From Japan, observations about wine, carbon and classrooms

istock1a An MIT professor whose research focuses on energy and the environment is currently teaching Masters students in Sustainability Science at the University of Tokyo. He contacted my co-author and me about our research into the carbon footprint of wine since he wanted to assign his students the same task but tracking three bottles of wine to Tokyo instead of to Chicago, as we had done.

They tracked three hypothetical bottles from California, Australia and France and varied the mode of transport, with California going by air and the other two using shipping. Their results mirrored ours showing that the mode of transportation matters and that the mass of packaging also plays a role. Several students proposed that wine be shipped in bulk and bottled at the point of sale or consumption. He also added this detail:

The class discussion was concluded with an experimental component in which the students had the opportunity to sample a Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (2005), Muscadet de Sevre and Maine (Loire, 2006), and a Ravenswood Zinfandel (2005, actually Sonoma + Mendocino but that is close enough to Napa). They agreed that (1) this made the assignment more interesting and (2) there are factors other than carbon emissions that should be taken into account when choosing wines.

I’m glad they enjoyed the research!

On a related note, the NYT ran a graphic with some of our findings in the excellent recent article, “Movable Feast Carries a Pollution Price Tag,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal.

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6 Responses to “From Japan, observations about wine, carbon and classrooms”


  1. Dr Vino has your research looked at how much carbon could be saved by changing the shape of the bottle? A long thin bottle will use more glass than a short fat bottle. So a short fat bottle should weigh less, and cost less carbon to transport.


  2. Wow, MIT! Your research has raised eyebrows again and again, truly fantastic work.


  3. Hey Ryan,

    It’s really mostly about the mass (weight).

    TetraPak and other box wines reduce the weight of the packaging material but they also do increase the packing efficiency in the shipping container. But it’s really just about how much energy it takes to move that container and then how many GHGs (greenhouse gases) are emitted as a result of the energy used.


  4. While I enjoyed your article on the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine, I would like to see the analysis carried throughout the entire lifecycle. The analysis considered the carbon footprint of the bottle of wine for it to be delivered from a winery to a particular location. The carbon footprint for that bottle does not stop growing there. The wine has to be purchased. How big is the carbon footprint for the purchase transaction? It depends on the price and how the money was earned. For fine and exotic wines, earning the money to purchase the wine may be the largest overall carbon contribution. This means all other things being equal, a wine costing several hundred dollars has a significantly larger environmental impact that a wine costing $10. I am not to saying that we should all stop drinking fine wine. I just think we should be aware of the total price we are paying.


  5. Buongiorno,
    Trovo effet Molto Il Vostro link e le Informazioni contenute in Esso.
    Ho delle Domande da farVi, le risposte CUI SONO Utili per Il Mio Lavoro.
    1) sapete se esiste Una regolamentazione o in Giappone Legge non prevede il Che Il Impiego di Imballaggi, per Il trasporto di Alimenti (es. pomodori, vino), Fatti in legno?
    Ci possono Essere Problemi per lo smaltimento del legno?

    2) E ‘necessario l’UTILIZZO di imballagi Facilmente reciclabili?

    3) Il trasporto (via aerea) di cartoni contenenti bottiglie di vino puo Essere Fatto utilizzando palette di legno trattate regolarmente / fumigare?
    Oppure la guida e la Guida neceessario o obbligatorio l’UTILIZZO di palette di plastica?

    Sarei Grato se poteste rispondermi AI vari Quesiti o inviarmi delle normative riguardanti Argomento tempo condensato.

    Grazie e Cordiali saluti
    A. Leonardi


  6. Hello, I find it carried a lot of your links and information contained in it. I have some questions for you, the answers WHICH ARE useful for my job. 1) there are regulation or law in Japan does not provide what the Use of Packaging for food transport (eg tomatoes, wine), made of wood? There may be problems for the disposal of wood? 2) It is required the use of easily recyclable packaging ? 3) transportation (by air) of cartons containing bottles of wine can be made using wooden pallets treated regularly / fumigated or It is neceessary or mandatory to USE plastic pallets? I would be grateful if you could answer various questions.


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