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September 11, 2011

Measuring Sustainability

Dr. Cliff Ohmart
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Measuring Sustainabilty

The wine community has embraced the concept of sustainability like no other cropping system.  Since the early 1990s winegrowers and winemakers have been committed to moving along the sustainability continuum, from less sustainable to more sustainable.  For the most part, progress has been measured by implementing and tracking practices.  furthermore,  all of the existing sustainability certification programs (such as Lodi rulse for Sustainable Winegrowing, Sustainability in Practice, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, National Organic Program and Biodynamic Farming) are practice-based.  University and government programs designed to improve environmental and social conditions on and off the farm also are based on implementing what have been labeled best managements practices, or BMPs.

In all cases, the underlying assumption is that the practices being recommended and implemented are improving one's sustainability performance.  Once practices are implemented, however, very little if any follow up measurements are made to find out if, in fact, these practices are having the benefits attributed to them.

During the past few years, sustainability proponents have shown increasing interest in measuring the outcomes of practices as a more direct way to gauge sustainability performance.  Measurements used to quantify this performance are called performance metrics.  Winegrape growers already use some performance metrics, such as yield per acre and cost of production per acre.  Wineries track cases of wine produced, the cost of production per case and numbers of cases sold.  However, while these are important, there are many others that could be used as well.

A change in approach

Measuring performance rather than tracking practices is a change inn approach to determining levels of sustainability.  for example, if we implement practices to improve water-use efficiency, then we should measure water use over time in relation to yield and quality to see if our practices are, in fact, improving water-use efficiency.

The logic in this approach is if we are implementing practices to achieve a desired outcome, then why not measure the outcome directly to gauge success?  In this example, water use per unit of production is the performance metric.  Other performance metrics are energy use per unity of production, nutrient inputs per unit of production and measures of biodiversity, greenhouse gas production and water and air quality.  It is relatively easy to develop metrics and measure outcomes for things such as water use.  Metrics to measure the outcomes of practices in other areas, such