Behavioural change is needed. And we don't have time on our side
by Ollie @ The BIB Wine Company, writing on behalf of WTAF (Wine Traders for Alternative Formats)
In 2012, a report jointly sponsored by the Swedish and Norwegian state alcohol monopolies, showed that traditional glass wine bottles had a significantly higher carbon footprint than alternative forms of packaging. Along with subsequent studies with the same findings, this has shaped public policy in both countries. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the majority of wine sold in both Sweden and Norway does not come in a glass bottle.
The latest data shows that if we were to switch from traditional glass bottles to alternative formats of packaging, we could save up to 750 million kilos of greenhouse gas emissions every year in the UK alone. That’s the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road, or over a million people flying to New York and back every year.
Still, little has changed in the UK since the wine industry discovered the damage being done by the manufacture and recycling of its traditional glass bottles. This was over a decade ago, but consumers haven’t been armed with this information, and without sufficient consumer demand it’s been far too easy for major retailers and producers to stick with the status quo.
Now though, the weight of evidence, and the dire need for all sectors to find emissions cuts, has created a unity rare in any industry. Leading wine experts and industry figures have come together around the subject of packaging, stating in an open letter to the government that ‘we need to seek out wines in alternative packaging wherever possible in order to minimise the carbon footprint of the wine we drink’.
Importantly, they are also clear that quality is not affected for wines not destined for the cellar. A number of viable alternative formats are listed, including boxed wine, cans, kegs, pouches, paper bottles and returnable glass bottles. All have benefits that may make them more suited to certain consumers or situations. What they share in common is large emissions savings over traditional bottles.
This same group of experts have called for tax incentives to promote alternative formats and encourage people to make the switch.
The House of Lords’ Committee on Climate Change and the Environment recently published a report stating that a third of the UK's emissions cuts need to come from behaviour change. They implored the government to use tax incentives and disincentives, as well as clear communication and regulations, to help guide the public. It also heard evidence that recent polling shows that the public wants clear leadership from the government and is willing to adapt its behaviour.
Our economy is overwhelmingly driven by the behaviour of consumers. The government must use all means of encouraging people to buy low carbon products and services across all sectors, not just wine. Through incentives and disincentives, alongside clear communication, government ministers have the power to create a green consumer economy centred around a new wave of more sustainable products. By encouraging demand in this way, change could come very quickly. With a global population increasingly focused on the climate crisis, this would in turn create a huge growth opportunity for the UK.
The potential speed of positive outcomes is an inherent advantage to this approach. Years of relying on future unproven technologies has left us with a much higher burden of required emissions reductions. We’re 2 years into the ‘decisive decade’, the one thing we definitely don’t have on our side is time.
One challenge in pivoting our economy towards more carbon friendly products and services is getting industries to admit their carbon issues. These aren’t always completely clear from the outside, and are often easily hidden from the inside. When industry experts come forward with an issue of their own accord and unite around a solution, we’d all be foolish to ignore it.
Read our open letter to the government, calling for the introduction of consumer tax incentives for carbon-friendly alternative packaging.