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Oregon Wineries Pledge to Go Carbon Neutral

Fifteen wineries joined the newly created Oregon Global Warming Commission at its inception

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: September 7, 2007

Last month, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law House Bill 3542, a six-page piece of legislation that called for sweeping, green-driven changes to industry in Oregon—including the creation of the Oregon Global Warming Commission and a Climate Research Center, dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases. And the state's wineries were the first to get on board with the new initiative.

"It was exciting to see our governor ask our industry to stand beside him when he signed the legislation," said Willamette Valley Vineyards president Jim Bernau, whose winery has agreed to go carbon neutral by 2010. The other wineries agreeing to go carbon neutral are Abacela, Benton-Lane, Bethel Heights, Chehalem, Cooper Mountain, Lange, Lemelson, Mahonia, Resonance, Seven Hills, Sokol Blosser, Soter, Stoller and Torii Mor.

Essentially, becoming carbon neutral involves reducing overall carbon emissions, and offsetting the remaining emissions with other carbon-eliminating activities, such as planting trees (which convert carbon dioxide into oxygen). And Bernau agreed that carbon neutrality will be a challenge for Oregon wineries. "There are literally hundreds of decisions to be made at the winery, which can add to the collective CO2 burden or reduce it," he said. "In this way there is no one right answer, but hundreds that need to be given. We look at every decision through this lens and, at times, we cringe when we know not everything can we do right away."

Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, a semi-independent state agency that pushed for the legislation, said that, in the language of the bill, going carbon neutral remains voluntary, but already falls in line with the green philosophies of many wineries. Currently, 23 percent of vineyard acreage in Oregon is classified as either "sustainably, organically or biodynamically farmed," Farthing said. "The concept of carbon neutrality and seeking ways to minimize our carbon footprint is an important part of a holistic approach to sustainability," he added, "so it's natural that our industry sector has taken the lead for Oregon."

Oregon is not the only state nudging its industries toward carbon neutrality. In January 2007, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB32, a bill that aims to return carbon emissions in the state back to 1990 levels by 2020. Similarly, the Oregon bill aims to achieve greenhouse gas levels that are 10 percent below 1990 levels, by 2020.

However, one hurdle is the nascent means of measuring and offsetting carbon emissions. "Some wineries are already claiming and pursuing carbon neutrality, and developing an accounting tool is an important step in supporting this trend," said Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. "Once we have a better sense of how carbon sequestration and certain sustainable practices contribute to the equation, we may in fact find that many of the state's wineries are already carbon neutral."

Bernau also added that he is eager to see the public's reaction to the decision to move to carbon neutrality because, with the information age, "consumers will have the power to change the world," he said. "There is evidence that there are enough progressive consumers who value goods more than price, and will make or break businesses who either behave responsibly or selfishly."

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