Talking Sustainability with Sogrape
At International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA), we often hear from wineries—big and small—who are committed to improving their environmental footprint, yet aren’t sure how to begin. Others are somewhere along the way and are looking for the next step.
IWCA Applicant winery Sogrape understands the motivation—and the challenge—well.
“Sustainability has always been part of the way we work,” Sogrape’s Corporate Brand and Communications Manager and sustainability champion Mafalda Guedes explains. “But while we were doing a lot of things, it was with different objectives across different parts of our company.”
And when it came to conducting the company’s GHG inventory a couple of years ago: “We had little knowledge. I didn’t really even know where to start!” Mafalda reflects with a laugh.
The company has made strides since then, recently launching its “Seed the Future” program—an ambitious roadmap for positive social and environmental impact—and joining IWCA, committing to measuring and reducing GHG emissions to reach Net Zero by 2050.
We sat down with Mafalda to pull back the curtain on Sogrape’s journey to develop “Seed the Future” and find out what’s next for the company. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
From supply chains to Scope 3, culture change to KPIs
Walk us through the process within Sogrape to develop “Seed the Future.”
Ever since Sogrape was founded in 1942, we’ve been committed to protecting, respecting, and preserving our environment, communities, and people. Sustainability has always been part of how we work, even before “sustainability” was really a term.
In 2020, we realized we needed a common strategy. We were doing many initiatives when it came to sustainability, but it was disconnected.
Sogrape has production companies in Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and New Zealand, plus distribution companies in numerous markets. We needed to work together, and work towards the same goals.
Our first step was looking at everything we were already doing. I was actually amazed at the length of the list—I didn’t realize how many relevant initiatives we already had underway!
Then, we looked at the risks and challenges we face as a global wine company and as an industry. We talked internally; we talked to external experts. We engaged consultants to support us. And we put together our plan: three pillars, nine commitments, and eleven flagship targets.
How did you determine your implementation targets?
Within each pillar, we identified the most relevant issues we wanted to address. We were already addressing some, but wanted to be more ambitious. Other issues we hadn’t addressed yet, but felt they were important. That was our starting point.
One of the most important things we did was create multidisciplinary teams within each of our business units, and designate a “champion” in each unit. We intentionally made these teams cross-cutting to allow for fresh ideas and new expertise—for example, on a target related to viticulture, we didn’t want a team with only viticulture people.
We did have to learn along the way.
We had created our plan and said: “Okay, let’s start implementing.”
And then… we had to hit pause.
We realized our targets weren’t sufficiently adapted to our different business units and locations. Across our company, we have different realities, different experiences, different maturity levels in
terms of sustainability efforts. We can’t expect for our production company in New Zealand to meet the same target as our distribution company in a different country.
So, we went back to those multidisciplinary teams and business unit champions. We developed roadmaps for each business unit. Now, we have global KPIs, and specific KPIs for each business unit. Without doing this, we would have ended up with a strategy very difficult to implement and to achieve results.
How does GHG emissions measurement factor into your strategy?
It’s really the basis of it.
We know what actions we are taking as a company, but a GHG emissions inventory helps everyone in the company understand our emissions hotspots.
This is especially valuable information given that over 90% of our emissions are Scope 3. That means it’s on us to work with our value chain partners to become more sustainable and find solutions together.
The first time we conducted an inventory was in 2017. It was something we had to do to meet certain regulations, so we did it. In 2020, we conducted an inventory again out of our own initiative, and now we’re in the process of calculating our 2021 and 2022 emissions.
Measuring our emissions definitely takes a long time, and it’s a lot of work.
But it’s been a real wake-up call: we need these numbers to understand what we have to do to reduce our emissions.
We’re working right now to audit our latest inventory as soon as possible, because we want to use the data.
What advice do you have for other wineries measuring their emissions for the first time?
The first step is to understand what an inventory requires. Work with an expert who can help you navigate the process and prepare the data. If you can, identify someone internally who can be dedicated to this.
When we first started, we basically were using a spreadsheet to every department to fill in. As we learned the hard way—it doesn’t work that way. You need someone to work closely with each department to gather data, and start well in advance. We’re still figuring out how to do this most efficiently ourselves.
At Sogrape, like many other companies, we don’t have a huge sustainability team. My colleagues take on these roles in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities. This can be a challenge, but it’s also intentional and important. We want to make sustainability a part of each department. We want sustainability to be the culture of the company. So, although it’s challenging not to have dedicated capacity, there are benefits, too.
You mentioned that most of Sogrape’s emissions are Scope 3. How have you engaged your value chain partners to tackle those emissions?
We don’t want to simply change suppliers; we want to collaborate with them to make changes and create a shift in the industry.
This has already been starting over the past few years. For instance, today, as we look for lighter alternative glass bottles, there are more suppliers to meet the demand. Not only that, but we now have value chain partners coming to us with solutions. That’s pretty exciting.
Sourcing of materials is a huge area for action when it comes to Scope 3. One example, as I mentioned, is switching to lighter glass bottles. Another example is cardboard boxes—we’re using less color in our boxes and more recycled materials.
Another way we’re reducing Scope 3 emissions is improving efficiencies with backhauling. Essentially, instead of trucks driving empty after dropping off a load, we are designing more efficient routes so that they transport full loads in both directions. This has already reduced the need for hundreds of trucks a year. It might not sound like much—but this actually has a huge impact on our carbon footprint.
How do you feel now, as you’re shifting into implementation?
It took a long time to develop the plan, and it’s taken a while to move it from paper to implementation. But it’s been so valuable and important. We’ve done so much over the past 80 years, but never communicated it, because we didn’t think it was relevant. It was just the way we worked.
As we started working on this action plan, we said, you know what, “We’re leaders in wine in Portugal. We have to be vocal, because it’s our responsibility to get others on board.”
We have to be sustainable—and so we have to influence change across our Board, our value chain, our competitors.
What has joining IWCA meant to Sogrape?
Admittedly, we took a while to join IWCA! Our goals are completely aligned, but we wanted to be sure that it would be ambitious while achievable. Talking to an existing IWCA member winery helped us think through the decision to join.
Ultimately, I think that working together is the only solution for the sector. We won’t have enough impact just by doing things on our own.
We need to reduce our emissions. It's not a choice anymore. It's something that we have to do—so let’s do it, let’s do it together, and let’s find the best solutions together. Not only that, let’s be an example for other sectors too.
"Working together is the only solution for the sector"
If any parts of this conversation resonated with you—and if you would like to learn more about joining IWCA—please contact us.
We are an action-oriented, inspiring, thoughtful community of over three dozen wineries across the globe tackling climate change. We provide a space for knowledge exchange and learning as well as a platform for collective sector-wide leadership.
Our deep thanks to Mafalda Guedes for the insightful conversation. Learn more about Sogrape’s “Seed the Future” strategy here!
All images graciously provided by Sogrape.