The “Sustainable Austria” certification programme, developed by the Austrian Winegrowers’ Association, provides grape growers and wine producers with the opportunity to evaluate the sustainability of their cultivation methods and become certified.
The “Sustainable Austria” certification has enjoyed a pioneering position in the international wine industry since it was introduced in 2015. The European Green Deal with goals for 2030 and 2050 is a key element within the framework of the Sustainable Austria certification. This centres around the reduction of greenhouse gases and the responsible use of resources, phytomedicinal measures and nutrient supplies for the vines, as well as social and economic factors.
Over a period of several years, scientists studied all production measures carried out throughout the wine-growing year and rated them with respect to their ecological, economic and social sustainability. The results were used to create an online tool through which Austrian vintners can assess the sustainability of their production processes, including planting up a new vineyard, growing grapes, producing wine and marketing. The “Sustainable Austria” seal is unique insofar as it focuses not only on the effects of the defined measures, but also on their complex interaction. Each measure is assessed with regard to the knock-on effect it has on all the others.
In total, the sustainability assessment covers around 360 measures that need to be entered and assessed. With the exception of glyphosate (which has been banned since 2018), all legally permitted measures, plant protection products and resources are generally allowed and evaluated as part of the overall picture in nine sustainability categories: quality, social factors, economic factors, climate, materials, energy, soil, biodiversity and water.
- The “Sustainable Austria”-certified areas under vine amount to 8,808 ha, equating to 20% of the total area under vine in Austria (44,537 ha).
- In total, 418 wine producers are certified “Sustainable Austria”. These include four cooperatives that have been counted as individual wineries and that cultivate a total of 1,102 ha. The average Sustainable-Austria-certified producer cultivates 12 ha (median value).
- Of the 418 “Sustainable Austria”-certified wineries, 92 (22%) are also certified organic, which equals 2020 ha (23% of the certified area).
- In the last five years the “Sustainable Austria”-certified area under vine has more than tripled.
CERTIFICATION AND CONTROL
Once wine producers have entered all the necessary information in the online tool and fulfilled all the prerequisites, they can apply for certification by an independent external inspection company (LACON or AgroVert). This is carried out by means of an audit at the winery. Certified producers are authorised to use the “Sustainable Austria” seal – a logo comprising a symbol and text, protected under private law – for the year following certification.
The external control companies that carry out certification also conduct annual checks on the data that producers enter into the online tool. Wine retailers and wine cooperatives are also inspected annually on their premises, while small and medium-sized wine producers must be audited on site once every three years. Additionally, the latter may be subject to an unannounced inspection as part of a random sample.
The “Sustainable Austria” certification does not include an actual list of prohibited products and practices, or a list of those that are mandatory. Instead, it sets specific objectives and classifies practices in every area of sustainability as either positive or negative. A winery does not need to attain a positive score for every single one of the 360 measures, but the traffic light is not allowed to show red in the overall evaluation of any sustainability category. A maximum of two areas are (currently) allowed to show up yellow, and at least seven categories need to be green for the winery to qualify for certification. The minimum targets, that a wine producer must reach in order to get a positive (green) evaluation are adjusted every year, raising the requirements and making the assessment generally harder to pass. Consequently, the benchmark for “Sustainable Austria” certification is slightly higher every year, which also encourages previously certified wineries to continuously improve.
All legally permitted measures and inputs in both vineyards and cellars are generally allowed. The only exception is the use of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been prohibited since 2018 and is now tightly controlled using sampling procedures. Particularly environmentally friendly practices are given an especially positive rating to encourage wineries to adapt their working practices accordingly.
Good to know
Already 88% of the area under vine in certified wineries is generally a herbicide-free zone, in addition to the general ban on the use of glyphosate. In addition, on 57% of the area under vine in certified wineries no insecticides are being used.
All production measures carried out throughout the wine-growing year – including the planting up of a new vineyard, growing grapes, producing wine and marketing the bottled wine – are listed as around 360 individual practices in an online tool. Scientists have rated all measures on a scale from +10 to -10 in nine sustainability categories (climate, soil, water, energy, biodiversity, materials, quality, social factors and economic factors). Every time a wine producer enters information into the tool, they can see the influence of that specific measure in the corresponding sustainability category. The tool also shows wineries how sustainable each of their measures is in comparison to alternative methods. As a result, wineries receive practical recommendations on how they can improve their rating for each specific measure.
Once all data has been entered, a spider diagram with a traffic light system shows the winery’s overall sustainability status.
The point along each axis in the diagram represents the current position of the winery in that specific sustainability category. The further the point is towards the edge of the diagram, the more sustainable the winery is in terms of this category. A point in the red zone prevents the winery from becoming certified and reveals significant room for improvement. Points in the green zone indicate above-average sustainability practices. In other words, the system does not present results in terms of figures, but rather in relative terms. Regardless of whether or not a winery is aiming to become certified, it can still use the tool to identify opportunities for improvement and can track its progress towards a more sustainable approach to viticulture.
Since 2022, the tool has carried out an automatic greenhouse gas analysis, the results of which are listed in the winery’s sustainability report.
The Transparency Paper provides a detailed list of which of the 360 measures have the strongest positive or negative rating in each of the sustainability categories. Examples of both positive and negative measures for each category can be found below:
- Planting and preservation of biodiversity priority areas
- > 500 m² of drystone walling per hectare of vineyard
- PIWI (fungus-resistant) grape varieties
- Construction of stone walls and banking in steep vineyards
- Biannual and perennial cover crops (year-round cover crops)
- Compost (over 4,000 kg of dry matter per hectare) and horse manure (over 10,000 kg per hectare)
- Refilling of glass bottles
- Buildings certified energy class A, A+ or A++
- Energy self-sufficient
- District heating based on renewable energy sources and biomass
- Use of biodiesel
- Proportion of lightweight glass as a percentage of total new glass
- Soil (plant) analyses according to the Austrian ÖNORM standard
- Earth cellar
- Green electricity
Economic factors (excerpt)
- Execution of a business analysis
- Promotion of regionality
- Provision of regular cellar door sales
- No use of insecticides
- Low number of applications of plant protection products against fungal pathogens
- No enrichment
Social factors (excerpt)
- Observance of collectively agreed minimum wage and payment of standard bonus payments
- Preference for purchasing services from companies with proven ecological and social certification standards
- Purchasing of ethical services from equally fair and sustainable third parties
- Biannual and perennial cover crops (year-round cover crops)
- Fertilisation using organic commercial fertiliser, straw, bark mulch, compost and horse manure
- Appropriate erosion measures on steep hillsides, and terrace construction with banking on slopes
NEGATIVE RATING (EXCERPT)
- Use of herbicides
- Large-scale sprayers
- Fertilisation without soil analysis and/or over-fertilisation
- Conventional plant protection against animal pests
- No cover crops
- High number of tractor trips through the vineyard
- Use of new glass
- Cardboard packaging containing less than 50% recycled material
Those interested in the certification process can find further information in the Transparency Paper and click through the online tool anonymously at https://tool.nachhaltigaustria.at/.
Good to know
When a winery enters detailed data on more than 360 measures in the online certification tool, the tool is able to evaluate the current status of each measure and track the progress of the winery’s sustainability performance. In other words, the number of wineries that are implementing specific measures to encourage biodiversity, to save electricity, water or CO2, or to protect employees, for example, can be quantified at any given time.
Quantifiable impact and results of the “Sustainable Austria” certification programme to date
Examples of the impact and results of the “Sustainable Austria” certification programme to date, based on data in the online tool (as at 2021):
- 88% of the area under vine in certified wineries is a herbicide-free zone (compared to 70% in 2019), in addition to the general ban on the use of glyphosate
- 11 wineries are energy self-sufficient
- About 60% of wineries use particularly efficient and sparing methods to apply plant protection products: 31% recycling technology and 27% low loss spraying technology. This can save up to 40% of plant protection products.
- 51% of wineries grow biennial and perennial cover crops
- 79% of the total energy used in wine production is renewable, e.g., photovoltaics, biomass, green electricity (compared to 56% in 2019)
- 26% of all wineries dedicate over 10% of their land to biodiversity, while 24% of all wineries report a biodiversity share of between 5 and 10%
- Two-thirds of winery buildings and root cellars are classified A, A+ and A++ in terms of energy efficiency
- 57% lightweight bottles (share of lightweight glass as a percentage of total new glass); a new concept for refilling glass bottles, which will considerably reduce carbon emissions, is currently being developed.
- PIWI varieties now make up 7% of the NHA-certified area under vine (compared to 2019: 0.7%)
Participation in the certification programme differs from region to region. In the wine-growing regions of Kamptal, Kremstal, Neusiedlersee, Südsteiermark, Wachau and Wien (Vienna), about one-third of the area under vine is cultivated by “Sustainable Austria”-certified wineries, while this figure is well below 10% in Weststeiermark, the Thermenregion and Kärnten (Carinthia).
Austrians are born nature-lovers and therefore particularly respectful towards the natural environment. This is a country that places great importance on environmental protection and the responsible use of natural resources. It comes as no surprise, that Austria is a world leader in environmentally conscious viticulture.