Aaron Stainthorp - Sustainability Manager at Jackson Family Wines

Aaron Stainthorp - Sustainability Manager at Jackson Family Wines

Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp is the Sustainability Manager at Jackson Family Wines (JFW). In his role at JFW, Aaron focuses on implementing systems that drive transformational change with an emphasis on carbon emissions, energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, zero waste and employee engagement.  Using a data driven approach to identifying opportunities and guide decision making, Aaron has worked to make sustainability synonymous with innovation and continuous improvement.  

In addition to his work at JFW, Aaron also runs a small consulting firm, Sustainability Squared, which focuses on embedding sustainability in the food and beverage industry.  Aaron is also a board member with the Center for Climate Protection, focused on speed and scale GHG policy solutions in California. 

Aaron has spent 5 years working in the wine industry, and previously led sustainability efforts at Francis Ford Coppola winery resulting in their 2017 Sustainable Winemaking Leadership Award from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.  Prior to working in wine, Aaron managed energy efficiency education programs at the Alliance to Save Energy. 

Aaron Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • Importance of Science Based Targets

  • The International Wineries for Climate Action working group led by Jackson Family Wines and Torres Family winery

  • The challenges behind tracking accurate waste data across multiple sites

  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders


Jackson Family Wines is looking at Science Based Targets. Give us your thoughts on the importance of Science Based Targets and why they're important to Jackson family wines.

Historically, it's been impressive to see the momentum that private sector has taken towards sustainability efforts and making pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Science Based Targets and the Science Based Target Initiative brings a new rigor to that focus by actually saying, "Here's the math to quantify for your company with your emissions profile and what you need to do to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius." Some of the guidance on that is actually going to be coming out later this month, because previously it had been guidance for how to keep warming below two degrees Celsius. But it's been exciting to have that level of rigor to an emissions reduction target to get things in line with the Paris Accord and what nations across the world are trying to do.

This also gives us a common language to use when we're talking to other partners. Now when we're talking to our suppliers, when they say they have science based targets, that actually means that they've really addressed their emissions and come up with a reduction plan that is actually based on something.

It's also very exciting because, earlier this year, Jackson Family Wines formalized a partnership with the Torres Family and created a working group called International Wineries for Climate Action. Members who join that working group are wineries that commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2045 - across Scope 1, 2 and 3. So, I think Science Based Targets have been really exciting for me because we're now able to see how businesses and the private sector can really lead the way on creative solutions to greenhouse gas emissions. It also lets us have a conversation with other leaders in this space who also want to demonstrate that they're taking this seriously and accounting for their company's contribution to climate change.

Tell us about this process of trying to track waste data across multiple locations and what you've found helpful in this process.

When we talk about zero waste, I find this to be a exciting area. One of the challenging places to start with zero waste is actually getting good data. Different sites have different haulers, they have different waste streams, different dumpsters etc.. But a lot of times if a site does not have a roll off container, typically they're getting a waste hauler to pick up their waste, but nobody's actually measuring the weight and they're not quantifying the volume of waste that's leaving the site. So, when we talk about zero waste, we are aiming to zero, but the technical definition that we hold ourselves to is making sure that all sites are achieving a 90% waste diversion rate from the landfill and incineration. That means 90% of our waste by weight is either getting recycled or composted.

One of the solutions that we've done to really address that data challenge is that we've found someone who's willing to be the wastes czar for each one of our sites. We empower this person to really own solutions to managing waste at that site. That waste czar then helps us do monthly reporting on the volume of waste that is leaving that site in the different waste streams - typically landfill, compost and recycling. With that we've now been able to get monthly data for all of our sites. With that monthly data we can start to look for insights, identify patterns and figure out ways that we can improve. People also know now that they're being held accountable. So, if we see a change in their monthly recycling, we say, "What's going on? Is there a way we can help?"

After we've found waste czars to really lead the effort at each site, we then worked on employee engagement. So, waste is one of those things that everybody very visibly sees what they're contributing to every day, so everybody really is able to understand their contribution to that. It's been really exciting to talk to the employees about solutions and have them see themselves as an important part in making changes in both their daily practices, our procurement and how we go about operating our facilities.

Some of the ways that we've engaged on zero waste that I think are kind of fun is we've actually done zero waste of wine tastings. With zero waste wine tastings, we had Recycling Rosé, Composting Cabernet and Zero Waste Zin. It was an opportunity for employees to come together and really talk about strategies to reduce waste and how zero waste ties back to our core business. One of the things that's interesting is because we grow grapes, any organic matter that we compost then comes back to our vineyards as high quality soil. So, we see a direct connection between making sure that we're composting as many organics as possible and producing the highest quality compost, because that compost ultimately goes back to the vineyard and helps improve soil health and wine quality.

Working across so many different sites, we've had to rely a lot on partnerships. We work directly with our waste haulers and a lot of our waste haulers have actually led zero waste trainings at our different sites. So, it is a challenging task to take on just because there's a lot of moving pieces, but it's also been exciting because as people have helped out doing waste audits, doing waste reporting and coming up with solutions, we've been able to see this great engagement and we've been able to achieve a 98% waste diversion at our wineries. So we're very proud of that and we're hoping to build on that momentum as we roll that out across our offices and make sure all of our tasting rooms are also zero waste.

What is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?

I would say dive deep, find a niche and own it. I think being able to specialize in one area means that you're able to have a bigger impact in that one area and once you gain that expertise, it's easy to broaden out and focus on other topics as well.

What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?

I'm very excited about Science Based Targets, carbon farming and using transparency and collaboration to unlock new opportunities.

What is one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?

I've heard many people reference on this podcast, and I would be remiss if I did not, and that's Paul Hawkins Drawdown. Within sustainability I find it helpful to read anything that expands my thinking and understanding of the world in a new way. This past year, Yuval Noah Harari has given me a number of new insights into the world with his books Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 lessons for the 21st century.

What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in your work?

I actually list Excel at the top of my list and that is because I think for a lot of problems that I'm looking to understand, being able to quantify them is really helpful. While not everything can be quantified, being able to present data in that format makes it easier for me to have conversations with people. A lot of times when I'm looking at a new issue, being able to really represent the opportunity and also the current challenge in Excel helps highlight to people where our next step take place to figure out a solution.

Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and your work at Jackson family wines?

We regularly share progress on our sustainability journey at jacksonfamilywines.com and if anyone wants to connect with me directly or see some of the work that I do outside of Jackson Family Wines, please check out my website at sustysquared.com.