Climate change is a very real threat that has many industries concerned over how their businesses with be affected. More importantly, it’s this changing climate that has and continues to push many industries into developing better ways to function that has less environmental impact as well as developing ways to function under altered conditions. Prior to making any change, businesses and industries must step back and take a look at their current environmental footprint, and how their business practices and procedures impact the overall health of the environment.
When considering the wine industry, there has been a lot of work focus on the micro-scale of within the winery or vineyard, and what sort of a carbon footprint or environmental impact is left after all is said and done. However, outside influences that also heavily contribute to the overall carbon footprint or environmental impact have largely gone ignored; factors by which if one really wishes to improve their overall environmental impact, they need to take into consideration. These outside influences include, but are not limited to,greenhouse gas emissions (think the emissions of machinery or transport vehicles), and total energy use (think all the gas, oil, or electricity that is used to create and distribute the product).
The Academic Wino reviewed one study in particular that examined the overall environmental impact of wine distribution in the United States, which is an important piece of literature examining the energy expenditure of the shipping and distributing side of the wine industry. However, a model incorporating both the distribution side of the industry as well as the grape growing and winemaking side of the industry is needed in order to get an accurate picture of the overall environmental impact of the wine industry as a whole. (See Part I and Part II here for the review of that piece of literature).
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool that is used to determine the environment impact associated with a particular product “from cradle to grave”. In other words, using complex mathematically modeling, LCA takes into consideration the positive and negative energy inputs and outputs from the very beginning to when an individual product is first made, all the way through when that individual product is sold to the consumer. In terms of wine, the LCA starts from when the grapes are first grown (either starting from the planting of the vine or the start of the growing season the spring, depending upon the model), through harvest and winemaking, then finally through bottling, storing, shipping, and purchase by the consumer.
The study presented today used LCA to determine the energy inputs and environmental emission of one complete life cycle of one standard sized 750mL wine bottle, from grapes grown and wine made in Nova Scotia, Canada all the way through the recycling of the bottle, which could have potential implications for other vineyards and wineries trying to minimize their carbon footprint on the world.
The mathematical model created included the “material and energy flows associated with”: growing the grapes, making the wine, making of the bottle, transporting the wine to the store, the consumer transporting the wine home, refrigeration of the wine, and the recycling of the bottle. Also included was energy associated with the vineyard equipment, as well as the emissions related to pesticides. Energy related to the following was also included: corks, sugar, labels, and heat-shrink capsules. Only the energy related to transport of the following items were included: yeasts, filtering agents, clarifying agents, bacteria, enzymes, and antioxidants. Water consumption was not included in the model, as the data were not available. The authors note that irrigation is not needed in Nova Scotia due to ample rain during the growing season, so omitting the water component may not be as bad as it would be if a lot of water was required for irrigation.
For space considerations, I will omit some of the details on the breakdown of exactly what went into the model and under what conditions, but if there is a certain item you’d like me to elaborate on or you have questions as to whether it was in the model and what assumptions were outlined for the model, please feel free to comment and I’ll clarify that for you.
The following categories were examined during the analysis: “abiotic resource depletion potential, freshwater acidification potential, eutrophication potential, global warming potential, stratospheric ozone depletion potential, aquatic eco-toxicity potential, terrestrial eco-toxicity potential, photo-oxidant formation potential, and cumulative energy demand”.
Three different scenarios were tested to evaluate how each would alter the life cycle assessment of the bottle of wine, and if one scenario were superior overany others in regards to improving the energy usage or carbon footprint of the bottle. The following scenarios were tested: 1) an organic viticulture scenario; 2) a lighter bottle scenario; and 3) an increased transport distance and new transport mode scenario. Again, due to space considerations I’m leaving out the specific changes made to create these scenarios, but once again, just ask if you have specific questions regarding any one of them.
This paper is chock full of interesting results, though I will just highlight some of them.
• Taking into account the energy and emissions of all categories related to producing and distributing a bottle of wine, the two categories with the highest relative impact were vineyard activities and consumer shopping.
• Recycling of the glass bottle and refrigeration at home contributed very little to the life cycle impact of a single bottle of wine.
• In regards to the vineyard activity category, the majority of the impacts were associated with nutrient management activities and fuel usage.
o The trellis system itself was responsible for half of the vineyard activity impacts (related to toxicity) due to the energy and emissions required for making the steel posts and the use of chromium copper arsenate to preserve the wood.
• Most of the categories were impacted mostly by the manufacturing process related to that particular category.
• Consumer shopping represented between 8% and 58% of the total life cycle impacts of a single bottle of wine.
o Nearly all of this was a result of the use of the car to pick up the bottle at the store and bring it back home.
• The glass bottle impact (between 3% and 24% of the total life cycle impacts) resulted mostly from the electricity used to create the bottles.
• Winery impacts were mostly derived from the electricity needed to run all of the equipment (note: Nova Scotia electricity is primarily coal-fired) as well as the ethanol emitted during fermentation.
• Organic viticulture practices only improved the life cycle impacts of 3 of the categories by 0.14% and 3%.
o Organic viticulture practices resulted in an increase in the following categories: freshwater acidification potential, eutrophication potential, and global warming potential.
o Organic viticulture significantly decreased the aquatic eco-toxicity potential and the terrestrial eco-toxicity potential as the toxic wood preservatives were no longer used in this scenario.
• Creating bottles that are 30% lighter than the typical bottle results in an improvement in life cycle category impacts between 2% and 10%.
o These improvements were found mostly from the reduced energy and emissions needed to produce the lighter bottle, though some of it was found in the transportation of the bottle from winery to store as well.
• Using a larger shipping truck reduced the life cycle impacts of a single bottle of wine. Using a ship or a larger transport truck was more environmentally friendly than using a small “domestic” transport vehicle.
o It was more environmentally friendly on a per bottle basis to ship a bottle of wine from Nova Scotia to Australia on a container ship than it was to ship a bottle from Nova Scotia to Vancouver in a small transport truck.
According to the results of this study, in regards to the environmental impact of the life cycle of a single bottle of wine produced and sold in Nova Scotia, improvements on carbon footprint and emissions would be most felt in the vineyard practices (i.e. grape growing) and consumer shopping areas. While the electricity required to produce the wine and many of the materials needed for the production of the wine and the bottle itself, improving upon the vineyard practices and the consumer shopping experience will produce the most significant results.
In regards to vineyard management practices, the results indicated that most of the energy and emissions comes from nutrient usage. The authors of the study suggested that switching to or incorporating organic fertilizers or using methods to increase nutrient-uptake efficiencies by the plant could result in significantimprovements in emissions from this area. The authors noted that simply switching to manure would not be an appropriate solution, as they found that manure emits significantly more nitrous oxide, ammonia, and nitric oxide than synthetic fertilizers, and that the nitrogen in manure is not as easily taken up by the plants.
In regards to the consumer shopping experience, the authors noted that a consumer driving 5km to the store to buy a single bottle of wine had a greater negative environmental impact than the vineyard practices and winemaking practices combined. The authors suggest that trying to avoid these consumer car trips by implementing more direct-to-consumer shipping options (where a more efficient transport truck would be used) as well as car-pools or purchasing multiple bottles at a time could reduce the emissions produced from this category.
Finally, using lighter weight bottles would significantly reduce the environmental impact of a bottle of wine, thus incorporating these into a winery’s arsenal would likely be effective in reducing the negative environmental impact produced by that particular winery.
It is important to keep in mind that these results are based on the wine industry in Nova Scotia, which is a relatively small industry. Thus, some of the factors may be different when scaled up to a wine region with significantly greater production and output. It would be interesting to apply this same model using data from larger wine regions to see if the same trends hold, or if other categories or management practices were more or less efficient when scaled up.
I’m leaving out a lot of details in this study, so if there is any clarification that you need or you have additional questions, please feel free to ask. Do you think the authors missed any important potential emissions creators in this model? Please leave your comments!
Source: Point, E., Tyedmers, P., and Naugler, C. 2012. Life cycle environmental impacts of wine production and consumption in Nova Scotia, Canada. Journal of Cleaner Production 27: 11-20.