Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE)
The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) developed a third-party certification program related to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP) to increase the sustainability of the California wine industry by promoting the adoption of sustainable practices and ensuring continual improvement. The goals of the certification program, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE), are to enhance transparency, encourage statewide participation and advance the entire California wine industry toward best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources and socially equitable business practices.
Building on major trends and successful regional efforts, Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) launched the SWP in 2002 to give growers and vintners educational tools to increase adoption of sustainable practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement.
The SWP is based on the concept of a “Cycle of Continuous Improvement,” as illustrated in the graphic below. Participants assess their operations using a comprehensive California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook, interpret their results using customized reports that benchmark their practices relative to statewide and regional averages, attend targeted education workshops to learn about best practices, develop Action Plans on areas they want to improve, implement change, and reassess, beginning the cycle again. Wine Institute and CAWG formed CSWA in 2003 to help implement the SWP.
CSWA solicited and received valuable input from a broad range of stakeholders during the development of the Code, and continue to leverage expertise and resources with our government, academic, and non-governmental partners.
Certification is a voluntary option; vintners and growers can still participate in the educational SWP and use the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook to evaluate and improve their practices even if they do not choose to pursue certification.
Based on industry and stakeholder feedback, CSWA determined that a voluntary third-party certification option for California vintners and growers was the appropriate next step in the evolution of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program to maintain the California wine industry’s leadership position and commitment to transparency. After three years in development by the Sustainable Winegrowing Joint Committee, comprised of approximately 50 grower and vintner members of Wine Institute and CAWG, and led by sustainability certification experts from thinkstep (formerly PE International, Inc. & Five Winds Strategic Consulting) and Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) was launched in January 2010. In 2015, another extensive program update began, in an effort to allow the use of a logo on the bottle. These updates go into effect January 2017. The 2017 CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE updates also underwent extensive and thorough review by a broad set of stakeholders including, a 60-public comment period, 15+ meetings with the Sustainable Winegrowing Joint Committee, develop of and thorough consultation with a Pest Management Technical Advisory Group (TAG), and input from other industry experts.
All existing and new Certified Participants must meet all prerequisites and other certification requirements, including those added in 2017, to maintain and/or achieve certification. Once all requirements are met and verified by a third-party, CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE Accredited Auditor, demonstrating an engagement and commitment to sustainability, participants then achieve certification.
CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE aims to advance the industry as a whole, by serving as a catalyst for continuous improvement and encouraging vineyard and winery companies of all sizes to participate. All certified wineries and vineyards must meet defined prerequisite practices and other requirements (outlined below) that ensure key sustainability areas are addressed. Certification helps maintain the California wine industry’s leadership position on sustainability, communicate with stakeholders that are increasingly interested in sustainable business practices, and increase transparency to ensure confidence and credibility.
CSWA believes that a certification program in which all California wineries and vineyards may participate – coupled with the publication of progress reports of assessment results and performance-based targets for industry-wide improvement uniquely position the state’s wine community by credibly demonstrating adoption of sustainable practices, continual improvement, and positive economic, environmental and social impacts.
Requirements of Certification
Wine bearing the CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE logo or claims must be made in a certified winery, using at least 85% or higher grapes from certified vineyards.1 Both the winery and vineyard(s) must meet the following requirements, which are verified during annual third-party audits:
- Annual Self-Assessment: Completion of an annual self-assessment of 140 vineyard & 104 winery best practices using the comprehensive California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing. Auditors verify that all self-assessment scores (Category 1-4) accurately reflect on-the-ground practices during the annual audit. (Practices included in Category 1 meet existing regulation, where relevant, with practices increasing in sustainability from Category 1 to 4.)
- Minimum Score Threshold: 85% of the total scores must be Category 2 or higher. Practices included in Category 2 and above are considered sustainable practices in the industry.
- Prerequisite Practices: There are 58 required prerequisite practices for vineyards, and 37 required prerequisite practices for wineries. (While prerequisites specify minimal scores, certified vineyards and wineries often score above these minimum practices.) For the complete list of prerequisite practices and program requirements see: Certification Prerequisites and Requirements.
- Comply with CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE Red and Yellow List Requirements: Materials on the CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE Red List may not be used by Year Two. If materials on the CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE Yellow List are used, alternatives must first be tried or considered, and justification and mitigation of risk documented via a competed Use Form (see the 'How to Apply' tab for additional details).
- Sustainability Performance Metrics for Water, Energy, Nitrogen and GHGs: Vineyards must measure and record water use and nitrogen applied annually. Wineries must measure and record water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) annually.
- Continuous Improvement: In addition to meeting the minimum sustainable practice requirements, all certified vineyards and wineries must demonstrate continuous improvement in the adoption of sustainable practices on an annual basis. Auditor verifies methodology for identifying and prioritizing areas for improvement and written action plans are created to document the implementation of additional sustainable practices every year.
- Annual 3rd Party Audit: Participants must undergo an annual audit and submit an audit report each year that is reviewed by the Certification Review Panel, before the annual certification is awarded.
- Chain of Custody Audits: A winery that uses a certification label claim/logo is required to complete a Chain of Custody audit.
So What is Sustainability Exactly?
Because optimal economic, environmental and social performance differ depending on region, product, business size, and other issues, defining sustainability can be challenging. Measuring continuous improvement to one’s own baseline performance is a highly efficient and effective way to advance an industry towards sustainability. In addition to meeting the prerequisite thresholds and other program requirements, all CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE participants must demonstrate improvement in their sustainability practices in order to renew their annual certification. CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE encourages companies to use their own baselines to determine what areas need to be improved to make the most meaningful difference for their organization, and continually improve year after year.
CSWA is currently a subscriber to the ISEAL Alliance, an internationally recognized organization dedicated to ensuring credible and innovative sustainability standards. (Current ISEAL certification programs include Marine Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, among others.) In addition, in 2017 CSWA contracted with SCS Global Services – a leader in third-party environmental, sustainability and food quality certification, auditing, testing and standards development – to conduct an independent oversight evaluation of CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE based on a framework that combined ISEAL’s “Codes of Good Practice” requirements and the International Organization (ISO) Guide 59 and ISO 17065 accreditation requirements. At the completion of their thorough evaluation, SCS Global Services issued the following assurance statement:
CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE has undergone a robust third-party assessment of its standard development process and assurance program by SCS Global Services, and has successfully demonstrated overall compliance with the requirements of an assessment framework based on the requirements of internationally recognized standards and assurance systems, including ISO/IEC Guide 59:1994, ISO/IEC 17065:2012, and ISEAL Credibility Principles.
Extensive Commitment to Sustainable Winegrowing in California
Several of the state’s winegrowing regions and other organizations have sustainable and environmental programs, many of which provided the foundation for the statewide California Sustainable Winegrowing Program and all of which play an important role in the ever-expanding tapestry of the California wine community’s efforts to produce high quality wine that is environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable.
For details about these other California programs, please visit the individual program websites following the links below: