Please drink responsibly is an instruction emblazoned on wine bottles across the world, but how often does the bottle itself reflect responsibility: responsibility to the people drinking the wine and to the planet the wine was created on? Thanks to Round Theory: increasingly often, and this New Zealand wine brand is on a mission to make holistically responsible approaches to wine making (as well as wine drinking) the status quo.
The lightweight, playfully branded bottles aren’t the only out-of-the-box approach that Round Theory takes with sustainability in mind. In fact, the question is this the best way of doing things guides everything they do.
As big fans of Round Theory’s playful, planet-forward approach (and, naturally, their product), we decided to ask the team about the story behind the brand, and their thoughts on the future of sustainable wine making.
Tell us about where Round Theory started – how was the idea born?
The idea for a sustainable wine brand came about from a concern about the environment, and a realisation that – as a brand and as individuals – we need to be doing more. Ticking the box isn’t enough anymore, brands need to be going above and beyond: thinking outside of the box about how to not only minimise environmental impact, but make a positive difference. We went into the venture guided by the question: what’s the most sustainable way you can make wine? We keep asking ourselves and each other that question, every step of the way. It’s that approach – continuous curiosity – that should guide every business.
For us as a wine brand, there were a few things to consider: the bottle, the packaging, the wine itself and the partnerships.
For the bottle, we asked the question: what’s the most efficient way to hold 750ml of wine? We decided that it was unlikely to be the kind of bottle that’s been around forever, so we started researching and sampling and exploring, and eventually settled on the design we have now. Our bottles use 30% less glass than standard premium burgundy bottles and 10% less glass than lightweight bottles. Because they’re shorter, more can be stacked and shipped, and fewer materials are used in the cartons because they’re smaller themselves. The rest of our packaging is made using FSC certified stock and 30% post-consumer waste, and we ensure that our labels are as eco-friendly as possible too. We work really closely with all of our supplier partners, communicating the fact that we want to take the most sustainable route every time. If you communicate your mission to everyone you’re working with, you’ll inevitably achieve it more successfully – sustainable business has communication, community and curiosity at its core.
Then we looked at the wine, and we decided to make sure that all of our wine is vegan friendly, and is grown and sourced from accredited vineyards from Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand: a certification body that ensures wine is produced meeting international sustainability standards.
From there we started looking at our partnerships: how can we work with other organisations who share our values, and who can help us make a positive impact on the planet? We found a great New Zealand start-up called CarbonClick: a carbon offset organisation on a mission to help businesses take action on climate change. As part of their process, they assess how much carbon your organisation emits, and as part of your investment they offset that carbon. We’ve opted for a partnership that double offset’s our carbon, because we don’t want to just be neutral, we want to be making a positive impact.
Through CarbonClick, businesses can choose a number of different projects to support, and we’ve chosen four global and local preservation projects, so we’re helping support native forest preservation in New Zealand, a solar wind farm in India, a bush regeneration project in the Aussie bush and a rainforest preservation project in Panama. Our partnership decisions are guided by the questions: what’s good for us, good for others, and good for the planet?
How do you think your approach differs from other brands claiming to produce sustainable wine?
First of all, we’re so happy to see any brand moving towards a sustainable approach, even if it’s just with one product or one range. Because we started with the mission to create sustainable wine, the approach we’ve taken is holistic: it’s our reason for being, it’s everything we do. We started with sustainability as our driving force, and we’re constantly pushing for better and looking for more. The hope is that more brands start taking our bottle design, because it means we’re doing something right in encouraging others to leave a lighter impact.
What are your plans for the future, in terms of sustainability?
We’re going to keep working on our model to make it as sustainable as possible. We’ve got hefty goals with this brand, and it’s all about making great wines that have a positive impact on the planet. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve: some we can do, some we can’t, but that question – is this the best way we could be doing this – is being asked at every stage, it undergirds every decision we make.
What are your thoughts on sustainability in the alcohol industry in general – is it something you think is on the rise?
I think in the alcohol industry, the uptake in terms of sustainability has been a little slower compared with other categories, which is a bit of a challenge. For markets like cleaning supplies, people have moved really quickly to sustainable alternatives, but it has been a little bit slower in the alcohol sector, possibly because there’s a lack of awareness around what’s actually involved in the production, packaging and transportation process . Sustainability is only becoming a more pressing issue, and with more education, more people will begin to question the approach their favourite brands are taking. The issue of minimising our environmental impact might have been slightly masked because of COVID, but there’s no doubt it’s going to bounce back and be at the front of people’s minds. Living sustainably has got to be an everyday choice, and we want to make that choice easier for people.
The path we’ve gone down with Round Theory was inspired by the catchphrase “please drink responsibly”. We wanted to reframe what “responsible” means – yes it means moderation, but it also should refer to responsibility with the planet in mind. That comes through with all of our marketing, the bottles have the phrase “we stand for what we stand on”, and we live and breathe that ethos.
It’s also a balance: a positive purpose but also a great, desirable product. Especially with wine, it’s very much a reflection of values and what you believe in. The balance has got to tip towards sustainable alcohol brands, it’s so important – for the planet – that it does.
Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean the opportunities to optimise and have a better impact on the environment don’t exist. We’re not compromising on the things that have always mattered to wine drinkers: we make high quality wine from leading vineyards, we work with expert winemakers and are passionate about creating wine that tastes amazing, and we’re doing that while considering our environmental impact. Hopefully we, as a brand, can not only get people drinking more sustainably but inspire other companies to start operating differently too.
You can find Round Theory’s delicious range of vegan, planet-friendly wine at BWS, Dan Murphy’s, First Choice and Liquorland stores across Australia, and you can learn more about the Round Theory approach via their sustainability report on the About Us page of their website roundtheorywines.com/about-us
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