Climate change is a very real, and serious problem. The average temperatures on our planet are expected to increase by 3-5°C by the end of this century. It may not seem like much, but if we put this into perspective, the last ice age happened when the Earth cooled by just 4°C. The United Nations estimates that to keep within the limits of the Paris agreement (limiting the temperature increase to 2°C), Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions must drop by 7.6% between 2020-2030. Within the wine industry itself, the entire process of producing 1 bottle of wine results in 1.28kg of CO2 emissions. If we consider that over 3.8 billion bottles of wine were produced in 2020 in the United States alone, that is close to 5,000,000,000kgs of CO2. That’s a lot!

So, what we do about it? Below are 5 methods currently in use by wineries in British Columbia, Canada, to successfully reduce their carbon footprint.

1. Switch to using biodiesel

A tractor in the vineyard that is using biodiesel
Photo: Pixaby

The first step in reducing the carbon footprint of your winery begins in understanding how much CO2 emissions you are producing, and which of the processes are the biggest offenders. This is exactly what Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, BC, is doing. Through the Climate Smart program, Tinhorn creek was able to measure their emissions and found that they could offset some of their carbon emissions by using biodiesel for their tractors in the vineyard. The use of biodiesel can reduce consumption of fossils fuels, a major contributor to climate change and global warming. The principle is this: plants take up CO2 from the atmosphere, biodiesel is made from the plants, the CO2 is emitted back to the atmosphere when the biodiesel is burned, thus the entire process is carbon neutral. Through the use of biodiesel, and other green initiatives, Tinhorn Creek was able to become Canada’s first carbon neutral winery.

2. Stop tilling the vineyards

A vineyard that does not uses tillage and has a year round cover crop.
Photo: Pixaby

One large impact agriculture has on the environment is from the use of tillage. This is the process of overturning and mixing the soil to control weeds, aerate the soil, and turnover cover crops, among other uses. Although this may seem beneficial, tillage results in soil erosion, and an increase in CO2 emissions by a loss in soil carbon sequestration. In fact, 19%of human-induced CO2 in the atmosphere is a result of the disturbance of soil in agriculture and deforestation. Compared to zero-tillage, conventional tillage has 26-31% higher global warming potential. One winery to mention that is reducing this harmful effect is Tantalus Vineyards. They have removed the use of tillage completely and utilize a no-till cover crop throughout the year.

3. Convert to using solar power

A rooftop of a building that has a solar panel to generate solar power.
Photo: Pixaby

The Okanagan provides a great climate and much sunshine for high quality grape-growing. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is taking advantage of this, not only for producing ultra-premium grapes, but also for the generation of solar power.

The wine-making process requires a lot of hot water for use in cleaning and barrel work, among other tasks. The act of heating water takes up 20% of the total winery’s energy usage. Burrowing owl has adopted solar powered water heating, and they state that in doing so they “…offset CO2 emissions of 27.1 tons annually”. Burrowing Owl has since widely adopted solar electric panels, installing them on their winery rooftop, parking lot, and even the rooftops of their guest suites. In total, their solar electric panels are offsetting CO2 emissions of 118.5 tons CO2/year.

4. Purchase Carbon offsets

A forest that removes carbon emissions from the atmosphere.
Photo: Pixaby

Northern Lights winery in Prince George, BC, is offsetting their carbon impact on the environment by purchasing carbon offsets. How exactly does this process work? First, your total carbon emissions must be calculated to understand how much you need to purchase to offset what you are emitting. Northern lights utilized the Chamber of Carbon Action plan to receive a custom carbon footprint analysis. Then they purchased carbon offsets from an organization called Offsetters. The money from the purchase of offsets is used to fund and support programs that reduce emissions somewhere else in the world. The Offsetters' Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project, is one of the great ways carbon offsets is helping to sequester carbon through the protection of forests in British Columbia. In 2020, Northern Lights Winery was able to offset 18.6 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of carbon offsets.

5. Use light-weight wine bottles

Six light weight unlabeled wine bottles.
Photo: Pixaby

When considering the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine, the packaging and transportation of the wine should not be overlooked. According to Dr Richard Smart, the transport (and minimal recycling) of wine in conventional heavy glass bottles accounts for 68% of the CO2 emissions of the entire process from grape to bottle. The growing of grapes accounts for 15%, while the wine-making process (pre-bottling) contributes 17% to CO2 emissions.  Arterra Wines is acting by using new light-weight 1.5L Bordeaux Stelvin® glass wine bottles produced by Ardagh Group Glass-North America. By switching to lighter glass, Arterra is reducing the weight of wine bottles by 20%. This has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of each bottle of wine produced. In fact, a 20% reduction in weight saves 100g of CO2 per wine bottle produced and transported. We think this is a huge achievement! 

Can you reduce your winery’s carbon footprint?

The need to update current processes and acquire more eco-friendly technologies for wine production is becoming increasingly evident with the drastic increase in global temperatures. There are several ways to begin the process, but the first step is understanding how much CO2 emissions you are currently producing. Utilizing more environmentally friendly viticultural approaches like no-till and cover crops will help to keep CO2 sequestered in the soil. You may choose to seek more carbon-neutral biofuels to displace the high use of fossil fuels in vineyard machinery. Converting to solar power generation and utilizing light weight glass wine bottles will reduce CO2 emissions. Lastly, purchasing carbon offsets, can be a great way to compensate for the carbon impact you have on the environment.

This article was written by Brittany Goldhawke

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