The SRA x Alliance Wine: An Anti-Waste Policy with a Positive Impact
Founded in 1984 in Ayrshire, Scotland, Alliance Wine has grown to become one of the leading wine importers to the UK, sourcing wine from over 20 countries around the world and representing over 200 producers. They also make wine in Australia, Spain, France and Chile. With over 60 years of combined experience, the buying team at Alliance looks for unique and inspiring producers, with a particular focus on wineries that take a sustainable approach.
In 2022, we worked with Alliance Wine to create a formal Anti-Waste Policy for their wine events – a highly enjoyable piece of work for our Projects team. Alliance Wine launched this Policy at a portfolio event in February 2023, and it was a real pleasure to see the policy in action.
Following the launch, we caught up with Marta Juega Rivera, Winemaker and Sustainability Manager, to learn how the Anti-Waste Policy has changed their approach to events, its (significant!) effects on the volumes of waste generated, and their plans for honing and finessing their sustainability practices in the year ahead.
What sustainability means at Alliance Wine
“We like to use the expression ‘positive impact’ rather than sustainability,” says Marta Juega Rivera, Winemaker and Sustainability Manager at Alliance Wine. The team’s focus is on identifying the key issues that affect the wine sector and on finding solutions with tangible, measurable results. “It’s not enough just to reduce our negative impacts. We want to find real solutions to the problems that we face in the industry; sustainability gives us the tools to generate a positive impact. We’re at a moment in which we need to re-think the way that we do business and its direct relationship with nature and society in general.”
Marta recognises that holistic and long-term thinking are critical when it comes to analysing potential solutions for problems. “For example, one thing that worries me is the dependency on recycling in the sector,” she says, “which is then used as a reason to claim that initiatives are ‘zero waste’. Recycling activities are not efficient.” She observes that recycling itself requires resources, generating other issues in the longer term. “We need to focus instead on how to extend the value of technical materials and avoid creating residues.”
The wine industry’s waste problem
A big driver of waste in the wine industry is that primary and secondary packing elements are often treated as single-use materials, despite many being recyclable. “We throw them away as soon as we have finished the bottle of wine,” says Marta. These inorganic materials generate a significant level of waste within the sector – as do many of the materials used throughout the production, bottling and transport stages.
Waste-water is another important consideration. “It takes 110 litres of water to produce just 125ml of wine,” Marta tells us. With these huge volumes of water required by the vinification process, it’s crucial that winemaking are mindful not to waste any elsewhere. Given the number of cleaning operations that must be carried out in the winery during the winemaking process, this is a regular issue – and, as Marta reminds us, “waste-water also contains a number of pollutants, both organic and inorganic.”
With waste a regular problem at key points like these, it was time for Alliance Wine to take action. Taking the holistic approach to operations mentioned earlier, it quickly become clear that their wine events were an area in which they could take control over their waste and make a real impact. “We use wine events as a marketing and commercial tool, introducing our wine suppliers to the UK market,” Marta says. “However, these events create other issues that must be managed, and waste production was an issue that needed to be tackled.”
With a positive impact strategy in place and aligned with their overall business plan, the team began to look for and evaluate potential responsible partnerships that would help them to meet their objectives. “We see collaboration as crucial for tackling some areas, and we believe in the idea of multidisciplinary groups to find solutions to specific problems. The SRA was the perfect match for this purpose.”
The Anti-Waste Policy
At The SRA, we are firm advocates for implementing formal written policies for all sorts of sustainability work. We believe that formalising these practices in writing is crucial for success, encouraging and facilitating both accountability and consistency; that’s why we were delighted to work with Alliance Wine in building a comprehensive plan for how waste at their events could be measured, controlled and reduced.
“It was enlightening to have a different perspective on board when it comes to identifying waste sources,” Marta tells us. “Working with The SRA helped us to understand the jargon and technical terms, and made us aware of some current solutions already on the market.”
The process helped to reinforce Marta’s beliefs that training and pre-event communication are both crucial in making sure both attendees and staff are educated on how to minimise waste. “At events of this size, it’s extremely important to use an operational format to get the message across effectively before the event itself,” she says. “Signs, flyers and videos are not 100% effective for this purpose.”
How the Anti-Waste Policy has had a positive impact
Since putting the policy in place, the team has seen numerous benefits, and both employees and attendees have a deeper awareness of the waste that can be generated at this type of event.
One goal was to reduce the volume of wine that was wasted. By ensuring that only one bottle of each wine is open at a time, the number of bottles used was reduced by 32.3%, while using slow pours reduced the volume of wine used by an enormous 50%. “This underlined the importance of setting a standard wine serving for events like these, both to cut down on wine waste and also to encourage responsible drinking.” Metrics like these are used as internal waste indicators, allowing for future planning and further improvement.
The team has also introduced collection options that allow corks to be reused, and saw significant reductions when it came to dry mixed recycling. “For an event with 250 people we threw away two 40L bags, compared to a previous norm of at least double that. In terms of commercial waste, we had three 40L bags compared to the usual 4-5 – and no food surplus.”
The policy is designed to be reviewed on an annual basis, ideal for maintaining momentum and for cultivating an ethos of continuous improvement; waste reduction targets are well underway for 2023 and already set for 2024. All employees will be involved in these reviews, ensuring that the most relevant information and practical advice is captured from those who are enforcing the policy on the front lines.
While Marta admits that getting staff on board took some time, the process has inspired and highlighted further opportunities for development. “The implementation of any new policy requires preparation and means putting unfamiliar practices in place, so the first time can be challenging. We know now that we need to invest time in the transformative education of employees; this is something I would like to improve for coming events.”
Speaking of future goals, The SRA and Alliance Wine have just embarked upon a new project together to review and update the Anti-Waste Policy. “I would like to improve this initial approach by establishing metrics, ROI and the impact on the industry,” says Marta. “Our ultimate goal is for this Anti-Waste Policy to be a reference that can be used by others in the same industry – this will allow to generate a real positive impact across the sector.”
Meanwhile, the team at Alliance Wine is busy on a number of other ways to create the positive impact that is so important to them. Current projects include aligning their business strategy with an environmental management system; working on a decarbonisation roadmap; carrying out their B Corp impact assessment; and analysing other areas of social impact.
The team is also making use of their impact strategy as a catalyst for re-thinking the ways they’ve done things to date. “We need to invest efforts to introduce a more systemic and critical way of thinking and decision-making,” Marta says. “We are all learning; at Alliance Wine, we are doing it with humility.”
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