Liberty hits carbon neutral target

Liberty Wines is claiming to be the first UK wine distributor to become certified as carbon neutral.

Liberty David Gleave MW

David Gleave MW

The company, which imports more than 200 producers from across 17 countries, began work on this goal last year, a decision which managing director David Gleave MW attributed to two main reasons.

“The type of producers we deal with are not suits sitting in the office; they’re farmers working in the vineyard so we were very aware of the changing climate,” he told the drinks business. “We can’t change the world but we can at least change what we do.”

Secondly, continued Gleave, “Our customers were saying ‘We don’t drink New World wines because of their carbon footprint’ so we decided to take a look into it last year. We found that shipping a bottle by sea from Marlborough emitted about 20% of the carbon that shipping by road from Italy did.”

Gleave revealed that the company had since looked at alternative transport options for the Italian wines which, along with Australia, represent a particular area of specialism for Liberty. “By moving more of our stock to rail, the carbon emissions are about a quarter of what they are by road,” he maintained.

Over the past year the company has increased its Italian rail shipments by 70%, saving an average of 1.3kg per case in CO2 emissions. In the next year, the aim is to grow this level by a further 10%.

Although France, another important source of wine for Liberty, boasts an efficient domestic freight train network, Gleave noted that, for the moment at least, the option of extending this to the UK remained “non-existent”, forcing the importer to continue using less environmentally friendly road transport.

2013 also saw Liberty relocate to new London premises which lent themselves to this green ambition. “There’s lots of space for bicycles and the whole building is built around being energy efficient,” outlined Gleave.

Liberty's new premises in Clapham, south London

Liberty’s new premises in Clapham, south London

Despite this advantage, shipping remains the biggest environmental issue for the company, accounting for around 60% of total emissions.

In addition to the logistical shift in Italy, this year Liberty aims to recycle an average of 95% of its office and warehouse waste, as well as reducing paper consumption by an average of 4% and switching to paper that incorporates recycled content for “day-to-day use”. Water usage is also set to fall by 4% during the year, while employees are being encouraged to take public transport or walk or bicycle to work.

In total, the business believes these measures will help to reduce its carbon footprint from 3kg to 2.85kg for each case of wine delivered to its customers.

Where no further efficiency savings can be achieved, Liberty has off-set the remainder of its carbon emissions, which currently add up to 1,462 tonnes, by funding Verified Carbon Standard hydroelectric power projects in Chile and China.

“It’s not an ideological decision,” insisted Gleave. “The most important thing for us is that we run a good business.”

For this reason he noted that the company had put off an idea of converting its UK delivery vehicle to LPG because “they don’t seem to be as reliable yet as our own vans and the main thing is to get the wine to our customers on time. I think we’re doing the right thing, but we’re not going to let it interfere with the way we operate.”

Gleave also reported a positive response to this move from many customers. “A lot of our customers are interested in where wines are made, they’re interested in provenance and they’re interested in sustainability,” he remarked. “The thing about being sustainable or being green now is that it’s very much part of the mainstream.”

Find out which members of the international drinks trade have done the most to advance the industry’s green agenda when we announce the winners of the drinks business Green Awards 2014 at the end of this month.

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