These two things can be true at the same time: an environmental program can be both greenwashing, and a somewhat useful statement.
Napa Valley Vintners announced this week that it is the first North American wine region to sign on to the Porto Protocol, a statement about global warming issued after a climate-change and wine conference in Portugal that has drawn big names like Barack Obama.
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"Protocol" makes it sound like the Kyoto Protocol, which actually required countries to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The existence of actual standards in the Kyoto Protocol caused several noted troublemaker countries – including South Sudan, Palestine, the United States and Canada – to either not ratify the agreement or drop out. Japan, New Zealand and Russia have also walked away from implementing new Kyoto Protocol targets.
Nobody will ever need to walk away from the Porto Protocol. It's one of the most empty feelgood pieces of greenwashing you will ever read. And it is greenwashing. In case any company CEOs aren't bright enough to grasp the absence of any standards whatsoever, the website says in big bold letters: "Your Company Will Benefit."
In fact, you can join the Porto Protocol yourself, today! I clicked on the button that said, "I want to join" and the next page told me: "You just need five minutes to be an official member of the Porto Protocol."
Really? I can help save the planet in just five minutes? How is that possible, other than by shooting myself in the head (assuming the bullet contains no lead or other toxic substances)?
Well, all you have to do is download the Letter of Principles, write your company name in two places, and sign it. That's it! You're a member AND you can use the Porto Protocol in your brand advertising! Just as Napa Valley Vintners has done.
I'm being unrelentingly cynical, because the world has been warming for decades and we're still excitedly promoting this empty crap. At least the Porto Protocol admits that global warming is happening, and encourages signatories to "do more than they are doing at the moment". (That's its most restrictive policy. Really.) Our great-grandchildren, as they claw for drinkable water, are going to look back at us as the generation that failed the planet.
But I shouldn't pick on Napa Valley. It's not Napa Valley's fault that there isn't a better industry-wide climate-change program. I have spent a lot of time in Napa Valley and it's greener in general than most people know. It helps that Napa wine grapes are so valuable that growing a large-size crop – often the driver of poor environmental practices – is not an important goal. But still, a lot of wineries and vineyards in Napa are run by conscientious people and they do talk often about the quality of the environment.
It's also not the wine industry's fault that the world can't do more about climate change. Climate change is hard. You can't address it by buying one brand of wine over another.
I had an email conversation about this with Michelle Novi, Napa Valley Vintners' associate director of industry relations. She is the lead person for their Napa Green program, which also doesn't have any specific numerical targets, but is nonetheless significantly more detailed than the Porto Protocol.
Novi says Napa Green arose in response to the decline of the Napa River. Reading between the lines, the industry may have stepped in to regulate itself before the County and its often pro-environment voters took action. But it did take a broad overview of environmental problems in both vineyards and wineries.
"Where we are currently able to see the most reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is through the Napa Green Winery program, which has more than 100 required measures for certification," Novi wrote. "Because every winery is different, there is not a set numerical target they must reach for water and energy use. Instead, we work to bring them down to a range that is considered highly efficient. Most importantly though, Napa Green requires that they measure and monitor use to minimize leaks, identify spikes in use and to actively work towards lowering their use further.
"We also see a reduction in emissions from wineries achieving recycling targets (at least 75 percent of their waste must be recycled although many wineries are closer to 90 percent). Napa Green also requires the use of environmentally preferable office and cleaning products, reducing emissions further. Napa Green actively encourages participants to use lighter bottles which has implications related to the emissions generated to produce and ship said bottles. Lastly, and importantly, Napa Green Winery requires facilities of a certain size to offer alternative transportation options and incentives."
When I asked Novi what are the best things Napa Valley can do to combat climate change, she answered: "We know that buildings and transportation are the two largest emission sectors. The biggest thing any of us could do in Napa? Get out of our cars. Take the bus. Ride a bike. Carpool. That would have a ripple effect for emissions, air quality, traffic levels, community health, etc."
In 2019, more than 70 percent of Napa Valley Vintners members are participating in Napa Green. It's something. So much so, in fact, I wondered if an elastic program like Napa Green would be better for other wine regions to sign onto than the Porto Protocol.
"What makes Napa Green unique is that it was designed for our region and it remains focused on our community and the various environmental and regulatory issues we face," Novi wrote. "Moving forward, the principles of Napa Green – measure, monitor, minimize impact, educate, connect and improve – could be widely adopted by even more business sectors within the Napa Valley."
It's a shame that in 2019, this is the best we can hope for from our leaders and our industries. But again, I shouldn't bash Napa Valley Vintners for saying it wants to do better, and taking steps to do so.
Instead, I should look at every other wine region in the world and say, Napa Valley Vintners says it wants to do better regarding climate change. What do you say?