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Vollherbst launches SUSTAINLabel: An innovative solution for a sector under threat

The World Economic Forum has warned that the winemaking sector, an industry whose livelihood is narrowly intertwined with the environment, is under particular threat from climate change.

This reality has resulted in wineries, grape growers and packaging companies seeking innovative ways to ensure a future that isn’t just environmentally sustainable, but also economically. Taking the lead on the print and packaging front is Vollherbst Labels, a 101-year family print and labelling business situated in Endingen, Germany. This company is the first labelling company to receive the FAIR'N GREEN certification, an established system in Germany which measures, and rewards businesses based on their ecological, economic and social responsibility practices. These practices include solar energy from panels installed more than a decade ago, a switch to green electricity, and fully digitalised core processes – effectively rendering the company climate friendly.

With a substantial wine (still and sparkling) and spirits client base in South Africa, Vollherbst is proud to launch its environmentally conscious labelling solution, called SUSTAINLabel, in this dynamic industry – with practical application already embraced by major brands Nederburg and Inverroche Gin.

A fine balance: A market seeking sustainability, an industry seeking viability

“Markets are showing an increased preference for sustainable and eco-conscious products,” explains Matthias Vollherbst, CEO of Vollherbst, “however, switching to sustainable practices is a complex transition. On the one hand you have an increasingly competitive market, necessitating a need for eye-catching labels, with multiple embellishments and big designs, and on the other you have a market that is increasingly environmentally conscious, demanding greener packaging without understanding the constraints this puts on the creative output of labels.”

Matthias explains: “certain processes, embellishments and adhesives in wine and spirit labels are harmful to the environment. These include the substrate or material, which is the main component of the label constituted of paper and foils, the carrier tape - a component of self-adhesive labels that prevents the label from sticking to other surfaces – as well as adhesives and inks that could include harmful raw materials.”

South African brands have the additional challenge of factoring additional CO2 emissions into their sustainability balance sheet: whether products are assembled in Europe and then shipped as a finished label to South Africa or whether local suppliers import the raw material from Europe and assemble it locally the carbon footprint remains.

“This is a problem for which we were driven to find a workable solution. We don’t want any label supplied by us to cause harm to people, nature or the environment,” explains Matthias.

The Vollherbst solution: SUSTAINLabel

SUSTAINLabel is an innovative sustainable solution that offers wineries access to various eco-friendly and cost-effective labelling alternatives. Vollherbst offers these solutions in each step of the labelling process, i.e. “SustainMaterial”, “SustainProduction”, “SustainOrdering”, “SustainDesign” and “SustainStory”.

“By individually analysing labels in detail we are able to develop a unique SUSTAINLabel solution for wineries,” elaborates Matthias. In this individualised process, Vollherbst expertly analyses the potential harmful components of a label, and then present solutions for resource-saving label-production. For example, Vollherbst is the world’s first print and labelling company (specialising in wine and spirit labels) to test the new EcoLeaf technology. EcoLeaf is a sustainable finishing method that only uses the required amount of metallization to transfer metallic pigments to the labels, without the further use of foil stamps, and this is a solution wineries can incorporate when making a switch to resource conservation.

Vollherbst also has access to various, wood-free and recycled papers that are much more sustainable than traditional papers. This option has been embraced by major South African gin brand, Inverroche, as well as Nederburg, as part of their sustainability mandate. Vollherbst, as part of their ‘SUSTAINStory’ process, was also integral in the development and printing of the labels for IMVINI WETHU, a non-profit wine brand which donates all proceeds to the Cape Winemakers’ Guild’s Protégé Programme.

SUSTAINLabel: the process

“We advise clients what elements can (and should) be omitted for resource-efficient production. Inevitably there will still be resources we take from the environment for label production. To balance this, our company offsets any residual carbon emissions produced by label production in-house by supporting environmental projects,” explains Matthias. Similarly, the latest printers and print technology at Vollherbst allows labels to be print in a single run, which also significantly reduces a label’s associated carbon emissions. The result: A label with a reduced impact on the environment and which compensates for the harm it still might cause.

“Even as a low-emitting sector, this industry’s impact on its most important resource cannot be ignored – and wineries need to collectively adapt sustainable practices, from vine to packaging, if it is to contribute to a healthy and viable future,” says Matthias, “we recognise the importance of a realistic approach to sustainability. It is not about throwing money at the problem, it is about doing what you can in an authentic, transparent and traceable way.”