“There’s a growing focus on climate change in the wine sector, and that’s obviously incredibly important. Much is being learned, and we’d like to help share that knowledge.” That in a nutshell is the role of Sustainable Wine Roundtable, a body set up by Tobias Webb, to act as a catalyst, think tank, agitator and facilitator in helping the wine industry take effective action to drive a sustainable agenda. Here Webb sets out the cross industry work that he and his team does that feeds into the expertise that Sustainable Wine can offer and what to expect at its forthcoming two day conference in June.
All businesses, no matter their size, need help with their sustainability strategy. That’s what Sustainable Wine Roundtable hopes to offer, says founder Tobias Webb, and present at its Sustainable Wine Roundtable Global Conference between June 22-23.
Can you tell us about the Sustainable Wine Roundtable – how you operate and what your objectives are?
The Sustainable Wine Roundtable is made up of more than 50 organisations from around the world. From large retailers to five hectare producers, including distribution and other actors, such as NGOs and academic institutions, we are focused on developing a global reference standard for sustainability in wine. To be clear this is not to replace or duplicate existing initiatives, but to join the dots, and create guidance based on existing excellent work being done around the world.
The GRS (Global Reference Standard) is being developed in line with ISEAL best practice guidelines, used by all other commodity/food related roundtables, building on the work being done outside wine. The SWR also publishes an online magazine about wine sustainability, at www.sustainablewine.co.uk to create awareness of the issues that need to be tackled, and how wine businesses are doing just that.
Finally, the SWR hosts an annual conference on June 21-22 (click here for details) and works with members to create collaboration tools and best practice guidance, alongside the GRS development.
What are your backgrounds in terms of building up experience in this area?
The SWR has been created by a team of highly experienced volunteer executives from both inside the wine industry and those without. You can find our more about us here. From my own point of view I’ve spent 20 years working in sustainability advising companies, creating debate and discussion forums, publishing research and advising governments on sustainable business. I began blogging about sustainability in wine back in about 2009, and that turned into podcasting, and then into what is now the www.sustainablewine.co.uk website, which is the online magazine of the SWR.
You also work in other business sectors – which ones and what are the benefits of having a cross industry approach?
I founded Innovation Forum in 2014, and a similar business before that, Ethical Corporation, in 2001. IF focuses mostly on convening sustainability best practice in non-wine supply chains, particularly in food and agriculture. There’s a huge amount to be learned from breaking down silos between industries, commodities and across/within food supply chains. We publish action research on this, and hold conferences and advise companies on how to engage with farmers, NGOs, other companies in this area.
Whilst the wine industry has a lot to teach other areas of agriculture, so it can also learn a huge amount too. At IF we often work with the world’s largest food companies, such as Nestle and Cargill, to help them connect with stakeholders and understand what farmers need to make sustainability economically and environmentally/socially sustainable. You can find out more at www.innovationforum.co.uk . I also have a blog, since 2005, on these issues at www.sustainablesmartbusiness.com
Where do you think wine sits compared to other industries in how it is tackling sustainability?
That’s a great question. Every industry and area we work in believes they are unique, and they are, in many ways. Context is key.
The wine sector has at its core a plant that goes deeper and is more responsive to weather than any other I can think of. So there is much to learn from wine in terms of soil health and other important areas. Equally the sector, as I mentioned, can learn much about “professionalising” sustainability from other sectors, particularly those in coffee, cocoa, and palm oil.
There’s a growing focus on climate change in the wine sector, and that’s obviously incredibly important. Much is being learned, and we’d like to help share that knowledge and grow the knowledge base with tools, awareness raising and in other ways. Sustainability is NOT just about climate change though, particularly with the focus on climate change through the lens of emissions.
There are other important issues. These have been brought to light more so now by Covid and current labour challenges. These need to be tackled by developing consistent approaches to measuring, managing and tackling them. SWR is working with academic institutions, amongst others, to look at areas such as how technology can and will enable positive sustainability change, and most important, how we enable behaviour change in the wine sector, so that best practices can be well implemented.
Other sectors have learned a lot about effective collaboration and there are many efficiencies to be gained through such collaboration. For example on energy use, water use, agricultural inputs, social issues and many others. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that full value chain collaboration initiative such as SWR can really help wine businesses save money, drive innovation and help retailers and the hospitality trade, talk convincingly to customers about what sustainable progress looks like over time.
We’re hosting a free discussion webinar soon, on how the wine sector and hospitality sector can work better together to drive demand and educate consumers on what sustainable wine is. Sign up to join us, at no cost, here.
Tell us about your upcoming conference in June – what are you looking to achieve?
We want to talk to the wine world about what the SWR is all about, and hear their views on where it might go. But also there are many issues to discuss, and we can’t cover them all in the depth needed. But the conference aims to draw together both our members and our online community of several thousand wine industry experts to debate practical ways to make sustainability happen. You can find out more and sign up here.
What are some of the key topics covered and why have you focused in on those?
Here’s some of the open questions we’re trying to solve, over time, and will be discussing at the conference. We chose these as they are some of the most salient issues we hear about from members.
- How will the Sustainable Wine Roundtable catalyse change in the global wine industry? And why does it matter?
- Sustainability strategies: Why is sustainability now not a choice but a necessity? What does it mean for wine businesses?
- Sustainable tourism: What does it mean? Do we need a global definition for the wine industry?
- Vineyard inputs: A new approach to an old debate. Protecting human health, the environment and productivity.
- Packaging: Mitigating glass impacts – is standard size & weight the key?
- Breaking out of the bubble: Learning from other industries – key lessons for wine. How Standards can guide and incentivise sector-wide transformation.
- How is wine adapting to the climate chaos? And is it moving fast enough?
- Wine standards and certification: clarity, coordination and common cause. What role does the SWR have to play?
- Consumers say they want sustainable wine; how can retailers deliver?
- Carbon accounting: harmonising the metrics and methodologies. Is standardisation a realistic goal?
- Wine people: ensuring the rights and well-being of workers, advancing equality and diversity, and nurturing good relations with neighbouring communities.
- Carbon insetting: What’s the potential for investing in the wine sector?
- Way forward – The SWR agenda for action to 2025. How you can be part of the movement.
- Any prominent speakers?
Here’s a few, we will announce many more in the coming weeks:
Director of Sustainable Travel Programme
Preferred by Nature
CEO & Co-Founder
Barry Dick MW
BWS Global Bulk Wine Sourcing Manager
Director of Technical Viticulture & Research Winemaking
Treasury Wine Estates
Fruit & Wine Programme Manager
WWF South Africa
What other initiatives do you do on an ongoing basis that those interested in sustainability can get involved in/ follow?
You can get all our podcasts (insights going back five years or more) by searching for “Sustainable Wine” on podcast channels. You can sign up to our SWR newsletter at www.swroundtable.org and get our weekly ‘magazine’ newsletter free at www.sustainablewine.co.uk
We also publish research for members. For example we recently worked with one of the leading universities in the world to develop insights for members on how data and technology can and is, helping transform sustainability progress in viticulture and vinification.
What advice would you give to a company looking to implement an effective sustainability strategy?
If you are big enough, hire someone to manage the issues. They will save you money within two years if they are good. There are so many efficiencies to be gained to begin with.
For a smaller organisation, talk to us, we are happy to help, and if we can’t, we will help find you person who does. That’s part of the point of membership of SWR. We are already connecting members to share best practice knowledge, tips and support each other. Don’t go it alone, join a community of better practice and let’s all help each other.
As the African proverb says: “if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.
Any best in class out there to look at?
Concha Y Toro have an excellent sustainability report. Moet Hennessy are making big investments in sustainability research. Amorim can help you understand the value of cork for CO2 sequestration. Equally small producers such as Chateau George 7 in Fronsac can help you learn how to build a sustainable vineyard of five hectares. All our members have much to share, that’s why they founded and joined the SWR.