Carbon Neutral Wines – it’s more than just Green Marketing

Santa Margherita Pinot GrigioWhen you see a product that says carbon neutral, what does it mean?

I recently enjoyed a bottle of Italy’s number one selling wine in Canada, Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio. Each bottle has a green label that says “Carbon neutral from ground to store. Measured and offset with Carbonzero”. It is produced in Italy, imported into Canada by Lifford Wine, and certified by Carbonzero as carbon neutral. I investigate its Italian supply chain and production, shipping to Canada, and sales and consumption in Canada to learn what it means to be carbon neutral.

Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to balancing carbon released with an equivalent amount of offset. Claiming carbon neutrality generally involves three steps: measure, reduce, offset.

The first step is to measure. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of a product, service or an organization involves compilation and assessment of inputs, outputs and possible impacts of the product through its life cycle. However, before measuring the carbon emissions, understanding the goals and scope from the LCA and setting “boundaries” is important. In other words, determining which emissions to include in the carbon footprint profile and which not to include is vital. The boundaries must be clearly defined and must include all sites, plants and vehicles owned or directly managed by the company.

LCA may employ a cradle-to-grave or a cradle-to-gate analysis. In both approach the boundaries must be consistent with the product or service that is being considered. In terms of cradle-to-grave analysis, the boundary will extend to the disposal of the product and its possible impact until it degrades. For the cradle-to-gate analysis the boundary will depend on the scope of the assessment and goals of the assessment. For example, in terms of the LCA of a bottle of wine, the vineyard production, wine making process, production and the distribution of the wine until it reaches the retail store can be taken into account. The retail stores would be considered as the end gate. Carbon emissions beyond the end gate would be out of the boundary.

For Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio a full Life Cycle Assessment related to its Canadian sales was performed by Toronto based consulting firm Carbonzero. Four stages of carbon emissions were looked into:

  1. Vineyard operations: Growing of grapes, using fuel to transport grapes, fertilizers, pesticides, and diesel for machinery.
  2. Supplier wine making: Crushing and de-steaming of the grapes and wine preparation.
  3. Santa Margherita operations: Glass production, packaging, assembly, etc.
  4. Distribution: Shipping the wine from Santa Margherita’s facility to Italian ports, from Italian ports to Canadian ports, from Canadian ports to Canadian warehouses, and from Canadian Warehouses to retail outlets.

The LCA assessment shows the total footprint of Santa Margherita’s Canadian Pinot Grigio was 2,214 tCO2e or 1.67 kg CO2e per bottle. According to Carbonzero this is below the average footprint for a bottle of wine at approximately 2.2 kg CO2e per bottle. Almost all of the emissions come from Santa Margherita operations (46.8%) and Distribution (45.6%). Vineyard operations and supplier wine making contributed only 7.2% and 0.4% respectively.

The second step is to reduce. According to Carbonzero’s technical analyst Liam Conway, “the most interesting part of the LCA process was discovering the sustainability initiatives that Santa Margherita had already put forth. From recycling grape skins into cosmetics and tartaric acid, to powering their facility with 100% renewable energy, the company was demonstrating its sustainability leadership well before becoming Carbonzero Certified.

CarbonzeroLogoSo in the case of Santa Margherita, the emission reduction already took place before Carbonzero performed the LCA. In last year alone Santa Margherita reduced emissions equivalent to 197 barrels of oil, diverted emissions equivalent to 46.3 tons of landfill waste, and minimized emissions associated with packaging and travel, according to Carbonzero. They have also made a large scale investment in renewable energy sources and energy saving projects. And they operate a facility fully powered by renewable energy. The LCA measurements above already reflect the results of Santa Margherita’s emission reduction initiatives. It is notable that Santa Margherita has even more green initiatives going forward, including investment in producing renewable energy from solar and biomass, manufacturing of their own bottles and recycling of waste by-products. (Follow links for recent green initiatives on energy, waste, packaging, and recycling by Coca-Cola Canada and Walmart Canada.)

The final step is offset. The emissions that could not be reduced, in this case 1.67 kg CO2e per bottle, are mitigated by investing in carbon offset projects. Santa Margherita has invested in several high quality Canadian carbon offsets projects such as Niagara Landfill to Gas project, Food Waste Valorization Project in Ontario and Quebec and Transport GHG Reduction Project in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is important that when investing in carbon offsets projects, one should make sure that those particular projects are verified and credible.

In comparison to Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio, a local Canadian winery has also achieved carbon neutrality. Unlike Santa Margherita’s case, where a specific product has achieved carbon neutrality, Tinhorn Creek as a winery has been awarded carbon neutral status by a Vancouver based consultant Climatesmart.

LiffordLogoAs mentioned earlier, Santa Margherita’s Pinto Grigio is imported into Canada by Toronto based Lifford Wine, who is also a green champion in the wine industry. Certified as a carbon neutral company first provincially in 2008 and then nationally in 2011 through Tree Canada, Lifford work with producers who use biodynamic, organic, or other sustainable agricultural practices.

While we have highlighted the case of Italy’s number one selling wine in Canada, Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio, all of these companies are at the forefront of greening the Canadian wine industry. As the holiday seasons approach, you may want to keep these names in mind as you prepare for your celebrations. Happy holidays!

This article was originally published on Carbon49
Arshabhi Rai
is a sustainability professional with a profound interest in green value stream mapping, corporate social responsibility and maximizing positive employee engagement.