Our company, like many others, aims to be sustainable. But what exactly does that mean? The most commonly-used definition of sustainability can be found in the so-called Brundtland Report, a document published in 1987 by the United Nations. This report in fact discusses a specific type of sustainability, namely sustainable development, which it describes as follows:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This definition is often associated with the so-called three-pillar model of sustainability, which divides sustainability into economic, social and environmental aspects. The three-pillar model is typically represented by the following Venn diagram:
According to this diagram, sustainability only arises where all the requirements of all three pillars of sustainability are fulfilled. With reference to the definition of sustainable development in the Brundtland Report, this in effect means economic growth, social justice and environmental protection.
This model is undoubtedly useful as a starting point for a discussion of sustainability in the international macroeconomic context, and it underlies the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015. However, it is of limited use to an economic entity such as a wine producer or reseller, as it does not define what the specific characteristics of a sustainable business are, and how these characteristics might be measured.
An answer to these questions is provided by the concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), which provides companies with a framework to define, describe and thereby manage the economic, social, and environmental impact of their activities. According to the TBL, a company should generate not only economic value through the creation of marketable goods and/or services, but also social and economic value, in the sense of a positive contribution to the well-being of the human communities and of the natural environment with which it interacts. Various accounting metrics have been developed to quantify these three dimensions, the most important of which are the standards elaborated by the Global Reporting Intiative (GRI).
An increasing number of companies apply the principles of TBL in the form of sustainability reporting. However, companies who produce sustainability reports, and who thus in theory subscribe to the principles of the Triple Bottom Line, are often accused of ‘greenwashing’, in the sense that they recognize the need to appear concerned about social and environmental issues, but are in fact most interested in their financial bottom line, and only engage in activities with a positive social and environmental impact to the extent that these contribute to the maximization of shareholder value. This philosophy of ‘profit first’ can easily lead to a PR-based, minimum-cost approach to social and environmental sustainability, whereby the focus is placed on the impression made on stakeholders by the sustainability report, rather than on the real social and environmental impact of the company’s business activities.
Furthermore, even when companies do not overstate their sustainability efforts in their reporting, if their emphasis remains on financial success, they are in effect pursuing economic resilience, rather than true sustainability. This approach undoubtedly appeals to investors, including many who would consider themselves to be guided by sustainability criteria in their investment decisions, but in fact these companies are falling a long way short of what they need to achieve if we are to move towards a truly sustainable future. If we continue on this path, also known as ‘business as usual’, our social and environmental systems are headed for catastrophic failure, in which case the economic sustainability of even the most resilient company will also be at extreme risk.
The most obvious problem with the ‘profit first’ approach to sustainability is that it inverts the logical hierarchy of the categories ‘profit’, ‘people’ and ‘planet’. A natural environment can exist with no human society, but not vice versa, and a society can exist without a specific company, but the opposite is not the case. In other words, companies can only survive in the long-term if the societies in which they operate also continue to function, and societies can only continue to function if the natural environment that they depend on for their basic material resources remains intact. This hierarchy is reflected in a less well-known paradigm of sustainability, the so-called 3-nested dependencies model. In this model, the economy is embedded in society, and society is embedded in the environment.
As the basis for both society and the economy, the environment is assigned the highest value in this paradigm. Society is then accorded the second rank, while the economy, as the sphere with the greatest dependency, is rated the lowest. The implication of this hierarchy is that people should first of all consider the environmental consequences of their actions, secondly their social impact, and only thirdly their economic effects. This is not to say that we should always maximize environmental benefits, as there will be situations in which a small environmental benefit entails an unreasonably large social and/or economic cost. Rather, it is a question of priorities, in view of which individuals and organizations must weigh their options for action. The decisions that arise from this deliberative process necessarily possess a pragmatic aspect. For example, a company might have an overall negative impact on the environment, but nevertheless a better ecological bottom line than other companies in the same sector. If that company were to transform its operations to become more environmentally friendly, but in doing so go out of business, it would surrender its market share to even less sustainable operators, whereby the total negative impact on the environment would in fact increase.
Therefore, if a company’s activities are grounded in ecological and social values, its first responsibility is to survive as an economic entity, at least as long as the resources that it exploits cannot be put to better use towards the same end by another organization. Indeed, if it goes out of business, its failure will discourage other economic actors from pursuing environmentally and socially sustainable business practices. In this respect, economic sustainability, or resilience, can be described as the first but not the final goal of any company, with the caveat that its economic raison d’être ceases to exist as soon as another corporation or organization can better realize its mission. For example, if individual wine producers were able to organize their direct sales in a way that provided the same total quality experience to the end-consumers as that created in the producer-reseller system, the rationale for the continued existence of the reseller is no longer given.
We therefore do not presume that our company will always have a role to play in the wine value chain, but as long as we do, we seek to ensure our economic sustainability through the following strategies:
- High quality products
- Fair prices
- Excellent service
- Efficient processes
- Commitment to the sustainability journey
- Effective marketing of our company culture and our products
With regard to social sustainability, we recognize first of all the responsibility of compliance with both the spirit and the letter of the legal and regulatory frameworks within which we operate, including our responsibility to fairly declare our tax liabilities.
Secondly, we acknowledge our obligation to promote a socially responsible wine culture, in which moderate consumption is a fundamental principle. Our logo shows an image of Noah, who the Bible describes as the first winemaker, pressing grapes. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, wine is thus a symbol of the pact between God and humankind, and wine of course receives its fullest Christian expression in the sacrament of the eucharist. However, the Book of Genesis also describes Noah as the first drunkard, and thereby points to the potential for alcohol to abase rather than elevate. In this context, our consumption of alcohol can be seen as a test of our own sense of responsibility and thus our ethical maturity. We encourage our customers to cultivate this sense by always drinking in moderation, and one expression of our own sense of responsibility is our membership of the ‘Wine in Moderation’ programme.
The third aspect of social sustainability that we promote is transparency. We believe that not only potential investors but also other stakeholders should be sufficiently knowledgeable about the activities of the company to enable them to make an informed decision as to whether they wish to support it or not. In this respect, Ecosia provides us with an example to follow. Like Ecosia, we publish our financial accounts, and we also provide documentary evidence of our contributions to social and environmental projects.
Finally, our commitment to social responsibility is expressed in our policy of equitability. This is one of the three items in our motto, and it is described in more detail in a separate section of this website.
We are in the middle of a climate crisis that threatens the long-term survival of every society on our planet. It is thus not enough to identify and address local areas of environmental interest, just as it is pointless to spray one’s own apartment with a garden hose when the whole housing block is on fire. In this emergency situation, we simply have to do as much as we can to repair the ecological damage that has already been done, and to prevent further damage in the future. The first ecological commitment of every company must therefore be to be at least carbon neutral in its activities, and preferably carbon negative. Our aim in this respect is to minimize our emissions footprint in our own activities, to promote emissions-reducing policies among our partners and providers, and to offset at least double the emissions produced along the entire value chain of every bottle of wine that we sell. These emissions amount to approximately 1.4 Kg CO2 equivalent per 750ml bottle. The amount of CO2 equivalent generated in the year to date can be found on the homepage of this website, and the certificates for the CO2 equivalent compensated can be found below. In this way, our customers are guaranteed a carbon negative product when they purchase from us.
The second aspect of environmental sustainability that obviously arises in the wine industry is connected with biodiversity and the quality of soil, air and water that this largely depends on. All of our producers are either certified organic or in the process of certification. This restriction unfortunately excludes a large number of winemakers who produce either according to organic regulations or else in an otherwise sustainable way, but who are not certified organic. Furthermore, it does not address the question of the negative environmental impacts of organic producers, for example in the use of copper in the vineyards, in the non-regulated effects of their activities on air, water and soil quality, and in the opportunity costs with regard to biodiversity represented by the cultivation of vineyards in general. Nevertheless, at this point we are of the opinion that the organic certification of our suppliers is a necessary criterion for the cultivation of customer trust, and for this reason we will continue to apply this policy at least in the medium term. With regard to non-certified aspects of environmental sustainability in and around the vineyard, we seek dialogue with our partners and collaboration towards long-term improvements in their ecological impacts.
The third aspect of environmental sustainability concerns the environmental effects of the activities along the rest of the value chain apart from greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, the aim is to identify, quantify and reduce or even eliminate negative impacts, especially in the areas of packaging and logistics. As with the collaboration with our producers, we are at the beginning of a long process, but we are also confident that in this area significant improvements can be made. These will de documented on our website, so follow this space!