Small efforts yield big results

Winner—Energy efficiency and carbon management: Backsberg Estate Cellars cc

When this family-run business discovered two years ago that more than 90% of its carbon emissions were directly linked to electricity and fossil-fuel consumption, it immediately spent time and money on change.

Many of the energy-saving initiatives introduced by management at Backsberg Estate Cellars cc have been small but significant. For example, it decided to move harvesting times forward three-and-a-half hours, to start at 3.30am. By 8.30am, when grape temperatures start to rise, the pickers are already halfway through the day’s work.

Depending on night-time temperatures, the early picked fruit requires little or no cooling when it is mashed. As a result, demand on the mash cooler is reduced and energy is saved.

The estate has invested in the smallest, most fuel-efficient pickups and tractors on the market. It has plans to decompose poultry litter and waste grape skins in a methane digester to produce bio-gas, which will be used to drive tractors and generators.

“Much of our understanding of the risks and opportunities comes from an increased awareness of the origin of our emissions,” says owner Michael Back.

As part of the process of change, Backsberg had to identify its key environmental risks. Climate change could affect soil quality, and the taste and quality of wine in the long-term. Staple foods could be seen as more important than wine in terms of location and access to water. Importers could choose to buy local fruits instead of importing from South Africa in future. 

“A significant change in our thinking has come from reviewing our approach to yield,” says Back. “We no longer apply the standard norm of tons of fruit per hectare, but rather refer to kilograms of fruit per square metre of canopy.”

In viticultural terms, this means the vineyard layout has been revised to decrease the operating metres or kilometres to travel per hectare—with the bonus of more grapes.

New opportunities were also identified. By introducing carbon auditing and offset practices, the company will be able to benefit from carbon emissions labelling in the United Kingdom. “In the process of creating a culture of environmental care, there are unquestionable financial rewards over time,” says Back.

Clients are continually updated about the innovations at Backsberg, inspiring one of his importers to complete a carbon audit of his own business with the intention of buying offsets in South Africa.

“The underlying principle of our policy is that every aspect of our business must be evaluated, over time, in terms of its impact on the environment,” says Back. “Any changes to practices that are identified as having a potentially positive impact on the environment should be implemented if possible, provided they do not impact negatively on wine quality.”

Back has hired environmental specialists and a carbon auditor to advise him further. He also employs a full-time horticulturalist to concentrate on environmental issues.

“Our biggest challenge is the process of discovery, of figuring out what all our options are, because there are no textbooks or recipes.”

The estate was recently awarded “Champion Status” in terms of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, a partnership between the wine industry and the conservation sector aimed at encouraging landowners to make wine production eco-friendly.

The Greening the Future judges praised the changes introduced at Backsberg as a great case study of identifying advantage and risk. “Even though it is a small business, it is looking at energy in a bigger, strategic way, rather than just how to deal with load shedding,” they said.

The judges noted that Backsberg was making environmental improvement the core of its business, even though there were no shareholders urging them to do so. They commended it as an outstanding and inspiring entry.

Being efficient
Sponsor—Energy efficiency and carbon management: Eskom

The efficient production of electricity in a sustainable manner is essential in a world where coal-fired power stations still provide most of the globe’s power.

In South Africa, where more than 90% of power is generated through the use of coal, which produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the development of an energy-efficient approach to power generation and the management of carbon emissions is increasingly important to Eskom.

To emphasise its corporate commitment to reducing the levels of CO2 in the environment, the company sponsors the energy efficiency and carbon management category of the Mail & Guardian‘s Greening the Future Awards, a new feature in this year’s competition.

“Eskom has devised a six-point strategic plan that deals comprehensively with our commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions in the future. We have also committed significant corporate financial and manpower resources in the drive towards creating awareness of the importance of energy efficiency and carbon management in South Africa,” says Dr Steve Lennon, MD of the corporate services division.

“We have actively been promoting research into developing and deploying carbon-reducing technologies that will result in real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the long term.”

The decision to sponsor this category is aimed at creating a wider awareness of Eskom’s approach and commitment, and to encourage other companies in the industrial sector.

“We believe this sponsorship will play a major role in raising awareness about the responsible actions being taken by industry to safeguard our environment for future generations,” Lennon adds.

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