interview with Lisa Francioni, Project Manager, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and Environmental Affairs Coordinator, at the SF-based Wine Institute by Willi Paul
    Please study our excellent interview with Lisa Francioni, Project Manager, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and Environmental Affairs Coordinator, at the SF-based Wine Institute.

    How do you weave your sustainability message into the wider sphere, i.e. the near-by non-grape growers, residents and towns?

    The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) implements the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP), a voluntary, educational program for California's wineries and vineyards. CSWA's messaging is geared towards the California wine industry in order to increase participation in the program and to promote the adoption of sustainable practices. Most of CSWA's messaging for external audiences focuses on explaining the good work that wineries and vineyards are doing throughout the state. The SWP also promotes positive relationships with neighbors, and it's clear that many wineries and vineyards are helping to weave the sustainability message into their communications with these important stakeholders in the communities in which they operate.

    Who are your NPO, government and private partners?

    CSWA partners with many organizations in a number of ways. The development of the comprehensive Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment Workbook, which is the foundation of the SWP, was completed with the help of many external stakeholder organizations. Partners also help deliver educational content at workshops on specific topics such as energy efficiency, ecosystems management, and integrated pest management, and many academic partners assist with important research projects, such as climate change mitigation. A few of our partners include Environmental Defense, Sustainable Conservation, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Resource Conservation Districts, UC Davis, and many regional winegrape and wine associations. We also receive government and foundation grants to support our program, and have received funding for specific grant projects from the US Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, National Fish and Wildlide Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, among others. See the full list of partners.

    What are the primary resisters in your work at the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance?

    CSWA's work on the Sustainable Winegrowing Program benefits the environment, wine quality, workers and communities in winegrowing regions. Luckily, we do not get many resisters to such positive work.

    Tell us about the educational program you created? What model(s) did you utilize? How do you evaluate the results?

    The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment workbook was released in 2002 and is based on several successful regional efforts including a workbook from the Lodi Winegrape Commission and the Central Coast Vineyard Team's Positive Points System. The vineyard chapters of the workbook are modeled specifically on the viticulture chapters of the Lodi workbook, and a Joint Committee of 50 winegrape growers and vintners refined these chapters to apply to the entire state and developed additional chapters to cover winery operations. There are 14 chapters in the workbook covering everything from ground to glass, including ecosystem management, vineyard water management, pest management, winery water management, solid waste management, air quality, human resources and neighbors and communities, among others. Vintners and growers use the workbook to self-assess their practices in each of the 14 chapters and receive customized reports to see how they compare to others in the state (and to also region and similar size operations for vineyards). SWP participants use these reports to see where improvements can be made, and set action plans to help implement changes. They reassess after changes are made and start the process again. We refer to this as the "Cycle of Continuous Improvement" and it is the cornerstone of the program. We publicly report on the aggregate self-assessment data of the industry in statewide reports (when we did so in 2004 it was the first time an entire industry reported this type of sustainability information). We released a 2004 report, a 2006 progress report and will be releasing a 2009 report in January. See reports.

    What are your credentials as a certification expert? What training have you completed?

    CSWA, along with the SWP Joint Committee (comprised of over 50 winegrape growers and vintners made up of members of Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers), the CSWA Board of Directors and certification consulting experts, are developing a third-party certification component to the SWP to help complete the "Cycle of Continuous Improvement." The certification program will require the creation of action plans, implementation of changes and reassessment on an annual basis. The certification is expected to be complete by the beginning of 2010. The group involved in the development of certification combines experience and training in viticulture and enology and involvement in the development and/or implementation of existing certification programs (e.g. Lodi Rules and the Central Coast's SIP-certified, as well as ISO 14000, organic and biodynamic certification). The third-party auditors will have experience in certification, as well as training specific to the California sustainable winegrowing certification program. See information on certifications.

    How do you define green washing?

    Green washing is the act of purposefully misleading consumers regarding the environmental and/or sustainability practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service, and it is something that everyone who is truly committed to sustainability tries to steer clear of. Green washing, and the threat of external stakeholders criticizing any sustainability program or initiative, is one of the reasons it has taken CSWA eight years to develop a certification program that can be communicated to outside audiences. The California wine industry wanted to be sure we were truly "walking the talk" before we brought sustainability messaging outside the industry. It was mainly due to the market and regulatory climate that the industry decided it was time to take begin talking to a wider audience about what wineries and vineyards are doing on a day to day basis in regards to sustainability. Many decisions made in the development of the certification program were intended to avoid any perception of green washing.

    How do you define localization?

    While CSWA recognizes that buying local is an important part of sustainability for the many benefits it creates by limiting emissions and fuel use from travel, keeping money in the local economy and supporting the community, we do not have any official definition of localization. Another important aspect of localization is knowledge of where products come from and how they are produced. We hope that consumers recognize that environmental stewardship and social responsibility are among the many reasons they should consider enjoying California wine.

    Do you see sustainability as a religion?

    Sustainability means a lot of different things to different people. CSWA defines sustainable winegrowing using the 3 E's (Environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically feasible) - which are growing and winemaking practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally Sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (Socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically Feasible). Sustainability is both a way of life and an efficient way to run a business for many in the wine industry.

    Is it difficult to measure eco-footprint out in the countryside? What are the primary and secondary pollution sources?

    CSWA is engaged in several projects to help wineries and vineyards measure their carbon footprints. Wine Institute and international partners released a Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool and Protocol in 2008 for the free use by anyone in the wine industry worldwide. CSWA has also worked with researchers to undergo an extensive literature review on climate change and vineyards to help target areas where more research is needed to determine the carbon footprint of wine. Because of the diversity and size of winery and vineyards in regions throughout the state, it is difficult to pinpoint primary and secondary pollution sources. This is why the Code addresses a comprehensive set of issues related to sustainability, to help individual wineries and vineyards identify their most significant impacts and ways in which they can improve.

    What happens at your assessment workshops?

    All California winery and vineyard owners and employees that attend a self-assessment workshop receive a free copy of the sustainable winegrowing workbook. CSWA provides an overview of the program and instructs vintners and growers how to use the online self-assessment system before having the workshop participants complete the assessment right there. By doing the assessment in a workshop environment, participants are able to ask questions and engage in dialogue with their neighbors about practices. CSWA hosts workshops throughout the state and this year began hosting online webinars, on the last Thursday of each month, to make the workshop available to anyone regardless of location.

    How do you monetize sustainable practices?

    While there are endless case studies on the financial benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices and using resources efficiently, monetizing practices is one of the areas CSWA would like to focus on in the near future. CSWA recently completed an interview survey of 100 winegrape growers and many of the respondents citied sustainable practices such as monitoring for pests and disease, and using cover crops as being "cost-effective practices". Read the survey report. Luckily, the business case for sustainability is starting to become more and more obvious, especially as people hear about the savings from neighbors at meetings, workshops and in communications materials.