Michael Back Wins Green Lifetime Achievement Award 2015
Michael Back of was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the environment, sustainability, ethical practices and education. Underlining its impeccable green credentials and just ahead of the farm’s centenary in 2016, Backsberg also walked off with the Amorim Sustainability Award for Wine at the annual The Drinks Business Green Awards ceremony.
Michael Back is renowned for challenging conventions in terms of environmental action and sustainability. He is also well respected for his community work and passion for social responsibility. Michael joined his father at the farm in 1976, after graduating in Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University.
In 2006, Backsberg became the first carbon neutral winery in South Africa and the third in the world. The focus on the farm for the last decade has been on reducing the emissions impact through reduction in fuel and electricity usage. At the same time, Backsberg initiated an environmental impact study and has made sustainability core to the business. The farm is developing biomass energy crops and the cleaned methane from the bio-digester will be harnessed to power converted farm vehicles and to power an electricity generator.
Michael’s son, Simon, the fourth generation at the farm, collected the award on Tuesday 21st April on his behalf at a ceremony held in London. “This is a very special honour for my father and I am delighted to be here to collect not only this award but the Amorim Sustainability Award too. I know my father would want to say that this is a Backsberg team effort. We are committed to driving sustainability and both these awards are great recognition for our commitment to serving the environment.”
Europe’s leading drinks trade publication, The Drinks Business Green Awards runs an annual program of drinks industry awards and is the world’s largest programme to raise awareness of green issues and recognise and reward those who are leading the way in sustainability and environmental performance.
Key Projects Summary
Michael Back has overseen a number of landmark projects. A selection of work is listed below:
Backsberg has been Carbon Neutral since 2006. The farm was the first winery in South Africa
and third in the World to become Carbon Neutral. Backsberg audits and offsets its emissions on
an annual basis.
Tree Planting Programme
As part of Backsberg’s annual carbon emission offsets, the farm has a large, annual tree-planting
progamme. Thousands of trees have been planted at Backsberg and in the nearby Klapmuts
Energy and Carbon Management
Apart from offsetting emissions a large focus has been on making emissions reductions through
reducing fuel and electricity usage. Numerous small and large projects have been taken to this
-A move to smaller tractors and farm vehicles
-Reconfiguring winery cooling and fermentation control
-LED lighting installations
-Changing vineyard layout to reduce tractor mileage
Backsberg has played a key role in conservation of fynbos in the Cape. They have been a
pioneer in the WWF’s Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.
The winery has moved large parts of its wine range from heavyweight to lightweight glass.
Moreover, a range of wines called Tread Lightly by Backsberg, bottled in PET, has been
The farm has a partnership with the German government around a biomass boiler, which has
been installed at the winery. The boiler is connected to a heat exchange chiller, which allows for
refrigeration. The boiler runs on waste wood chips.
Growing of biomass
Backsberg has started to grow biomass crops at the farm, with the view of using that biomass in
an energy generation process.
Michael Back has a view that protein will be in short supply in the future due to over-fishing. The
farm has started to farm with protein using waste sources as a base.
Education during Apartheid
Michael Back was very active in education during Apartheid. Whilst at university, he was
instrumental in the running of a night school in Kayamandi, an under-privileged area outside of
Freedom Road Project
In the late 1990s Backsberg pioneered one of the first empowerment projects in the Cape, which
saw their workers move off Backsberg into their own houses.
Backsberg has an active bursary scheme, with over 100 years of tertiary education having been
financed by the farm.
Michael has been very active in working with the local Klapmuts School on numerous social
About the Lifetime Achievement Award
The person winning this award will have excelled throughout their career in furthering environmental, sustainable or ethical practices in the drinks industry to the benefit and education of others. This person will have dedicated a significant part of their working life to environmental and/or ethical causes. Whether in areas of production, marketing or management, this individual will have a dedication to all matters green or ethical and will have sought to introduce a culture of best practice in these areas where ever they have been able to have some influence.
About the Amorim Sustainability Award
Wineries and distilleries now have to consider sustainable practices in their production and market positioning. This award recognises the efforts made by a company, generic or brand to employ the most efficient and effective sustainable practices in their business (in production facilities or their agricultural practices).