Napa County – Working with Winemakers to Achieve Sustainability
Written and posted by BAAQMD, January 2011
Estimated to contribute $11 billion to the local economy, the Napa Valley wine industry is both the economic engine of Napa County and one of the County government’s chief allies in climate protection. Winemaking is an extremely climate sensitive industry and both local government and winemakers in Napa recognize they have a lot at stake when it comes to climate change. As a result, Napa’s winemakers are working with the County to reduce the region’s carbon footprint and improve their sustainability through efforts like the Napa Green Certified Winery Program which partners with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Green Business program.
The Napa County Department of Environmental Management in partnership with the Napa Valley Vintners launched the Napa Green Certified Winery program in 2007, inspired by the Napa Green Land certification already in use for vineyards.
- Because of the strong local land use rules and other industry regulations that wineries already must adhere to the bar for becoming a green certified winery is set high.
- There are currently 27 wineries certified Napa Green in Napa County.
- Napa County is developing a climate action plan for its unincorporated area that includes one of the first local assessments of the impact on carbon stocks from land use changes (e.g. conversion of open space to vineyard or to other uses).
- In developing both regulatory and voluntary measures, the strong working relationship between Napa County and the wine industry has been key to enacting successful environmental policies.
- Once adopted, Napa’s Climate Plan will help the County comply with new CEQA requirements regarding climate change and minimize climate impacts of vineyards and wineries.
- While land use changes are an interesting new aspect of local climate policy, transportation emissions are still the biggest single contributor to the County’s carbon footprint. Each sector of the community (agriculture, transportation, developers, etc.) needs to carry its own weight.
Resources to learn more
- History of ABAG’s Green Business Program
- The Napa Green program
- Napa Green Business and Winery checklist
The Rest of the Story…
The Bay Area Green Business Program was formed in 1996 by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). Through the program, government agencies help small and consumer oriented businesses become environmental leaders. To be certified as a Green Business, participants must be in compliance with all applicable environmental regulations, as well as implement a variety of additional measures in the categories of solid waste reduction and recycling, energy and water conservation, and pollution prevention. Participants implement measures from industry specific checklists. Some basic measures are required, but others are selected by the business based on what makes sense in light of audits that are conducted as part of the program.
Napa was one of the first participants in the ABAG program but fell out early on due to a lack of funding. In 2006, however, Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce pushed to restart the Green Business program. The re-launching coincided with an effort by the Napa Valley Vintners, a non-profit trade association representing the majority of wineries in Napa, to develop a green winery certification program to complement their successful Napa Green Certified Land program.
The partnership was critical to getting the Green Business Program up and running. County staff was in a good position to conduct third party auditing and certification for the Green Business Program yet lacked resources to do front end marketing. The Vintners group was well suited to do the marketing but needed an objective third party to establish the credible certification program. The County was also able to leverage the resources brought to the table by the wine industry to launch the Green Business Program for other types of businesses in the County. About 60 Napa County businesses are currently certified through that program.
One of the first steps taken in setting up the program was to update the existing Green Business winery checklist. Napa County’s Department of Environmental Management updated the checklist in cooperation with Sonoma County. Once the checklist was updated, the program opened for business and the efforts to date have been impressive. For example, Napa wineries have adopted solar power at an unprecedented rate, with 43 wineries now having installed systems. While Napa’s winemakers have historically been champions of sustainability efforts they have also found that the Green Business measures are a good investment in terms of cost savings and in giving their customers what they want.
In addition to developing the Green Business and Winery program, the County has also begun looking at how the new CEQA related climate change requirements relate to the cumulative vineyard expansion scenarios in their General Plan. The County started working with consultants and community stakeholders to develop scientifically defensible and practically implementable methodologies for assessing carbon stock changes that will result from General Plan scenarios. While the specific science regarding land conversions and emission rates has yet to be completed, and there is much more work still to do before growers can quantify emission reductions associated with agricultural practices, the County is disseminating a broad-brush strategy for GHG emission reductions.
The wineries themselves have a long history of dealing with sustainable land-use, dating back to when the industry supported the 1968 Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve act, a one of its kind piece of legislation that protected the majority of Napa County land for agricultural purposes. The Ag Preserve, as it’s now known, may hold a key to innovative climate policy in the region. County officials and wine industry representatives are beginning to explore the possibility of promoting the carbon sequestration benefits of Napa’s agricultural land under a future cap and trade or other regulatory climate regime.
While the climate and land use efforts are an interesting new aspect of climate policy, Napa representatives are also mindful of the fact that transportation emissions are still the biggest single contributor to the County’s carbon footprint. The remote nature of the County’s unincorporated areas makes transit and density-based GHG reduction measures difficult. There are however a number of efforts underway to promote car/vanpooling, car-free tourism, more efficient trucking, non-profit taxi service, and multi-use trail systems to reduce transportation related emissions.