Symingtons join B Corps

Symingtons' Grahams port - Quinta do Bomfim visitor centre in the Douro Valley

A new, ecologically and socially responsible direction for Symington Family Estates. 

Apart from one or two world leaders, there are few people on the planet unaware of the need to adopt much more sustainable ways of living than have previously been evident. We all talk about it, and many of us write about it, but arguably not nearly enough of us are actually doing anything about it.

Hats off then to the Symington family in northern (and, since their new Alentejo acquisition, now southern) Portugal, who announce that they are now a certified B Corporation, the only Portuguese wine company to have met the very specific environmental, ethical and social criteria set by B Lab, the certifying organisation.

Wine companies that have so far achieved this are Fetzer in California (back in 2015); Chehalem, The Morne Wine Company (Brooks) and Stoller Family Estate in Oregon; Cape Venture Wine Co in South Africa; and Salcheto in Montepulciano. Symington Family Estates is the highest-profile European wine company to have qualified so far, but they join a roster of such right-on outfits as Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Innocent Drinks and Kickstarter. You can find out more here about B Corp-certified companies, all of them for-profit businesses, unlike B Lab itself, which is so far strongest in North America. The certification has no legal status but is surely a Good Thing.

B Corp companies are required to change their company articles to legally oblige directors to make social and environmental factors as important as financial objectives. And those as irrevocably wedded to the Douro Valley as the Symingtons, one of the world’s most famous port shippers, can hardly ignore the need to adapt to hotter summers. The reaction of the Symingtons’ major rivals The Fladgate Partnership, or at least its CEO Adrian Bridge, has been to organise a conference on climate change in Oporto, with speakers including Barack Obama, leading to the so-called Porto Protocol.

4th and 5th generations of Symingtons, port shippers

Announcing the new B Corp status, Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates, in the dark top in the picture above, agrees. ‘Climate change is a very real threat in the Douro Valley. Alongside our efforts to adapt in the vineyard, we are determined to play our part in the shift to a zero-carbon economy. Our first goal is to reduce our emissions by 35% between 2015 and 2025. We have already reduced them by 23% and are working on further reductions. We are committed to Portugal’s national goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2050.’

Not content with becoming a B Corp company, encouraged by Paul Symington’s son Rob, who has responsibility for sustainability within Symington Family Estates, they have also announced an even more demanding sustainability strategy, Mission 2025, with the following goals:  

  • Renewable energy 100% electricity from certified renewable energy sources. 20% generated in-house
  • Electric vehicles 100% of new passenger vehicle purchases, by 2025, will be electric or hybrid (this seems one of the less demanding goals to me, though winemaker Charles Symington, extreme left in the picture above, is notoriously hard on his vehicles)
  • Carbon emissions 35% reduction in CO2 emissions per litre of wine bottled between 2015 and 2025 (23% reduction already achieved)
  • Energy efficiency 10% reduction in electricity used per litre of wine bottled
  • Water efficiency 10% reduction in water used in winery and bottling per litre of wine bottled
  • Biodiversity support Support for a major ecosystem restoration and reforestation project in Portugal
  • Low-impact winery Gold LEED (sustainable building) certification for their new winery at Quinta do Ataíde (the largest organic vineyard in northern Portugal) with opening planned for the 2021 vintage
  • Volunteering scheme 80% uptake of new employee volunteering programme
  • Impact fund Launch new Symington social and environmental impact fund
  • B Corp certification Achieve certification for the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

Fifth-generation Rob Symington, fourth from the right in the picture above, explained, ‘We decided to pursue the rigorous certification process to become a B Corp because it provides a fantastic external assessment of our commitment to being a responsible, ethical business, as well as a roadmap for further improvements. Consumers today want to buy from businesses who share their values and the B Corp logo is a great way of us communicating what we stand for and how committed we are to having a positive social and environmental impact and doing our part to respond to the big shared challenges of our time.’ A recent Nielsen study established that 66% of consumers, and virtually all millennials, say they are prepared to pay more for sustainably produced brands.

As for the effects of climate change so far this year, Rob reports, 'Porto and the Douro have managed to avoid the worst of the heat over the past few months and we have even had some very welcome summer rain (and some less welcome hail a couple of weeks ago that did considerable damage in some areas).' The main picture top right shows the recently designed visitors' centre in the Douro Valley at Quinta do Bomfim.

Members of Primum Familiae Vini along with Torres, another Iberian wine company with a strong sustainability agenda, the Symingtons have formed four internal working groups covering Viticulture and Biodiversity; Water, Energy and Buildings; Packaging and Waste; and Team and Community. I hope this last group will be giving due weight to equal opportunities …