Consumers’ Understanding of “Sustainability”

What is sustainability really, and do producers and consumers have the same definition? Episode 25 of the Wine Tech Podcasts covers the controversial but highly anticipated topic of sustainability in wine.  The Wine Tech Insiders takes a deeper look at sustainability and what it actually entails.

Our Wine Tech team consists of:

What Does Sustainable Wine Really Mean?

One of the most significant issues with the term ‘sustainable’ is we use it as an umbrella term for several techniques. This causes much confusion for consumers who want to support it but don’t have a clear definition.

Broadly speaking, sustainability is about creating as little waste as possible and giving back as much as is taken. But customer demand has shifted greatly. When creating sustainable products, wine producers have to consider that millennials and Gen-Zs view sustainability very differently from the older generations. While older generations were mindful of green or recyclable products, the youngers have a lot higher standards for what they expect from companies. In most cases, these consumers won’t consider buying any product that seems in the least wasteful. So recyclable products are no longer good enough; there has to be more thought put into the packaging to appeal to these consumers.

This isn’t a recent occurrence, and there has been a clear upward trend in the last ten years that shows sustainable products are a priority for most consumers. In fact, a study in 2021 revealed that over a third of the world’s consumers are willing to pay more for products that are considered ‘sustainable.’

It is more critical for businesses to be as green and ethical as possible than it is to fit a specific definition.

The Challenges with ‘Sustainability’

A major pitfall is that what classifies as sustainable varies from country to country, with different regulations regarding these practices. The sustainable wine practices in one country are entirely irrelevant in another. For instance, some producers in California proudly boast about their minimal water usage in the vineyards, whereas France doesn’t allow any irrigation at all! So while Californian wineries would be praised for these practices, those in France have no leg to stand on. The motivations are the same, but the demands don’t sync.

Something else to consider is that it is easier for some producers to be sustainable in comparison to others because of certain growing conditions. Many consumers consider biodynamic or sustainable farming as ‘sustainable farming.’ But one has to consider that it is a lot easier for wineries in hot, dry areas to farm organically. Whereas wineries in cold, wet areas have less success and higher disease risk.

Besides the fact that sustainability means different things for different countries, being a small producer vs. a large producer is an equally important factor to consider Some consumers seem less concerned about whether small wineries are sustainable compared to wineries that mass-produce wine. Since smaller wineries use much less during production, consumers tend not to be as harsh or stringent with the small wineries.

Moving Forward as Sustainable Producers

With so many types of certifications and regulations, there isn’t a cookie-cutter definition that applies to all wineries and all producers. Wineries, and even farmers, just have to be as transparent as possible. They need to be clear about their efforts toward sustainability and promote those efforts. It is more critical for businesses to be as green and ethical as possible than it is to fit a specific definition.

Ironically, it is often the bigger fish that stay on top of sustainable trends. In contrast, the tiny producers are fighting just to keep their business afloat and are don’t consider sustainability a priority. Regardless of the size of the producer, it is crucial to look past the sustainability certifications. The key is to look at how you manage your production and source your goods. And try to do that with as little wastefulness as possible.

A great example of this is a winery in Texas that offers consumers a $5 discount on their next purchase for each bottle they return to the winery. So instead of needing to buy new bottles, the winery is incentivizing the return of bottles. Not only is the concept great for wineries to stay green, but they are allowing customers to play their part. In addition, they are creating a significant talking point while also generating potential sales.

But it doesn’t stop there. Outshinery has noticed more certifications on wine labels than ever before. It is clear that wineries are all moving toward sustainable practices and are using their labels to promote their efforts. Not only are these certifications on the back label, but more wineries are focusing on putting them on the front. These can range from vegan to biodynamic to organic and ethical – all of which appeal to the modern-day wine enthusiast.

Moving forward, wineries should take the initiative and think about looking beyond the product. How can they be sustainable beyond the physical product? It is essential to consider things like packaging and distribution. Large wineries use different packaging materials recycled boxes and opt for carbon-neutral delivery. These are all ways wineries can reduce their impact and attract customers. Think of how you can improve your practices and be less consuming. Be sure your customers, staff, and everyone involved with your product knows what you are doing to make a difference. Communication comes first, and the certification is secondary.

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From our GOLD Partner Patricia
Fascinated by the many facets of wine and wine businesses, Patricia has spent years learning about wine, educating consumers about the product, as well as wineries about their business. She strives to bridge the gap between producers and consumers and help everyone to a better wine life.

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