exciting to me is the regenerative agriculture movement as a whole, and the idea that the agriculture sector, which has long been one of the main contributors to climate change, is now being seen as one of the main solutions to climate change.

By implementing practices such as cover crops, compost, reduced tillage and animal grazing, we can actually sequester more carbon in our soils than we emit globally, and reverse climate change. The best part is that these practices also help farms reduce water use, build healthy soil and plants, and create a more resilient and sustainable business for the farmers.

Josh Prigge is CEO of Sustridge, a consulting firm.

Fetzer Vineyards by the numbers:

  • Waste: Fetzer Vineyards diverted 99.2% of all waste from landfills or incineration in 2016, continuing a trajectory of improvement; the winery diverted 99.1% of waste from landfills or incineration in 2015, 98.5% in 2014, and 97.6% in 2013.
  • Water: The vintner reduced water intensity per gallon of wine produced by 12% over 2015. For 2016, Fetzer Vineyards' winery water intensity was 3.24 gallons of water used/gallon wine produced (compare to: 3.65 gallons in 2015).
  • GHG Emissions: Complementing a commitment to renewable energy, Fetzer Vineyards reduced Scope 1 & 2 emissions by 7.3% over 2015 through a variety of mechanisms and became the first U.S. winery certified CarbonNeutral® by Natural Capital Partners.
  • B Corp Certification: During B Corp recertification in mid-2017, Fetzer Vineyards received an improved score of 95.1, a nearly 15-point improvement over its 2015 score, 80.5.

For more detail, go here. And here's a recent Huffington Post piece on Fetzer. Impressive progress.

I also write a regular blog on sustainable business issues in general, and particularly on supply chains. To go: and sign up for updates.

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