In 2006 and 2007 Corticeira Amorim, the world’s leading producer of stoppers for the wine industry, prepared sustainability reports that highlighted the crucial role of cork forests in carbon dioxide retention, preserving biodiversity and combating desertification as well as the role of cork manufacturing in sustainable development.
They commissioned a PricewaterhouseCoopers life cycle analysis (LCA) study that showed CO2 emissions resulting from the LCA of aluminum screw caps are 24 times higher than cork. Emissions from the LCA of plastic stoppers are 10 times higher than cork. The report suggested that natural cork is the only closure option for winemakers, distributors and retailers that want to minimize their carbon footprint and adopt best practices in relation to environmental performance.
Cork is a 100% sustainable and renewable natural resource. The cork oak tree or Quercus suber lives about 200 years in carefully managed forests around the mediterranean — primarily in Spain, Portugal and North Africa.
Because cork oaks have a fire-resistant bark, they perform an irreplaceable function in these forest regions which are frequently ravaged by enormous wild fires such as the one that burned over 1,000 hectares of south-coastal France in the summer of 2009. The pines, eucalyptus, olives and vineyards in these regions can be completely destroyed leaving only the cork oak groves to prevent soil erosion, desertification and preserve wildlife habitat.
Cork forests in Algarve, Portugal, have declined nearly 29% (32KB PDF) in the past decade, threatening rare species such as the Iberian Lynx — the world’s most endangered cat, whose population is now 110 or less. According to WWF, with only 38 breeding females in the wild, this may soon be the first cat species to become extinct since the loss, 2,000 years ago, of the Saber Tooth Tiger. Habitat loss is one of several reasons for the critical decline of the Iberian Lynx.
By sustaining demand for natural cork, you ensure the preservation of these groves and all of their related benefits such as mitigating climate change by absorbing CO2.
The cork bark can be harvested time after time without damaging the tree. The first harvest occurs about 20 years after planting the sapling and then about every 9 to 10 years. An 80 year old tree in its prime yields an average of 440 lb. per harvest — enough to produce about 25,000 wine corks. The record was set in 1889 by a cork oak in Portugal which yielded 3,870 lb. in one harvest.