Thursday, June 28, 2007

WineNews 'Around the World Blog'

26 June 2007 by Mike Ratcliffe

The massive support in popular culture for terms like 'carbon footprint' and related language might just be the tonic that Wines of South Africa (WOSA) needs to ignite support for the ‘Variety is in our nature’ ( campaign, writes Mike Ratcliffe somewhere over the Lone Star State.

Without digging too deep, there appears at first glance to be fortuitous parallels between the biodiversity campaign and the concept of ‘carbon footprint’ in that they are both based around an eco-friendly hypothesis aimed at reducing human impact on the environment. But digging a little deeper shows that the South African campaign needs to do quite a bit of repositioning if it intends to find some sort of alignment with popular culture and the global momentum that is feeding ‘carbon footprint’ awareness.

To take a step backwards and introspectively reflect, perhaps it would be interesting to draw a parallel with the bold WIETA (Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association) initiatives that were taken by WOSA in the past few years. WIETA is an example of pro-active marketing, creative fund-raising, and is something which WOSA and South Africa can be justifiably proud of as it can lay claim to making a difference at grassroots level. But WIETA is in danger of having all its good work overshadowed by not sufficiently tapping into global popular culture.

Fairtrade is certainly the international buzzword in the ‘carbon footprint’ sense of human capital exploitation. Supermarkets will always be our major client and source of sales, and will always look at ways of tapping into popular culture. The term ‘Fairtrade’ has become part of that popular lexicon and it would seem reasonable to assume that the admirable and noble goals of WIETA, although closely associated with the Fairtrade goals, will not be recognized by supermarkets while the unstoppable consumer potential of the latter gathers momentum. A closer alignment between WIETA and Fairtrade would have been strongly beneficial to our industry. Perhaps the door is not completely closed?

On the back of this lesson, perhaps the South Africa wine industry should be exploring synergy with the ‘carbon footprint’ movement before it becomes a requirement dictated by the dominant supermarkets. TESCO has already defined the 'TESCO global footprint' and has put in place aggressive plans and timelines to start rolling back its impact on carbon emissions. The cynic in me would also hypothesize that a ‘less public’ TESCO committee would also be working behind the scenes on how to spread the cost of creating a less ‘carbon messy’ image among its innumerable suppliers. At risk of stating the obvious, it would not be prudent to fight this.

The WOSA campaign has been criticized as being confusing to the consumer and the body itself has acknowledged this feedback. The term 'eco-friendly' is now apparently the one being used in all correspondence and communication as this is more easily understood. WOSA should be complimented for its ongoing public campaign to create environmental champions of producers who dedicate vast tracks of land to the biodiversity message.

This really is a remarkable concept with tangible results and benefits, but is it being communicated to 'the public' in the most effective way? There are detailed documents backed by voluminous research detailing the message that we try to communicate – but what are people hearing? Is our message hitting the top notes of popular culture? Is the message in harmony with the swing in understanding that the ‘man on the street’ is starting to develop about the importance of the environment? Are the sound bites synergistic with the ‘carbon footprint’ movement? Should they be?

Things change quickly. The timing is going to be crucial and perhaps we should be using our good track record and relationship with TESCO to be the guinea-pig of their carbon footprint movement. Is it not plausible that South Africa be the first wine producing country in the world to create a system to measure and monitor our own carbon footprint?

It is common knowledge that New Zealand is also pursuing the ‘green’ agenda and we should not be caught napping. What if we, as an industry, were to pro-actively manage our carbon emissions and be the first to engage pro-actively with key supply chains and distribution channels?

Popular culture should not ever be underestimated. South Africa has already made admirable progress in positioning ourselves in the ‘eco-friendly’ zeitgeist space that is so important. It would not be inconceivable to now take it to the next level. If we don’t, somebody else will, and we should not be scared of ‘going big’ when it comes to the environment.

Let us not allow those cynical of marketing efforts to undermine the good intentions of our campaign.

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