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Friday, March 14, 2008

The green line of wine

Green ManBig Foot, an article by Michael Specter in the February 25 issue of The New Yorker, details the efforts that go into determining the carbon footprint of various products so that companies and individuals can have a sound, rational basis for making desisions that will benefit the environment.

Trying to assess the carbon footprint of a product can be dauntingly complicated, as the environmental impacts of its production, distribution, use and disposal must all be taken into account. Variations in these factors can cause enormous differences in the carbon footprint of virtually identical products made by neighboring companies.

And the results aren't always what you might expect. In the case of wine, for example, you might think that a domestic product would be more green than an import, but that isn't necessarily the case. Specter reportes that a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more "green" for people in the Eastern part of the U.S. to drink wine shipped by sea from Bordeaux than wine shipped by truck from California. That is largely because sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and highways don't need to be built to berth a ship, and because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that "the efficiencies of shipping drive a 'green line' all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity."

But then there are the production methods to take into account. Some wineries are striving to be carbon-neutral, and there is a certification for that. Cline's operation is solar-powered — they even sell electricity to PG&E — and they use organic growing methods, so their wines could make it further east than Columbus on a green line. And at least one Australian winemaker has taken to shipping wine in bulk on tankers to be bottled after it arrives in the U.S.

Because distance isn't the only factor used in calculating carbon costs, it is sometimes the case that food shipped thousands of miles is greener that the same product made 50 miles away. One researcher who has analyzed the relative environmental impacts of foods finds the views of bioregionalists and locavores to be overly simplistic. "The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby — well, it's just idiotic," he says, because land use, weather and other factors need to be taken into consideration.

The bottom line? Closer is greener, except when it's not — and figuring carbon costs is more complex than you might think.
J. Silverheels Gray, 11:51 AM


Hey Canine -

Transportation really is the biggest factor contributing to wine's CO2 emissions.

You can check out the bullet points of my study that was cited in the NYer story and the discussion over on

Anonymous Dr. Vino, at 4:11 PM  
Thanks for the link, Doc — and for the research!
Blogger J. Silverheels Gray, at 6:36 PM  

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