Eco-labels have gained preeminence in lieu of growing environmentalism—or rather, the surge in goods perceived as environmentally friendly—to emphasize information disclosure and encourage environmentally conscious behavior. Though all may seem sound, consumer concerns regarding eco-labeled products chime a different note. The issue at hand is whether a trade-off exists between product quality and environmental impact.
Are green products of a lower quality than your run-of-the-mill, manufactured goods? A recent study by UCLA researchers teases the tension between eco-certification and product quality of wines.
Eco-certified wine includes wine made with grapes from certified organic farms and wine made with grapes from certified biodynamic farms. Organic wines start with certified organic or biodynamic grapes, but follow certified organic winemaking processes, principally, excluding the addition of sulfites, which help preserve wine, stabilize the flavor, and remove unusual odors. Because of this, organic wines are usually considered to be lower quality. This study focused on data for wines produced from organic and biodynamic grapes, not organic wine.
Wine quality ratings are published monthly, unlike many other agricultural products. Drawing data from such ratings, researchers were able to assess the quality of over 74,000 Californian wines produced between 1998 and 2009. These quality ratings, the study makes note, are important because they tend to influence the price of wines: higher the score, higher the price.
The researchers concluded that wine eco-certification has a statistically significant and positive effect on wine ratings. The results contradict the general sentiment that eco-labeled wines are of lower quality. The same authors have a similar study looking at French wine, and the preliminary findings show similar results.
Acquiring eco-certification is an expensive, multi-year process estimated to add 10-15 percent to a vineyard’s costs for a few years. Its agriculture, too, requires greater labor and attention to its fruit. However, eco-certification does not seem to have a clear value for consumers. In a 2014 study by a subset of this team, it was found that two-thirds of Californian wineries that adopt eco-certification do not put the eco-label on their bottles, fearing loss of business due to such sentiment.
Researcher Magali Delmas, professor of Management at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, hopes that this study will “help make more consumers aware of the value of eco-friendly wine and encourage more vintners to seek and showcase eco-certification.”
A product of seemingly greater quality, and perhaps even a component in putting a cork in the environmental crisis problem, eco-friendly wine offers a novel avenue for consumers to drink responsibly.
Nanji is an editorial intern for Wiley’s U.S. B2B editorial division.