A wine tour company is inherently unfriendly to the environment. The thousands of miles being driven by the company produce waste. At Grand Cru Wine Tours we are committed to minimizing our impact on the environment and maximizing our support of the local communities we operate in by offering a sustainable Oregon wine tour. Starting a small business with sustainability as a goal has presented a unique set of challenges and benefits. We have been able to plan and build many practices into the company from the start that we felt were beneficial. We have the challenge of financing all of the great ideas we have and still being profitable.
As we began working on our sustainability goals, we kept running across references to frogs. So we decided to adopt the frog as our symbol of our goals. While others have used it as a symbol of good luck or the protector of water, for us it is a reminder of what we need to accomplish. After all “it’s not that easy being green.”
We are often asked what makes a wine tour sustainable, and what is sustainable tourism. When we started the company we looked for a framework to build our sustainability policies around that was comprehensive and reflective of industry best practices. As we did our research, we kept coming back to the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Sustainable Travel International. The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) were developed as part of a project led by the Global Sustainable Travel Council, which includes members such as Rainforest International, the United Nations Foundation, the UN Environmental Programme and the UN World Tourism Organization. As we looked at the GSTC we felt that they met our requirements of being comprehensive and reflective of best practices. The criteria helped us to better define sustainable tourism. The organizations involved in designing the criteria had long records of accomplishment of successful environmental efforts. Since then they have also been identified by Travel Oregon to be the basis of their new Sustainable Business Challenge. The GSTC are divided into four primary categories:
- Demonstrate effective sustainable management
- Maximize social and economic benefits to the local community and minimize negative impacts
- Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impacts
- Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts
Sustainable Travel International (STI) is a non-profit organization founded in 2002 to encourage sustainable tourism development. The rigorous Sustainable Tourism Eco-certification Program™ (STEP) offered through STI is fully aligned with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and impending global accreditation through the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. STI offered a resource to help us improve our practices and a set of criteria to benchmark ourselves. In the spring of 2011, we completed our first eco-certification through STEP. Here at Grand Cru Wine Tours we felt this was a necessary step to show our commitment to the program and to provide our customers with assurance that we are living up to our standards.
Sustainable Travel International has divided their review into eight categories as listed below. Our second party certification required us to provide evidence of compliance with the 19 required criteria established by STI as a baseline for sustainable tour operators. Our next step will be to complete a third party review of all of our practices and have them reviewed against the framework designed by STI. We have also included a number of the items that we have worked on in each category.
- Business Model
- Guest Experience
- Workplace Practices
- Energy / Climate
- Ecosystem Preservation
- Community Impacts
Business Model – We have a business plan that includes a mission statement, budgets, and operating and marketing plans. We have made sure that this plan is aligned with local tourism development strategies and is reviewed quarterly by management. We have a sustainability plan for our company. This is a continuous work in progress as we seek to improve our processes. Our goal for this year is to develop a sustainability report that will be made public based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). GRI is the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework.
Guest Experience- We communicate a “Do No Harm” policy to our clients and work to educate them about sustainability. This education takes place both on our tours and on our website. Our goal is to educate clients about sustainable tourism, our sustainability efforts, and the sustainability efforts of other businesses in our region. All of our drivers are required to complete a customer service training program. We encourage all of our guests to provide feedback on their experiences at feedback.grandcruwinetours.com and use this as a basis for improvements in our company. Our goal for this year is to increase our feedback rate from customers and developing a comprehensive plan to better educate our clients about sustainable travel.
Workplace Practices- Management reviews all applicable health safety an environmental regulations for compliance. The safety of our guests is a major concern for us. Each of our drivers must complete a driver safety course that includes instruction specific to vans, first aid, and CPR training. First aid and safety equipment is maintained in each vehicle in case it is ever needed. We also realize that our drivers are what make our business what it is. We seek their input regarding our performance in a variety of areas. Annually we review our driver wages and compare them to local and national wage data to help ensure that our wages offer a living wage. This year we will be looking at our training program to make improvements to our driver’s knowledge of low impact travel, sustainable tourism, and about the wines and wineries of the area.
Operations- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is the basis for our operational policies. We start with tracking the total volume of garbage including recyclable and compostable items, by sorting, properly storing, and then disposing of the items. This tracking allows us to identify significant sources of waste and potential areas of improvement. All of our staff our instructed to look for ways to reduce the waste that we produce. One of our goals for this year is to develop additional relationships with restaurants and wineries in the area that are able to provide reusable food service items to cut down on the waste. We also track all of the chemicals that we use and look for non-toxic options when available. We recently switched over to Sustainable Earth cleaning products for both our office and our vehicle.
Purchasing- Prior to making purchasing decisions we look to see of a local and/or eco-friendly alternative is available. All of our office paper is 100% recycled and elemental chlorine free. We use Print Green in Eugene to handle our printed marketing materials. They are able to provide us a 80% recycled FSC certified paper that is printed using soy inks. Last year our total paper usage averaged 82% recycled content and 65% post consumer waste. Last year, not including the purchase of our vehicle, over 50% of our purchases were from companies located in the Willamette Valley. An additional 10% were purchased in the Willamette Valley and met one or more of our guidelines for acceptable eco-friendly products. Having worked in the industry I have seen the large number of plastic water bottles that end up in the trash. We now feature water from Oregon Rain. The water is rain water harvested locally and the bottles are made of OXO biodegradable plastic. We are also looking to increase the number of local and organic meats, cheeses, and chocolates for our appetizer plates that we can provide. We are always looking for new products from local producers that meet our guidelines. This year we are working on increasing our educational materials for our guests about local vendors and their sustainable practices. As part of this we will continue to review the sustainability efforts of our vendors.
Energy / Climate- We track all energy and greenhouse gas emissions based on theClimate Registry standards. We used their methodology as a guide to determining our emissions. From these calculations we look at ways we can reduce our impacts, including reducing our miles traveled and working to increase our average miles per gallon on our trips be driving more efficiently. Procedures have been established for all vehicle maintenance to help ensure that chemicals are not released into the environment. For the emissions that we cannot reduce, we purchase certified carbon offsets and renewable energy credits to ensure we remain carbon neutral overall. We have joined the EPA’s Green Power Partnership to help promote companies purchasing green power in excess of EPA requirements. We have set average mileage and average miles per gallon goals for this year to improve our efficiency.
Ecosystem Preservation- This is one area where many of the STI criteria don’t impact our daily activities. Our guests aren’t out hiking, camping or riding horses. Due to risk of transferring harmful insects or plants between vineyards, our guides are trained and tours planned to reduce the risk of transferring flora and fauna. We have also set guidelines for tour planning to help focus on wineries that focus on sustainable winemaking, including those that participate in the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine program and the Carbon Neutral Challenge. This way we can support those wineries that share our goal of preserving the local ecosystem. We have also committed to donating 5% of net revenues to local conservation organizations, and to plant a tree for every tour that we operate. This year we are working on designing additional marketing materials to help explain to our guests more about the area and how we and the wineries are working to improve the area.
Community Impacts- Our tours focus on promoting local businesses. In addition to highlighting the areas wineries, we also present an appetizer tray and a chocolate tray on each tour that displays a variety of local producers. We want to help our guests learn all they can about the area. We have committed to donating 5% of net revenues to selected social and cultural projects in the area. One of our goals for this year is to develop a better system for providing donations to charitable organizations. Because of our small size and the costs, the number of free tours we can offer is limited. Therefore, we are looking at other options of how we can best help local groups.
We are always looking for process improvements and new ideas. If you have any comments or suggestions please pass them along. Our goal is for Grand Cru Wine Tours to be your source for sustainable Oregon wine tours.