Beyond Greenwashing

Sustainability has become mainstream and is a crucial factor in wine production and sales. But how can credible sustainable customer engagement be achieved? 5 tips for a sustainable communication by Prof. Dr. Michael Bernecker. 

Reading time: 4m

Credible communication prevents companies from being suspected of greenwashing (Photo: Francesco Scatena/
Credible communication prevents companies from being suspected of greenwashing (Photo: Francesco Scatena/

Sustainability has been under discussion for nearly 20 years and has evolved from a limited issue to an omnipresent topic. This is also the case in the wine industry. A few years ago, organic wine or biodynamic viticulture was something uncommon, but now we can observe that almost every wine retailer has organic wines in their assortment.

Especially for the younger generation of winemakers, distributors, customers and employees, sustainability is no longer a "nice to have", but a requirement. 

From the perspective of customers, there are two essential aspects when buying sustainable products.

  • Innovative customers are looking for an advantage. In the early days of the sustainability and green marketing discussion, customers sought organic wines for reasons of health concerns, environmental friendliness, or flavor.
  • Today, the majority of organic wine consumers purchase organic wine primarily for a sense of legitimacy, meaning they want to feel good. As a result, sustainably produced food and wine evoke more of an emotional response for them.

Sustainability communication will be mandatory 

Sustainability in the winery and in the wine trade is not a topic that is treated in secret, but should be communicated. True to the motto: "Do good and tell the world about it".

Companies that don't report on their sustainability activities will be treated by consumers in the same way as companies that do not have a sustainability strategy at all. They will be at a disadvantage in the future marketplace. For example, the EU's new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive will require all companies to report on sustainability. Currently, companies with more than 250 employees are required to produce a sustainability report. This will be extended to smaller companies in the future.

Communicating sustainability always starts internally

Action comes before communication. A good approach to addressing a sustainability strategy is an internal project involving all employees. The variety of ideas from your own team on avoiding, reducing and compensating for CO₂ emissions offers a good starting point to embark on the journey and bring the company closer to climate neutrality.

Internal communication creates ideas, awareness, commitment and a sustainability mindset throughout the team and organization. Implemented measures can then take effect. A sustainability strategy is therefore not a one-time activity but becomes part of the company.

Seals promote the perception

Organic and eco-seals are a very important tool in the context of sustainability communication. For customers, this is initially the first and often the only thing they perceive about the sustainability of a wine or winery. There is a discussion about the inflation of organic seals and that many of them represent greenwashing. This indicates that products with such seals are often not sustainable after all.

For the company, this creates the agony of choice. Which seal should I choose, or should I use a seal at all? Studies have clearly shown that most consumers do not check the basics of organic seals, but seals help them choose a product. Taking this into consideration, the winemaker should definitely use a common organic seal.

No Greenwashing

If companies stick to simple and superficial activities, they are often accused of greenwashing. This accusation should be avoided. A seal alone is not enough; even simple offsets such as "we'll just buy some vouchers and pay for some trees in the rainforest" should not be sold as a sustainability initiative.

More is more! Modern sustainability communication

Companies in the wine industry have a variety of channels to communicate their sustainability activities and measures. Reports on your own sustainability initiatives can be easily transported digitally through the own website, a newsletter, or social media activities.

In addition, press releases, events with regional partners and associations, or even a sustainability report can also be used through analog, print, and presence channels.

Through continuous communication, alongside classical product and image communication, the issue of sustainability can be made visible internally and externally and become a self-commitment for the company.

The wine industry can also make sustainability visible to the customer. A product range with organic wines, which is also presented accordingly, offers a starting point and a hook to report on sustainability initiatives of the company at the point of sale and communicate in a variety of ways.

"Sustainability as a mega-trend in society is indispensable. Especially in the food sector and therefore also in the wine industry. Every player must now ask themselves: How do I want to deal with the issue of sustainability?

But it's not just about activities and projects to become more sustainable as a business and as a company. It is also about how we communicate internally and externally with our customers. The line between acting and communicating sustainably and being accused of greenwashing is thin!”

Prof. Dr. Michael Bernecker

Prof. Dr. Michael Bernecker is the managing director of the German Institute for Marketing in Cologne and a board member of YouMagnus AG. He conducts research, advises, and trains in the fields of (online-) marketing, gives impulse lectures on marketing and sales, and has contributed to more than 20 book publications on the subject. He is known from numerous radio contributions and television appearances. As a professor of marketing, he has been teaching for more than 20 years at various colleges and universities. He has also been involved in sustainability communications for many years.

He was a featured speaker at this year's Meininger's International Wine Conference, held the day before ProWein on the topic: "Sustainable Marketing or Greenwashing? How companies can credibly communicate their sustainability mission".


The first post-pandemic edition of Meininger's International Wine Conference dedicated to sustainability, struck a nerve in the industry.

HERE's a filmic review.

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