Michael Back has made headlines and history in South Africa by becoming the first winegrower in the country — and only the third in the world — to be recognized as “carbon neutral.”
“We are rather pleased with ourselves at having managed to do that,” Back told the BBC. “When you see all the issues of the environment all over the newspapers, you start to look at your own place.”
“As landowners, we are custodians of that land for a very short period of time,” Back added. “We need to leave the land and environment in a better place than in which we found it.”
In order to obtain the “Carbon Neutral Approved” sticker that now adorns all Backsberg Winery bottles, Back had to submit to a carbon audit, which measured the farm’s carbon footprint and recommended ways to offset his emissions.
The result was a “village greening” project in nearby Klapmuts, a poor community with high unemployment, which provides seasonal labor for the surrounding vineyards. In some of the small gardens in front of the one-story houses, slender saplings of acacia and willow now droop in the winter rain.
Trees are much prized in the region for the shade they provide during the scorching summers, and more than 900 have been planted in Klapmuts as part of Back’s offset program.
“People took the trees on a voluntary basis,” Back explains. “So, hopefully, the people who took them are going to look after them. We ourselves go around the village regularly making sure that all the trees are still alive, because if we lose too many, then our offset won’t be in balance.”