“One of the things I always attribute to the success we’ve had over the last decade is the fact that we’re family-owned,” says Julien Gervreau, vice president of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines.
That means not just focusing on what’s going to happen next quarter, but generations into the future. To that end, the Santa Rosa, California-based wine company adopts sustainability practices to become more efficient and resilient. Gervreau uses the word “intrapraneur” — working across all areas of the business within the organization to find fruitful focus areas.
For more than a decade, Jackson Family Wines has committed to a wide range of goals that include improving energy efficiency, cutting waste, reducing carbon emissions, installing onsite renewable energy, and lowering the water intensity per gallon of wine produced.
Gervreau, who will be speaking at the 2019 Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Conference in May, shares how Jackson Family Wines’ water management strategy is making the company stronger and more profitable.
What does sustainability mean for Jackson Family Wines?
We talk about the triple bottom line approach: people, planet, and profit. When I look for projects, my focus is on how we can find that nexus between sustainability, reducing resources, becoming more resilient, and driving more value for the business.
What we’ve done over the past 10 years or so is started by picking the low-hanging fruit — looking at energy efficiency and seeing the reduction in electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions. Then we moved into things like water efficiency.
How do you approach water?
We started assigning a price to every gallon of water that we use in our wineries about six years ago. Water is not just this free gift that comes from the sky or the ground, but something that has a hard cost. You have to pump it, which takes electricity. You have to treat it to bring it up to standards. If you want hot water, you have to heat it. Moving it around the winery, that’s more electricity.
This “free” water actually costs us, based on the studies we’ve done, about 3 cents a gallon. And I will be the first to admit that is a gross under-valuation because we can’t live without it, but now we can justify the importance of saving water and investing in water reuse and water conservation technologies.
Think about the drought that California endured over the last seven-odd years. Companies spend a lot of money on insurance and don’t necessarily see a return. We started thinking about water conservation as an insurance policy.
Could you share water project examples?
Since 2008, we’ve reduced our water intensity — the number of gallons it takes us to produce a gallon of wine in our wineries — by about 60%. We went from about 9 gallons of water to just over 3.5 gallons of water to produce a gallon of wine.
The first thing that we started doing, which won an Environmental Leader Project of the Year award in 2015, was barrel wash water recycling. Barrel washing is our second highest water usage, but the number one happens in our cooling towers.
These units live outside of the wineries and run the refrigeration systems that cool our barrel halls. They run on water. You can actually adjust their conductivity settings and cycles of concentration so that the systems naturally recycle more water.
Also, instead of feeding potable water into the cooling towers, we’ve started to use captured rainwater that falls on the roof of our wineries during the wintertime and storing it in empty fermentation tanks. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in water usage as a result.
Are there metrics?
When we first started measuring the cycles of concentration in our cooling towers, we were seeing water recycled once or one and a half times on average. Now we’re up in the four to six range, depending on the facility. We’re able to recycle water more frequently through there, and rainwater is actually cleaner than most groundwater. It’s more conducive to being recycled through the cooling towers.
We have over a million gallons of storage capability just for captured rainwater. Throughout the course of the winter, that rainwater is being stored, used in the cooling towers, and replenished from rain.
What has been the biggest challenge with water efficiency?
There’s always the challenge of incentive. If you really want to achieve performance in a certain area, you need to align incentives. So we started tying water conservation and performance to compensation for our facility managers.
We track water usage in all of our wineries and look at trends over time. Now we’re able to see how well the wineries are doing in relation to how much wine we’re producing and what they did in previous years.
Do you have advice for other wineries?
You need to do the baselining exercises to understand your largest sources and uses of water. Do it every year. That all stems from the concept that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Then you can start targeting efforts and seeing progress.
What’s next for your water strategy?
We have an internal group focused on water reuse and conservation. It’s about sharing best practices, taking the wins at some of the wineries and expanding them throughout the portfolio so that everybody is taking the same view of water conservation.
Water is critical, and being a business that’s primarily based in California, it’s even more critical. Our ability to manage our water resources is going to define our ability to succeed in the future. It’s something we think about every day, and we’re happy to be out of drought this year. But we’re also ready for it to stop raining.
Julien Gervreau will be speaking at the 4th Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference (ELEMCON) May 13 – 15, 2019 in Denver.