Climate Leadership Series Part 1: Julien Gervreau, VP of Sustainability at Jackson Family Wines

by | Dec 2, 2020 | Stories

We sat down (virtually, of course) with Julien Gervreau, VP of Sustainability at Jackson Family Wines, which won top honors – an Organizational Leadership Award – at the 2020 Climate Leadership Awards back in March. Jackson Family Wines is a family-owned and led wine company that includes such celebrated wineries as Kendall-Jackson, Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Cambria Estate Wines in California and Penner-Ash and WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon. The Jackson family owns and farms thousands of acres of estate vineyards spanning the globe’s most significant wine regions. The company also employs over 1,500 people.

Read on for more on the Jackson Family Wines sustainability journey, and Julien’s top three tips for organizations that are aspiring to climate leadership.

Tell us a little about how you came to apply for a Climate Leadership Award, and why?

We are a wine grower primarily, and we consider ourselves rooted in the land. The family takes a long view regarding land stewardship – our founder Jess Jackson was famous for saying “take care of the land and it will take care of you.” That sentiment underscores what sustainability means for us.

We saw the Climate Leadership Awards as a prestigious program that recognizes global climate leadership…and we were a relatively small wine company focused on doing the right things. After getting our house in order and making some significant progress in terms of making real verified emissions reductions and other sustainable practices, we finally felt we were ready for consideration.

What did it mean to Jackson Family Wines to be recognized at the Climate Leadership Awards?

We have won a number of awards over the years, and many of these are wine industry-specific awards. The Climate Leadership Award was gratifying as it demonstrated that what we’re doing transcends the wine industry, and that we’re at the vanguard of agricultural practices. That recognition was huge for us.

Do you have a memory from the awards event that stands out?

A lot of hand sanitizer! Amazing to think that that was the last time I was on an airplane. I really enjoyed being able to walk around Detroit and discover an interesting new city. At the event itself, it was great to see all the heavyhitters on climate in the same room together – and looking to work together on solutions.

What are your top three tips for organizations that are thinking about doing more on climate?

The most important thing is to measure your GHG emissions, and have your inventory verified – if you don’t know what your emissions baseline is, you can’t be serious about reducing your emissions. And it’s not just about measuring your Scope 1 and 2 emissions, it’s also important to look at your supply chain.

Once you know your primary sources of emissions, look for the areas where you can align emissions reductions with cost savings. By finding the low-hanging fruit, you can get the organization comfortable with measuring and reporting out on progress in the same way you do with financial metrics. Knowing your emissions profile allows you to ask informed questions and make good business decisions about where and how to reduce.

The inventory also creates a great opportunity for engagement across the organization. Most corporate sustainability departments like mine run lean and mean, so we need to be resourceful, and act as intrapreneurs within our own organization. At Jackson Family Wines, we have parlayed this enthusiasm into working groups that are involved in a variety of climate initiatives. By engaging people from across the organization, we can really have an impact and also ensure that what we do is sustainable.

What is next on the sustainability agenda for Jackson Family Wines?

We have seen a tremendous amount of progress in the last five years: we’ve achieved a 17.5% absolute reduction in our carbon footprint since 2015, we use half as much water per gallon of wine than we did 10 years ago, and we are the largest generator of on-site renewable energy in the wine industry. In the last year or so we have stepped up our response to the climate crisis by creating a 2030 Resiliency Plan. The Plan evaluates key areas of risk and opportunity – including climate, GHG emissions, land use and farming, water resiliency and social impact – and also sets targets and lays out a roadmap for each area.

We’ve developed targets for the climate pillar of the plan: in line with IPCC targets, we are aiming to make an absolute emissions reduction of 50% by 2030 and become climate positive by 2050 across Scopes 1-3, without purchasing offsets. We’re a land-based company so we have significant opportunities in terms of how we farm, and to sequester and store CO2 in our soils. This is aligned with our goal to farm in a more regenerative way. We’re also looking for additional reductions in water – recognizing that California is a semi-arid state, and that we’re going to have to adapt our farming practices in light of existing global warming. Our focus is on how we do this as a group; it’s a truly collaborative effort with many people from all over the company stepping up to take leadership roles on this issue.

Are you engaging with others in the wine industry?

We co-founded a collaborative organization, International Wineries for Climate Action, to work together on reducing carbon emissions across the wine industry. There are 10 member wineries from six countries and four continents in the working group, and we’re developing best practices for reducing emissions in line with global targets. It’s a great example of how organizations can work together pre-competitively. IWCA is open to any wine company who is interested in working collaboratively to mitigate the climate crisis.

What’s giving you hope right now?

The vaccines! Humanity is amazing – the speed at which all these different organizations are developing a vaccine is incredible. Also, as we look at the UN’s forecast of an 8% drop in global emissions as a result of the pandemic, it’s a great opportunity to re-think what “going back to normal” looks like. We started our resiliency effort in January, it was disrupted by the pandemic in March…but we completed the roadmapping exercise remotely and focused on what could be done. There’s a lot of opportunity to do more on climate and it gives me great heart to see leaders stepping up.