How this Winery is Reversing Climate Change While Growing the Bottom Line

climate change

This article was published in partnership with B the Change

Fetzer Vineyards is a company with a legacy of firsts.

It was the first California wine company to operate on 100 percent renewable energy, back in 1999, and in 2005 it was the first winery to publicly report and verify its greenhouse gas emissions with The Climate Registry. Nine years later, Fetzer became the first certified zero-waste winery in the world.

And there’s more.

Fetzer was the only U.S. winery to be invited to present at the United Nations’ Paris Climate Talks in 2015, and in 2016 the company became the first winery in the U.S. to be certified Carbon Neutral by Natural Capital Partners.

Josh Prigge, Fetzer’s director of regenerative development, reiterates what his company’s founder, Barney Fetzer, believed — that “Earth-friendly practices yield better grapes.”

At a winery that started making wine with organic grapes in the 1980s and relied on solar energy as early as the 1990s, caring for the environment is bred into the culture.

Today the concept of regeneration is growing more and more important at Fetzer. Regeneration describes the goal of replenishing the Earth’s soil, forests, waters and other resources to rebuild healthy ecosystems that can sustain themselves.

“This is the natural evolution of our company,” Prigge says. “[Regeneration] is the natural next step.”

Regeneration was a new term Prigge brought to the wine company when he was hired two and half years ago but he admits that Fetzer had already been employing regenerative agriculture practices for years. Grazing sheep have been used to help control weeds while chickens devour destructive caterpillars in the vineyards. And literally tons of grape seeds, skins and stems are composted and reintroduced into the vineyard soil every year.

And Fetzer isn’t solely doing this because it’s “the right thing to do” the company knows regenerative agriculture can produce a better wine grape and their energy-reducing, closed-loop practices that sequester carbon help guarantee not just the sustainability of their fields but of their entire business.

Winemaking That Goes Beyond Sustainability

Fetzer is replacing the aeration ponds that have been used to treat the winery’s wastewater with a brand new BioFiltro BIDA® System developed in Chile. The system uses worms to help digest the waste matter. They’ll be the first winery in the U.S. to deploy this technology.

Hundreds of thousands of worms inside a cement box filled with organic filtration elements and beneficial bacteria will eat and digest the contaminants in Fetzer’s wastewater, killing essentially all harmful bacteria and readying the wastewater to be used for irrigation in the company’s organic vineyards.

This new process reduces the energy used in treating 15 million gallons of wastewater by 85 percent. And the worm castings, a nice way of saying worm poop, can actually be added to the winery’s compost piles to improve the quality of the soil throughout Fetzer’s vineyards.

Although it’s already carbon neutral, Fetzer has set a goal to become carbon positive by 2030. Prigge and his team are working with a local university to figure out how much carbon the company puts back into the soil over a given period of time so they can compare that number to their carbon emissions and work toward sequestering more carbon than they emit.

Fetzer has supported a series of offset projects to sequester carbon or cut emissions all over the world, including a landfill-gas project in Colombia and one in New York, and a reforestation project along the Mississippi River in North America.

Carbon Sequestration and Regeneration Enhance the Bottom Line and Could Reverse Climate Change

Prigge points out that practices like reducing energy consumption and reusing wastewater reduce operating costs. “Any time you can use nature as a solution,” Prigge says, “you’re going to save money.”

Fetzer became the first certified zero-waste wine company in the world in 2014 and diverted 99.1 percent of its waste from landfills in 2015 by reusing, recycling or composting its garbage. During the same year, the company was able to save $900,000 in operating costs, just through the zero-waste project.

“I think [regeneration] is completely possible and scalable for companies of all sizes,” Prigge says.

Today, more millennials than boomers are drinking wine in the United States, and, according to a 2015 Neilsen study, almost 75 percent of millennials said they would pay more for products of companies that were committed to environmental responsibility. But it’s not just millennials. The study showed that two-thirds of overall consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands — an 11 percent increase from the year before. In this environment, companies like Fetzer may have a head start on their competition.

But Fetzer is looking to gain more than a competitive advantage. “If all agricultural lands transitioned to regenerative agricultural practices,” Prigge says, “we could sequester more carbon in our soil than we emit globally, and we could reverse climate change.”

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Susie is an editor with B the Change. B the Change exists to inform and inspire people who have a passion for using business as a force for good in the world. Because we believe that storytelling is an essential element in the transformation of business and society, we commit ourselves to telling the most compelling stories possible to the largest audiences possible to propel the movement of business toward its destiny as a powerful force for good.

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