Are genetically-modified grapevines sustainable?
On the surface it appears quite ironic, the fact that the South African Wine and Spirit Board announces its intention to launch a certification seal for those producers complying with its Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification system round about the same time it is made known that state authorities have given the go-ahead for genetically modified grapevines to be planted in Stellenbosch.
After all, the IPW is a voluntary environmental sustainability scheme established by the South African wine industry in 1998, and which provides buyers with a guarantee that grape production was undertaken with due consideration of the environment, and that the wine was produced in an environmentally responsible manner and is safe for the consumer.
The new seal, which will certify for both IPW and Wine of Origin (the other certification system run by the Board), is rather smartly designed and features, quite prominently, the word 'sustainability'.
According to the newsletter sent out by André Matthee, Wines of South Africa (WOSA) will intensively market the new seal and its rationale as part of 'Brand South Africa'. Other wine producing countries are working on similar sustainability accreditations and will introduce similar initiatives but, according to André, no country other than South Africa currently has the means to implement and certify this concept nationally.
As such I agree, IPW and the new seal are a great advantage for our wine industry, providing a visual guarantee for the consumer, not only for the integrity of origin and/or vintage year and/or variety, but for sustainable production and traceability.
However, to me, admittedly a non-scientist who watches far too many Hollywood movies and Star Trek episodes, the words 'produced in an environmentally responsible manner and is safe for the consumer' as well as 'sustainable' do not belong in the same sentence as 'genetically modified'.
I have been told I am wrong: a client of mine repeatedly takes me to task, saying that 'green' - or environmentally responsible - is not the same as 'sustainable'. It's a concept speakers at the conference he is organising will be discussing in detail. (Note: I am declaring a conflict of interest here).
One of these speakers is Seth Farbman, Worldwide Managing Director, Ogilvy & Mather New York and President of OgilvyEarth. Research undertaken by his company ahead of it developing a communications strategy and campaign for the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in December this year, highlighted that the cultural shift being driven by the onset of one of the worst global financial crises in recent history demands that major brands fundamentally reassess their point of view if they want to maintain their leadership positions in the years ahead.
This prompted OgilvyEarth to refer to 2009 as the 'Dawn of the Age of Sustainability', and to publish a white paper on critical findings. One of these was that consumers - not me, other consumers - have learnt that 'green is a very different idea - about the environment, not people. They are interested in the sustainable economy, not the green economy.'
However, Farbman says the two are not mutually exclusive, crediting US President Barack Obama for phrasing it so well when he said: 'The choice we face is not about saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline.'
Another piece of research, this time by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Landor Associates and Burson-Marsteller in the United States, highlighted that consumers are prepared to pay more for products produced in a sustainable manner. In the report, they said that 75% of respondents indicated a willingness to pay more for socially responsible products and from companies they know to be socially responsible. In addition, more than half said they can pay at least 6% more on a purchase to patronise such companies.
However, this same report said that companies are not successfully delivering messages to consumers about their efforts in this area, and that brands are not being recognised for their social responsibility by some of their most important audiences, including employees and consumers.
So, embracing sustainability is good for South Africa's wine business, but only if consumers know you are sustainable. The new seal is good, and it being backed by a campaign to spread word of its existence is even better.
Last week, Pick n Pay dominated the 'sustainability' categories in local research conducted by TNS Research Surveys, on behalf of Avusa Media, which ranked the top brands in South Africa across a broad spectrum of business-to-consumer and business-to-business categories. The retailer took first place in two of the major awards, The Grand Prix, namely: 'Company doing the most to uplift community' and 'Company that has done the most to promote "Green"'.
In its annual report, it writes the following about sustainability: "Of particular importance for retail is food security. Food supplies globally are under threat from a changing climate, declining soil fertility and water limitations. This is intensified as farmers face tougher access to credit and a shift to biofuel production in several countries. We can never take food for granted. Challenges such as these are unequivocally our business. We have no choice but to place retailing in the larger social and environmental context which will define how well we are doing our work.
"The issues are seldom simple. Organic products may lead to an increased water footprint; biodegradable plastics can hinder the plastics recycling industry; reducing packaging too much can undermine product integrity, creating more waste; biodiesel produced from our waste cooking oil still contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere; we delight in offering delicacies from distant places, yet recognise they carry a carbon cost not reflected in the price.
"Certainly, there are trade-offs to be made. But these must be made with the appropriate question in mind: Are we doing the right things to build a more resilient company, help solve the world's toughest challenges, and create a brighter future for all?"
Which still leaves me to ponder: Does 'sustainability' fit into the same sentence as 'produced in an environmentally responsible manner and is safe for the consumer' or in that with the words 'genetically modified'?