Sunday, June 24, 2012

So lift your Glass and Raise it High: Wine Saves the Day

the Beauty of the Days to Come: an environmental homage to Van Morrison's appreciation of beauty

The last month's posts looked at rating systems, specifically, the apex raters of sustainable seafood. In 2012 we are all influenced, either directly or indirectly, by rating systems. Rating schemes, whether of fine wines or the raters themselves, are  designed to drive change by either persuading consumers to buy a particular product or persuading producers to engage in a specific process, in this case, ecologically advisable practices. Raters embody cultural values,  but sometimes, raters can be pioneers who lead and change cultural directions. Raters of ecological practices tend to be pioneers of change.

All rating systems have emerged from complex systems as ways of dealing with complexity. Expertise in a specialization is highly valued and well rewarded. Raters are also experts in their domains; they save all others huge amounts of time and energy by first, allowing consumers to choose a rater with persuasive credentials and values compliant with his or her own's,  then allowing consumers to rely, over future time, on their judgments (saving time and energy). Raters simplify decision-making/life.  Raters are rewarded.

Rewardinthecognitveniche (RCN)  strives to make ecological decision-making for top-quality products in complex systems as pleasurable and rewarding as conceivably possible for all individuals of all species. Key concepts are decision-making, quality, pleasure, ecology, and complexity. RCN is a rater of diverse continuous practices, from choosing seafood for dinner to throwing away an empty wine bottle.

In 2012, no one is rating consumers  for their environmental choices, yet these choices will radically affect quality of both wines and consumer life in the days to come. We rate producers.  But whatever is not consumed sooner or later will fail to be produced. This is the premier law of free markets. Over time, if only briefly, demand will equal supply.

Free markets only indirectly, if at all,  reflect quality of life. Markets tend to reflect economics, typically efficiency in production and distribution, sometimes ethics, sometimes environmental issues, and rarely and only in a narrow demographics, quality of life.That said, quality of life will be judged by standards established, now and in the days gone by, by the best of the best.

"The beauty of the days gone by
The music that we used to play
So lift your glass and raise it high
To the beauty of the days gone by

I'll sing it from the mountain top
Down to the valley down below
Because my cup doth overflow
With the beauty of the days gone by." 
Van Morrison

Who decides what is best?

Best imaginable quality of life, aka the sweet life, can be reconceptualized as beauty experienced. While each person might conceptualize, define, and experience beauty differently, for each, beauty is what emerges from a  network of "the best elements linked in the best ways for the best outcomes according to the best judgments." (Netoff, 2001). In 2012, best is highly influenced by the judgments of experts in an almost infinite variety of domains. 

Sometimes new judgments of what is best pioneer preferences for good better and best worldwide for a long long time.  More is better has been a top value for hundreds of years, but not always. Stronger, faster, and smarter, also have dominated cultures as top values for many if not most generations.

Experts are the go-to judges of our times. In simple systems, we are best off by thinking for ourselves and acting on considerations made--given simple systems, inputs, outputs, and values. Generally, nothing is now simple. We are required to depend on experts, for brain surgery, seafood choices for dinner, and wine to drink.

Standards for quality are created by experiences of the best of the best in days gone by. We are biologically programmed to re-evaluate best as something that happened both during the lifetimes of our parents, meaning the best of the past is considered but not precisely remembered and is a phenomenon best re-interpreted as the best experience of quality in our lifetimes, everything considered.

The last post suggested that a model of how the highest conceivable-but-attainable quality of life might be preserved could be effectively embodied in the experience of making and drinking wine rated the best in the world of its kind. Local high-end winemakers were identified as the 2012 noblesse obligated to lead the way to highest possible quality of life for all.

Wine producers of wines rated 90 or above can lead the way

Wine production is not considered a top environmental polluter. For that reason, as well as a lingering value established by specialization during early free-market days justifying "doing one's own thing", wine-producers tends to focus on quality, terroir and economics more than environment. Terroir is not environment. Terroir is creative explication, while environment is commitment to aesthetically ecolving ecosystems.

What is unique here is that I am suggesting that winemakers of top quality products have an obligation-that- mirrors-their-privileges to lead the way to a top quality future by doing the right thing by the global ecosystem. In 2012 Central Coast winemakers aka producers can establish precedents for how producerss can share stewardship with consumers: reporting ecological practices online. The winemakers listed below have a noblesse obligation to report online their ecological performances in a way that both allows consumers to decide who is ecologically sound but also, who is a leader.

File:Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry avril detail.jpg
Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry avril detail.jpg

Noblesse Oblige

In the past, the nobility was classified as a social class distinguished by high hereditary or honorary rank that possesses privileges, or eminence, and certain rights not granted to members of other classes in a society. Membership in this elite group has been, over historical times, an open order. Who is and who is not noble changes. What does not change is the idea that the noble/elite have not only privileges and power but also responsibilities.

 In the case of local Santa Barbara winemakers, those who produce wines rated by world-class experts as 95 or above (or the equivalent rating) are considered prestigious and probably powerful, wealth aside. These winemakers are influential in our local wine community and beyond. Conceivably, these winemakers can be conceptualized as the modern-day equivalent of middle-age nobility, who had privileges but also responsibilities. Designated contemporary nobility include:

A brand-new responsibility for noblesse is that of the global environment and its populations. Winemaking is for me among the most rewarding activities imaginable.  Agriculture can be seen as the defining activity of civilized Homo sapiens, and wine making as the pinnacle of agricultural activity. Those that produce the best of the best can be seen as the best, aka, the noblesse. Although this may be arguable, I feel strongly that producers of the highest possible quality of wine have both that privilege but also the responsibilities that I enumerate as follows:

  • the responsibility to produce the best wine possible, given climate, terroir, wine-making skills, etc.
  • the responsibility to be not only communicatively transparent but further,to report to the global consumer sufficient information to make informed decisions, once quality has been determined, regarding which product has been produced according to the most ecological process, given the state of science.

In 2012, any attempt to report best ecological process must undertake some kind of life cycle analysis (LCA).The next post explains what this is and indicates the gold standards for 2012. The main purpose of this post was to present the argument that Central Coast Wine producers of top quality wines have a responsibility to share stewardship responsibilities by reporting online  their ecological activities using 
comprehensive data that are comparable worldwide and/or reliableindicators of ecological excellence such as ISO certifications.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saving Santa Barbara's Sweet Life

saving the sweet life, as the crow flies
This is the second post in a short four-part series on saving the sweet life, aka the good life, or the life each person is biologically programmed to strive for. In a best case scenario, those living the good life right now  will improve the world and secure a high quality future by accepting the privilege of global stewardship with all actions incumbent. Santa Barbara is known world-wide for the good life most of its residents live. While souring a tad, the sweet life can still be saved. Transformative collaboration to the rescue!
The 1947 vintage of Chateau Cheval Blanc is widely regarded as the finest wine in the world

The list below comprises  local  (Santa Barbara  & Central Coast) producers  of top quality wines who  could, as leaders/noblesse-2012, help save the sweet life.  

Planning to Save the Sweet Life

First and foremost: top quality producers need to keep on producing superb wines, which of course, is what evolving wine consumers will strive for. Otherwise, life doesn't make sense and the economy that depends on consumers and producers calculating cost and benefit fails to work. Everyone tries to optimize the outcome of decisions, most of which involve calculating costs and predicted benefits in the present. An outcome can be conceptualized at its most fundamental as pleasure in achieving/acquiring the best. So producing the best is the sine qua non.

Simultaneously: top quality producers need to begin to collaborate more closely with their consumers for ecological preservation and restoration. Producing the best requires a vibrant ecosystem: specific weather, air, water, soil, subsoils, organisms, and insightful, adaptive wine-making. In 2012 each vibrant local ecosystem forming part of the global ecosystem is in imminent danger, requiring immediate, well-orchestrated comprehensive and universally inclusive action to avoid irreversible degradation. In short, everyone must act.

Reflecting this realization, some of the wineries producing the best wine have adopted increasingly responsible environmental practices. Shafer Wineries, for example, has been powered solely by solar energy since 2004. The source of most greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change, ocean acidification and  other ecological degradations, is the generation of electricity through the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is the fossil fuel most responsible for emitting both toxins and greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one aspect of a good environmental practice and can be used as an indicator of an effort to preserve the good life. 

A local example of a winery producing top quality wines while tending towards best environmental practices and some online reporting is  Foxen, which is dry-farmed, solar powered  (since 2009) and reports anecdotally about its ecological practices. Anecdotal reporting is a term used here by Reward in the Cognitive Niche (RCN) to indicate without metrics or system of third-party assessment that is easily compared to another winery for overall environmental performance. Another local producing top quality wines is Qupé, a winery that farms organically, but like most of the other top-quality wine producers who report their practices in this ecologically charmed region, Qupé reports environmental performance anecdotally. Anecdotal reporting may be true but is typically not amenable to useful comparisons of ecological credentials for determining which wine most favors the environment. Anecdotal reporting includes statements such as these:  farms organically, is "green", is biodynamic,  is solar-powered, recycles, etc. However, the benefits of a wine farmed "biodynamically" is unclear and incalculable.

The free market calculation of costs and benefits 1 ) requires metrics and 2) notoriously fails to include the future, and when it does, both benefits and costs in the future are predictably discounted. Using money as the medium of valuing. discounting indicates that a dollar received today is worth more than a dollar received in the future. Immediate pleasure is greater than future pleasure. When the quality of the environment was not at all threatened, this free-market system worked fairly well. But with a population of over seven billion most of whom have consumption habits that the earth cannot support (see ecological footprint) the quality of the future is continually degraded. Eating down the food chain, discussed in previous posts, is one example of what happens in a degraded future.

The Critical Importance of Online Reporting

To save the sweet life, Best Practices need not only to be implemented but to be reported online (see these benchmark examples: city and winery), so that conscientious consumers who would like to share stewardship privileges with producers have the best information possible on which to make choices among wines. A long-term goal would be for specific practices to be part of the labeling of every wine and for every winery to regularly report online what their practices are as well as how the environment is affected.

What is different in the ecological advocacy of Reward in the Cognitive Niche is our emphasis on collaboration of producer and consumer through online reporting of environmental practices using  the best reporting methods available. For now the best method for wineries appears to be a Life Cycle Analysis:
"A life-cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life-cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from-cradle-to-grave (i.e., from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). LCA’s can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:
Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
Interpreting the results to help you make a more informed decision. "Wikepedia
A life cycle assessment/analysis depends on  good information.  Collaboration in stewardship of a vibrant ecosystem thus inevitably requires deep flowing communication:in a two-way process in which the best possible information is openly exchanged and decisions by all involved are generated on the basis of that information. Online reporting is the ideal channel: easily acessible by all. Transparent, comprehensive, timely, useful, comparable information would be the ideal.

Winery Online Reporting using Life Cycle Analysis

In an ideal case of shared stewardhip, the winery would report using an ecologically based life cycle assessment of wine production such as Eco-LCA of its practices and impacts on the environment, and the consumer would make choices between wines of similar quality produced by different methods with different effects for the ecosystem. While none of the LCA methodologies account for all ecosystem goods and services, several pioneering models stand out: Taylor' Winery's eighty acre enterprise is 100 % carbon neutral based on an LCA model compliant to ISO 14044. 

ISO 14044:2006 specifies requirements and provides guidelines for life cycle assessment (LCA) including: definition of the goal and scope of the LCA, the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) phase, the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) phase, the life cycle interpretation phase, reporting and critical review of the LCA, limitations of the LCA, relationship between the LCA phases, and conditions for use of value choices and optional elements. 
LCA involves four main steps: Goal Definition and Scoping, Inventory, Impact Assessment, Evaluation, and Improvement Analysis. Various software and resources are available online for initiating a life cycle assessment using diverse metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions as an indicator of good practices.

As a reminder, Reward in the Cognitive Niche uses best quality as a gatekeeper for all subsequent evaluations and discussions. What is assumed is that all individuals try to optimize the pleasure generated by each decision. Consumers will choose the best possible wine quality, given their aesthetics and resources for assessing and obtaining quality. In most cases, there will be numerous wines from distinct wineries that satisfy a particular aesthetic and budget. RCN makes the further assumption that given equal qualities from which to choose, consumers will prefer to do right by the environment so they will select the one that not only appears to be better for the environment, as befits a top-quality producer according to the honor code of noblesse oblige, but also, one that re-conceptualizes the demands of 21st century stewardship to necessarily include the consumer.
The complexity of the environmental issues connected with the production and consumption of goods and services requires that a systematic and holistic approach for impact analysis and evaluation be developed. There is now a general consensus that it is not enough for a company to minimise environmental impacts at its own facilities, e.g. by the use of cleaner production technologies; it is necessary to broaden the analysis to an overalll picture of the interrelations between a company' s product and the environment in a life cycle perspective. 
This is the concept of Industrial Ecology, that essentially calls for an integrated approach towards the environmental effect of industrial processes, rather than aiming at the reduction of the effects of separate processes. It promotes renewable energy, non-toxic materials, sustainable product design in a closed loop, crossing company boundaries. It is rooted within circular concepts of the product life cycle and based on the Precautionary Principle
Agricultural practices can create significant negative environmental, social and economic impacts. These impacts are becoming increasingly significant for companies such as wineries that rely upon agricultural inputs for their products, since it has become more and more important to obtain agro-industrial products such as wine safeguarding the environment and health of the entire community. LIFE CYCLE APPROACH IN AN ORGANIC WINEMAKING FIRM: AN ITALIAN CASE-STUDY
The next post discusses  more in depth key models and pioneers who have transformed their enterprise to produce best quality products using environmental best practices including maximum consumer engagement.