By Jensen Montambault, The Nature Conservancy
Can you save the environment while relaxing with friends over a cup of vino? Science’s answer to this question is a resounding, “maybe.” It all depends on the way you look at how a bottle of wine is produced and what you are most worried about in the environment.
A recent study follows the (some might argue delightful) path of a bottle of wine in south-central Italy through its growing, harvest, vinting, bottling and shipping process. It’s called “life-cycle analysis” and it’s a way of determining a product’s impact on the environment from beginning to end.
The questions bubble up like proverbial Champagne: What really goes into sustainable packaging? Is it better to have lightweight bottles so you spend less fuel to ship them? Or very standard bottles to make it easier to recycle, which saves other fuel and production costs?
And what about organic agriculture? When farmers use fewer chemicals, they might use more machines, which contribute to pollution in their own way.
This study wasn’t meant to make us crazy second-guessing our sustainable living choices. But it is a strong advocate for reason over dogma.
If we focus on one issue and one issue alone, we could really miss the conservation boat. The wine study gives the example of climate change and popular carbon footprint calculator. If we totally focus on reducing carbon, farmers don’t get credit for some of the good environmental practices they usually do, like mulching with spent vines, because the carbon calculator considers that business-as-usual, not a fresh effort.
We also might miss critical parts of sustainable living that aren’t carbon-related, but are important in their own right. Pesticides can sicken us and the ecosystem. Incautious use of freshwater in agriculture could be a disaster for us all.
So, my take-away message from this study is: calculate your carbon footprint, but cut yourself a little slack. Just as our lives have many, many facets so does the environment and a too-rigid approach might confound instead of solve all our problems.
Jensen Montambault is a conservation scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s global program with nearly 20 years of experience working with environmental conservation in the Americas, Africa and the Pacific. She has a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida. She lives with her husband, also an ecologist, and two pre-school aged daughters, who they hope will love nature, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
All opinions expressed here are those of the author, not The Nature Conservancy.
(Image: wine glass. Source: Flickr user rogersmj via a Creative Commons license.)