Three ways the wine industry can become more sustainable

By Tobias Webb

A writer penning a piece on sustainable wine asked me for some thoughts on what the wine industry can do to be more sustainable. Here’s my list of three below. There’s a lot more one could say about these, and other issues, of course, but I wanted to keep it fairly short. So here’s my three:

1) Reduce pesticide/fertiliser use, consider organic/biodynamic approaches

Bordeaux is said to be the biggest single user of pesticides in France. Increasingly there are studies (and yes, I know there are plenty that say it’s all fine) that show negative links between chemical inputs in the vineyard and human health. If Champagne producers like Fleury can go biodynamic, or if Palmer and Pontet Canet can do it, most others can too. At the very least all winemakers should consider organic approaches. It’s just how all wine was made pre WWII, and with modern technology there’s increasingly not much excuse for NOT doing it. Why put chemicals in something you drink when you don’t have to?

2) Consider bottle weight and carbon emissions post-winery 

Do Malbec and CNP/Some Syrah bottles HAVE to be that heavy? No, it’s a false conception of marketing / value/ quality and tradition that drives that. But as a wine producer bottle weight is some thing you can do something about easily, and the results for the environment in reduced carbon emissions can be huge. Let’s say you cut bottle weight by 30%, which is entirely possible. That’s a huge carbon emissions and transportation pollution saving. Climate change is important, but so is localised NOX, carbon monoxide and PM 2.5 particulate emissions from trucks. So think about your community and the rest of the planet and cut bottle weight. If you make good wine you don’t need to worry, people will buy it. Can a company in the wine sector convince us that we don’t always need bottles? Maybe. Someone needs to try and make and market wine that’s seen as desirable and tasty, AND is in alternative packaging, like recyclable paper/packaging. Then incentivise recovery for a closed loop approach. It can be done, it just needs a company to focus on innovation to get there.

3) Embrace radical transparency on inputs but be careful of endless certificates 

Across agriculture and fast moving consumer goods and the food industry in general, the notion of radical transparency is taking hold. What does it mean? At the very least it’s about telling your customers a) what’s in the wine and b) how it was made, who it was made by, and under what conditions. If very cheap wine can have up to 60-odd additives, perhaps the approach by others to transparency might make consumers ask questions about what NEEDS to be in their wine, vs. what is. I understand there’s limited space on labels, but there are ways to engage your drinkers by using QR codes, or working with apps like Vivino to communicate your story. It doesn’t have to be complex, but real transparency is much more effective than buying yet another ‘certification’ that people are both sceptical about and confused by. Live your values and talk about them. We don’t want to drink wine make by slaves, or full of additives, so tell us your story, which also helps drive loyalty to a wine brand or label/producer.

About the author

Tobias Webb

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at