A to Z Goes B Corp: Oregon Winery Commits to Serving the Public Good

Leading producer of value Pinot Noir and Chardonnay earns certification as a benefits corporation
Jun 18, 2014

One of Oregon's leading green wine companies, A to Z Wineworks, has just become the first winery in the world to earn a new type of certification focused on operating a socially and environmentally responsible business: B Corp.

"Business is often seen as the bad guys; the bigger, the worse," said Deb Hatcher, one of A to Z's four cofounders, along with Bill Hatcher, Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis. "We want to show that the bigger we get, the more good we can do." She said they sought out the non-wine certification to reflect their business principles as a whole, not just their agricultural practices.

What exactly is a B Corp? These businesses aim to not only be financially successful, but also good for the world. Profit isn't the only motive or basis for making decisions; goals may involve creating high-quality jobs, improving life in their local communities and addressing global social and environmental problems.

B Corps differ from but share much in common with benefits corporations, companies with a unique structure, allowing and requiring them to consider the public benefit and not just their shareholders. Their status is conferred by law in 20 U.S. states (with seven more to take effect between now and 2015). However, certified "B Corps" have passed an audit by the independent nonprofit B Lab, founded in 2006. The comprehensive assessment looks at a company’s operations, governance, hiring and promotion procedures, compensation, benefits and training, impact on suppliers and the community and environmental management.

More than 1,000 certified companies from 33 countries and more than 60 industries have been certified, including Patagonia and Ben & Jerry's, as well as eyewear company Warby Parker, which donates one pair of glasses for every pair purchased; the One World Futbol Project, which donates a soccer ball to disadvantaged communities for every one purchased, and online book seller Better World Books, which funds local libraries and global literacy programs. Oregon alone has 47 certified B Corporations.

Started in 2002 by four veterans of Oregon's wine industry, Willamette Valley-based A to Z Wineworks is known for its focus on value. Selling for $20 a bottle or less, its line of screw-capped wines includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, rosé and Riesling. The 2008 and 2011 Pinot Noirs appeared on Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 Wines list.

The company, now one of Oregon's largest wine producers, also includes the boutique William Hatcher and Francis Tannahill wines, plus Rex Hill, which the partners bought in late 2006 in conjunction with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A to Z Wineworks has already certified its owned and long-leased vineyards as biodynamic under Demeter, asks all its contracted growers to certify their vineyards as sustainable within three years, holds LIVE sustainable winery certification and participated in Oregon's Carbon Neutral Challenge, in which a group of wineries teamed up to learn how to measure and cut carbon emissions.

So why add yet another certification? "Third-party verification is important to us. You can say a lot of things—the wine world seems to live on hyperbole," said Hatcher. "We're not interested in crowing, but we would like to set a good example for everyone." While they haven't promoted their other achievements extensively to consumers, she said, they agreed with B Corp to start using the B Corp and LIVE certification logos on some packaging, to make customers more aware of these efforts.

Noting that she and CEO Bill Hatcher are in their sixties, Deb added that legally changing A to Z's corporate structure is a way to ensure their values persist into the future, even if the winery is sold or the management or investors change. "Having that set in stone gave us all peace of mind."

As part of the B Corp commitment to transparency, reports showing each company's scores are published on the bcorporation.net website. A to Z earned an overall score of 103, compared to the median score of 80 for all businesses that have completed the impact assessment. A minimum score of 80 out of 200 possible points is required for certification.

With its track record of eco-friendly practices, A to Z scored especially well in the environment category (a score of 19 compared to the median of 9), which evaluates practices such as the use of energy, water and other materials and the reduction of emissions and waste.

B Lab cofounder Jay Coen Gilbert cited A to Z Wineworks in particular for having a high level of female management and ownership, paying workers above living wage, and giving back to the community. Among its charitable efforts, A to Z helps raise funds for health clinics that serve the Latino community and contributes time to Habitat for Humanity.

"It's exciting to be the only one for the time, and we hope there will be many more wineries joining us," said Hatcher.

Environment United States Oregon News

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