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Today there is a growing awareness that business-as-usual corporate and lifestyle practices jeopardize the health of the planet and the ability of future generations to sustain a good quality of life. Awareness in turn has created a confusing array of sustainability-oriented decisions. The Greenophobe takes a skeptical, practical, informed look at a variety of sustainability topics. Explore a mix of common sense solutions and in-depth discussions that demystify how to live green and live well.

01 March 2011

I'd like to propose a toast, without toasting the planet.

"A playful nose of soot and flyash dominates.  Sweet, full bodied bouquets of pesticides and petrochemicals underscore soft tannins.  The finish is mellow but prominent, leaving you with a zesty mouthful ripe with the essence of uncombusted hydrocarbons and just a touch of mercury and arsenic."  
Luxury products like wine typically travel great distances to reach us.  Production, packaging, shipping and disposal consume vast quantities of dirty fossil energy, scarce groundwater, and petrochemical resources that release toxic byproducts into the environment.  Shockingly little thought goes into the product's lifecycle impact because luxury products focus on creating perceptions of high quality at the expense of nearly every other product attribute.  Why place a hard-fought reputation at risk by dabbling in green features that can distract from the carefully constructed prestige of the brand?  In the case of wine, there's literally very little room on the label for green product characteristics.  In an industry that names products after bucolic estates and conjures inflated prices from thin air, there's plenty of room for eco innovation. 

It's not that luxury products are incapable of having positive environmental characteristics.  The reason for the lag is that we're still emerging from an era when greener product alternatives frequently evoke perceptions of inferior quality.  Think rough unbleached institutional-style toilet paper. Think puny, underpowered fuel-efficient cars.  From the look of things at your local wine shop, it probably seems like the green revolution has temporarily escaped the wine biz.  The standard glass bottles and labels, funky names, and fanciful descriptions are the same as they've always been.  Consumers may not quite be ready for eco wine but the earth's changing climate has other plans for the industry overall.

Back on the farm, wine producers face great economic and environmental uncertainty, in no small part due to the impending effects of climate change on the wine industry.  The business will likely find ways to adapt as the dynamics of a warming planet alter the sensitive microclimates that are responsible for producing the wines we know and appreciate today.  In response to regulation, rising costs or a combination of both, many wineries are already championing responsible land use practices.  There is a shift underway back to organic production methods that result in healthier products and prevent groundwater contamination.  As energy prices rise, producers in every type of agribusiness are looking for ways to incorporate energy efficiency and renewables into operations in ways that drive cost savings.

One producer is boldly breaking convention in the wine business.  Y+B Wines approaches the market with an environmentally conscious product
that speaks right to consumers by offering several highly visible and unique environmental attributes. 
Photo: Y+B wine display at Jersey Wine and Spirits in Jersey City, NJ.
Y+B certified organic wine is a triple bottoms-up innovation in a luxury product category that has an inherently large and static environmental footprint.  
First off, the wine tastes great.  Notably, Y+B (Yellow + Blue = Green) is now the official wine of The Greenophobe's 3:00am writing sessions.  Instead of hiding behind the traditional glass bottle, Y+B sheds the weight, material and embodied energy in favor of putting its green philosophy at the very forefront of the brand's identity.  Y+B offers a line of four organically grown wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain all of which carry the following unique features and related environmental claims:
  • 100% certified organic grapes 
  • Bulk shipping wine in tanks and bottling it domestically reduces the product's carbon footprint from transportation when compared with wines that are bottled on-site and shipped around the world in glass bottles.
  • Unique Tetra Pak box (packs more efficiently than round bottles, not breakable, lightweight, reclosable, less energy to produce and recycle)
  • 43% lighter packaging-to-product ratio compared to standard wine bottles
  • 100% "carbon neutral" through the purchase of renewable energy credits (REC's) and verified emission reduction (VER) certificates
It's primarily the clever package that sets Y+B apart from other organic wines.  Although the one liter Y+B Tetra Pak box bears no resemblance whatsoever to the bulky five liter cardboard behemoths of traditional boxed wine, the very presence of the box seems to earn Y+B a spot as a novelty product in the wine world.  Despite its wide availability at hundreds of retailers across the U.S., I frequently find Y+B wines divorced from their countries of origin, stashed away in the "Other Wines" section or relegated to the bottom shelf in many stores. 

Clearly, it's not easy being an environmentally conscious luxury product but Y+B pulls it off by delivering convenience, quality, value and net environmental benefits when compared with traditional alternatives.  Cheers!

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