Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp ’05 has helped twenty-plus wineries implement water conservation and zero waste programs, improve winery energy efficiency, and he led the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in winning the 2017 California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Award. He is currently the sustainability specialist at Jackson Family Wines (e.g. Kendell-Jackson wines) and operates his own consulting business, Sustainability Squared.
Buckles: I was just reading about Jackson Family Wines sustainability efforts in the New York Times. You take sustainability seriously.
Schreiber-Stainthorp: We treat sustainability and innovation as synonyms. I’m part of a two-person team, leading our sustainability efforts for a company with as many staff as Patagonia. We are small but we are mighty. Working on a small team means we all get to wear multiple hats and it’s been a blast to be able to play a role in the entire winemaking process from grape to glass and making sure we are building a responsible company designed to last for the next one hundred years, making the highest quality wine.
Buckles: What are some of the opportunities and challenges?
Schreiber-Stainthorp: Wine is a hyper-localized product and we are able to trace every drop of wine back to the vineyard block that it came from. With that, we have an incredible chance to showcase what sustainable agriculture can look like and how we can move away from farming for the largest possible yields to farming for flavors. That said, being a California-based company we have challenges with water, energy, labor, and the weather impacts climate change will have on our vineyards.
Buckles: How did you get into this kind of work?
Schreiber-Stainthorp: I was lucky enough to get an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellowship as I was finishing up my master’s in sustainability management from American University in Washington DC. Prior to that, I had worked for the Alliance to Save Energy, where I learned to be hyper-focused on energy efficiency which has been such a great framework to review any sustainability challenge.
Buckles: You also run your own sustainable consulting business, Sustainability Squared. What other types of projects are you working on?
Schreiber-Stainthorp: I’m focused on elevating sustainability to the next level. While most of the work I currently do relates back to wine, beer, and food producers, I find that the concepts behind running an efficient, responsible organization are more universal than people might expect. Currently, I’m working on a project taking some of the work that has been done on vineyard water efficiency in California and modifying it for grape growers in British Columbia.
Buckles: And Northland College?
Schreiber-Stainthorp: Northland was the best place I could have gone to college. The skills and experience I gained there helped me take a holistic ecosystem approach to understanding how complex systems interact. Both in and out of the classroom I was exposed to so many ideas that helped me understand both how the world worked and the possibilities for building better systems. Lastly, Northland embodies hands-on learning in a way that both taught me so much but also empowered me to realize how much impact you can have with a few simple actions.
Read more about Aaron’s journey to a career in sustainability at Sustainable Career Pathways.