Green Friday: The tragedy of Haiti and a sustainability standard for California winemakers

01/15/2010 10:41:20 AM
Tom Karst

Seeing the images from Haiti this week is difficult. Broken buildings, corpses lining the streets, a child half buried by rubble but still alive - all of these realities are too much to take in. Just how many people have perished is still unknown, but what kind of future can there be for a people and a land already impoverished.  There have been many mission trips from multiple U.S. churches, including my own, to Haiti in the past few years. There are more micro-development projects in Haiti by non governmental agencies than in any other country. Yet, has any of this helped?

This New York Times columnist speaks of the need to change the culture, raise the expectations and get the country in gear. Here is an excerpt:

The Underlying Tragedy
By David Brooks

Fourth, it’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried micro community efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.

California winemakers have a new sustainability standard. Does their model have any lessons for fresh produce marketers?  Here is a link to a treehugger.com story about the certification effort. Note the lead of the story says:  “Finding sustainably produced California wine is about to get a whole lot easier.” Yet, later in the story, it is noted that there is no label planned for the certification. So, will it be easier or won’t it? This is the essential dilemma: whether or not to succumb to the urge to use sustainability (or food safety) attributes in marketing to consumers.

Here is an excerpt:

New Certification makes it Easier to Find Green California Wines

Finding sustainably produced California wine is about to get a whole lot easier.

Forbes.com reports that the Wine Institute is set to launch what it's calling the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Program -- a third-party certification program that will make it easier for consumers to buy sustainable wines. The terms? No pesticides, grow cover crops, reduce waste and energy use, provide all workers with health insurance, and be "mindful" of non-agricultural neighbors.

It's taken nearly a decade to get the program up and running, but the introduction of sustainability certification is not unexpected given public interest in sustainably produced products, says Chris Savage, director of environmental affairs at Gallo Wines:

    People do want to know that the products they purchase are grown and produced in some sort of sustainable fashion. Our expectation is it will become even more important in the future.

It has become enough of an issue that the growers responsible for about 62 percent of all wine produced in California have signed up for the program. Given that California is the fourth largest wine producing region in the world (behind Italy, France, and Spain), the certification is a big step forward. There are already similar programs in place in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and both Oregon and Washington have programs to protect the environment.

Although winemakers will be able to advertise that they are certified sustainable under this new program, there's no label in the works at the moment -- so sustainability conscious consumers will have to do their homework before they shop.

Here is coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle:

California wine's efforts to go green got a big push Wednesday when the industry unveiled a certification program for its sustainable practices.

The wine industry has for years been pushing its green credentials by letting wineries evaluate their own progress on everything from less use of water to carpooling. Wineries were left to assess their own efforts under a sort of self-help quiz that offered a lengthy list of possible green efforts. But if you're a green winery by your own declaration, critics have asked, so what?

So it was a major leap forward for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, which managed the self-assessments, to announce that wineries can now pay outside auditors to ensure that their efforts on everything from pesticide use to creating mission statements and recycling corks are up to snuff.

"It's a huge way of bringing everybody up on this thing," said Steve Smith, vice president of vineyard and grape management for Constellation Wines US and an alliance board member.

What's the importance of certification? Foremost, it allows retailers and other industry members to evaluate whether wine companies meet green standards, which in turn can guide buying decisions. As large retailers like Wal-Mart are setting sustainability requirements for their suppliers, such efforts have real consequences for the bottom line.

Right now, at least, there won't be much to see in the supermarket aisle. "This is not a consumer-facing program," said Chris Savage, director of environmental affairs for E&J Gallo Winery, the state's largest wine producer, and chairman of the alliance's board of directors. "This is not about putting a label on the bottle yet."

But it will help provide some accountability. After taking the quiz, which assesses 227 practices, participants have to meet 58 prerequisites (view them here). Five are deal-killers, including not taking action on obvious sources of erosion and unchecked use of nitrogen on the soil.

For the remaining 53, companies must at least have a plan to make improvements within a year. A vineyard without disease monitoring must implement periodic testing; a winery without an energy audit must obtain one. Auditors have yet to be chosen, but the first should be selected next month.

Those goals are rather modest, with few specific metrics attached. Planners say that was intended to allow more companies to participate. As of 2008, 40 percent of the state's 523,000 acres of vineyard were being considered under the self-test, as were 115 million cases of wine, or 47.8 percent of the state total. However, that wine came from just 140 wineries, about 5 percent of more than 2,800 in California. About 1,500 wineries and vineyards total have taken the assessment so far.

Certification, then, should be relatively easy for most companies who opt in, including those using large-scale conventional farming.

"It really is not designed to be a high bar," said Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. "It felt premature to say we're going to set these arbitrary thresholds."

Under the certification program, a company hires a third-party auditor — the list is still being developed — to perform an on-site visit in the first year. The following two years of audits can be performed online.

Seventeen companies volunteered for a trial run, a list dominated by such major industry players as Gallo, Diageo and Constellation but also including smaller properties like Cooper-Garrod in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Honig in Napa Valley.

"We're encouraged by it, we're excited, but we're cautious," said Mike Sangiacomo, a Carneros grower and board member of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, which with the Wine Institute co-founded the sustainable alliance. "We didn't want this thing too far out ahead, so the growers could do these things."

Still, the current standards are so modest that some in the industry wonder whether they will have a real impact, especially in selling to overseas markets, where strict sustainability certifications like EntWine Australia have been in use for years. Several other California efforts, notably the Lodi Rules program, are already ahead — both in specifics and in conducting outside audits.

A quick look at the baseline requirements reveals the potential for tougher standards. Requirements on water use are vague, requiring only an annual test of water quality for decision-making purposes and some basic water planning. Soil fumigation is allowed so long as there's testing to ensure a problem.

As planners acknowledge, the certification will need to evolve. In theory it might run the way that the U.S. Green Building Council runs its LEED program, with projects aiming for certain status — LEED Gold, LEED Platinum and so on, and a certain number of points required to reach each level. Currently the wine certification is far simpler: You're either in or out.

Some environmental pioneers in the industry are optimistic that the big-tent approach will help bring up overall standards.

"You've got to be magnanimous," said John Williams of Frog's Leap Winery in Rutherford, an early adopter of organic practices.

But whether the wine efforts grow more teeth — and whether it will be enough for retailers and wine buyers — will be seen in time. Jon Heckman of FiveWinds International, a consultancy that helped develop the green program, said it likely will have to become more rigorous within the next few years.

"Fundamentally this program is about improving California," he said. "If you as a company trumpet yourself as sustainable when your performance is quite low, then it's up to the marketplace to call you out."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/wine/detail?&entry_id=55249#ixzz0chG0qfLW


I think the approach used by winemakers -  a big tent, fairly modest program for sustainability with the hint  silver, gold and platinum certification levels – is the most pragmatic and time-sensitive approach to this issue. The soon fresh produce marketers get in place a credible sustainability certification – now matter how limited the "metrics" are to start with – the better off the idsutry will be.

FYI: Here is a report by Five Winds International  – the consulting company that helped created the wine standard – about retailers and sustainability.



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