Sustainability is a term that we use every day, but it is because it is so very relevant. For me, sustainability is an overarching term and when the focus of sustainability is on a single category only, I think the word loses its essence.
A week ago I was in discussion with John Maytham, the savvy talk show host of a local radio station, Cape Talk. The angle was sustainability within the wine industry – especially when it comes to the use of glass containers.
Let me start to say that matters within wine always seem to be more complicated than with other beverages. Perhaps – or obviously – it is because I’m so intricately involved, but perhaps it also lies in the artistry and tradition associated with wine. There does, however, seem to be more discussions on the packaging of wine than when it comes to soft drinks and beer. It seems other beverages are easily accepted in whatever packaging they come – glass, plastic, cans or tetra. When it comes to wine though – much like the debate on the content – the type of packaging is a popular topic of conversation.
For consumers, the type of packaging they choose can simply depend on their preference or specific need. Brands aim at providing these options. Sometimes we need convenience, sometimes we want to impress with quality, but in an ideal world, we will always consider environmental factors, whether we are the consumer or the producer.
Glass is the traditional packaging option for wine. Many believe it is the best choice as it is least expected to influence the taste, ensures optimum maturation and is made from a natural product (sand). The weight of the glass is, of course, another matter of contention – one we’ll get to. Wine packaging, nowadays, does extend to many other options.
There is aluminium. Robert Joseph recently tweeted about the option of using transparent aluminium. “What if we replaced glass wine bottles with ones made from an unbreakable, reusable transparent material made from aluminium (as used in bulletproof windows)? #onestepbeyond“. The reactions on his tweet were immediate and so varied. A wonderful example of all the opinions around wine packaging.
Cans are the new kids on the block and funky six-pack designs now host quality wines. The trend started in the US and while cans can be made from up to 90% recycled material and are 100% recyclable, they are also lighter to transport.
Pouches and Bag-in-Box are nothing new and are very popular in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. And then there are of course PET or plastic bottles and cartons or tetra. All lighter, but with a shorter shelf life and therefore better suited to wines meant for immediate/short-term consumption.
I credit myself for being open-minded, and while I do like the idea of wine in glass, there is no ignoring the carbon footprint concerns. According to Jancis Robinson: “Glass bottles and their transportation are the two biggest contributors to wine’s carbon footprint.” (Read more)
But there might be an option that gives us the best of both worlds. You can ship your wine in bulk for bottling in the country of destination. It is already a popular option for many South African wineries. Not only because of the carbon footprint factor, but also because it enables them to make the entry-level price point of many retailers – overseas bottling and packaging materials are often much cheaper. Jancis says: “A wine shipped in bulk from Australia to New York could easily have a lower carbon footprint than one trucked to the same destination from California in bottles.” (Read more)
Is this not the answer?
The bulk shipping option definitely supports environmental sustainability, but how about the sustainability of the economy in the SA wine industry and the job opportunities created by packaging, design and logistics? When considering the all-encompassing nature of sustainability, perhaps shipping in bulk is not all it seems to be.
According to SAWIS’ latest (2015) macro-economic impact study: “The wine industry supports employment opportunities to the tune of 289 151 in the RSA. Of this number 55.6% are unskilled, 29.3% semi-skilled and 15% skilled. The manufacturing sector (mainly bottling, packaging, labelling etc.) also plays an important role when looking at employment creation compared to GDP, 14% and 23% respectively. These figures are an indication that in the manufacturing part of the wine producing sector, a relatively greater demand for more skilled workers is prevalent.”
And when confronted with the uncomfortable question of whether you would continue to ship heavy bottles on customer demand and ignore the environmental impact, unfortunately the answer is also not as clear as glass. In a tough economic environment, being able to sell a premium product (usually the culprit bottled in heavy glass), contributes to a profitable business, job creation and a sustainable industry.
We cannot ignore the environment because of economic pressure, but we also have to keep economic sustainability in mind. There might be more questions than answers, but this is definitely an issue to be addressed on industry level.
While heavy glass shipments might be the most urgent concern, the industry has not been ignoring the issue of environmental sustainability. Click here for a few inspiring recycling initiatives!