THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE WINE SECTOR TO FOCUS ON CSR
Consumer expectations are high
For many years, there was a preconceived idea that being organic did not necessarily make the wine good. This, of course, as for any food product, is true - but the fact that prestigious wine estates have come on board shows that we have now moved on, and that an environmental commitment can help promote quality. It also aligns with consumer expectations. According to a study by GreenFlex, 53% of consumers in France believe that sustainable consumption implies a different approach to consumption, through eco-certified, ethical, local and cleaner products. More than half of consumers use standards and certifications to ensure that a product is truly sustainable. This also applies to wine consumers as illustrated by the surge in organic wine consumption, which is now worth 792 million euros in France compared with 670 million euros in 2015.
An industry with many positive attributes
Clearly, the wine sector - whose quality pitch historically hinges on respect for ‘terroir’ characteristics – can gain a competitive edge through CSR. Firstly, because proactive environmental approaches are part of the drive for greater overall quality: there is a reason why Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in its bid to maximise quality, switched to organic farming in 1985 and biodynamics in 2007.
Other CSR issues can also prove very purposeful for telling the story of wine: the economic contribution to a wine’s home region from a social perspective for example (job and wealth creation via exports), or the environmental impact of transport related to sourcing materials used for barrels or corks and so on.
From ‘less bad’ to ‘more good’: wine’s positive contribution
Corporate approaches to CSR have evolved in recent years, moving from a ‘less bad’ approach, aiming to minimise the negative impacts of the business (reduction in water or energy usage and waste, etc.) to a ‘more good’ approach, aimed at having a positive impact on society or the environment (transformation and certification of products or services and new, more virtuous business models for instance). At Utopies, this is what we call CSR 2.0.
In the wine sector, many wineries have already taken up the challenge of a holistic ‘more good’ commitment, both in their production methods and in limiting the environmental impact of their facilities or establishing lasting relationships with their stakeholders. Some players in the sector even opt for radical choices that transform 100% of their range, while explicitly linking sustainability and business opportunities. For example, in 2015 Sonoma County in California committed to becoming the first 100% sustainable wine region by 2019.
Ultimately, a paradigm shift is urgent
Most consumers would not take issue with 3/4 of the brands that make up our daily lives disappearing overnight. Conversely, the figures show that ‘positive’ brands, those that are totally committed to sustainability and fully integrate it into their positioning and actions, are better perceived by consumers than their competitors – and that includes classic ‘business’ criteria. The wine and spirits sector, despite its specificities, must similarly feel concerned by this challenge. In fact, an increasing number of wine farms have fully grasped this and have already taken the lead by managing their vineyards and wines more sustainably. Others have made changes to their range to include organic and even vegan wines. All of these strategies are ways of making the wine sector more virtuous.
Elisabeth Laville is the founder and director of Utopies, France's leading consultancy for incorporating sustainability into business strategies. Since its creation in 1993, Utopies has made it its mission to open up new avenues and encourage companies to incorporate social and environmental issues as core elements of their strategy and approach to innovation.
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