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Fetzer Vineyards CEO Giancarlo Bianchetti’s Vision Unifies Climate, Wine and Business

YPO’s Social Enterprise Network (SEN) Sustainability Awards recognize leaders who inspire others to become engaged. This year, when it came to handing out the SEN Award for Sustainable Business, it was impossible to deny the appeal of Fetzer Vineyards.

Nestled among the rolling hills of Mendocino County, California, USA, Fetzer Vineyards’ nearly 1,000 acres of organic and biodynamic vineyards contain some of the world’s most innovatively sustainable farming practices. The leader behind the globally recognized sustainable winery?

CEO Giancarlo Bianchetti.

Guided by a desire to create positive impacts in the vineyards, throughout surrounding communities and beyond, Bianchetti has led the heritage vintner through tremendous growth and remarkable achievements since he assumed the CEO role in 2011. Under Bianchetti’s leadership, Fetzer Vineyards became the largest winery in the world certified as a B Corporation, adopted pioneering new technologies for saving water and energy, and was the only wine company among the 19 recipients of a “Momentum for Change” Climate Solutions Award from the United Nations at the 2017 Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Additional notable milestones include:

  • In 2014, Fetzer Vineyards became the first wine company in the world to achieve TRUE Zero Waste certification, diverting over 98 percent of waste from landfills or incineration. The certificate is given to forward-thinking entities that pursue a whole-systems approach aimed at changing how materials flow through society, ultimately eliminating waste.
  • Since 1999, Fetzer Vineyards has operated on 100 percent renewable energy, and voluntarily reports its greenhouse gas emissions each year to The Climate Registry. In 2016, Fetzer Vineyards became the first U.S. wine company to earn CarbonNeutral® certification for its direct operations following years of internal emissions reductions and a move to support pioneering offset projects around the world.
  • Fetzer Vineyards has ambitious goals around water and energy and recently achieved its 2020 water and energy efficiency goals two years ahead of schedule. These achievements follow implementation of a pioneering wastewater management system that uses worms and microbes to naturally process wastewater, and installation of smart water meters that use cloud computing and “internet of things” technology to quickly identify leaks and water waste in real time.
  • In 2017, Fetzer Vineyards became a Benefit Corporation, formally modifying its legal structure to raise consideration of the company’s stakeholders — including workers, communities and the environment — to the same level as profits.

 

Using business as a force for good

“When I first became CEO, I immediately recognized that sustainability is the backbone of this company, which has been making awarded wines for over 50 years,” Bianchetti recalls. “I looked around to see how we could take sustainability to the next level at Fetzer Vineyards. Today, instead of simply doing less harm — a core tenet of traditional sustainability — we are pursuing an ambitious goal to be net positive in our business operations. This means aiming to create positive impacts on communities and the environment, putting to use regenerative practices that give back to the world.”

This kind of thinking about sustainability represents the way forward, believes Bianchetti.

“Members of the founding Fetzer family were pioneers of the sustainable agriculture movement in California,” Bianchetti notes, paying homage to the winery’s founders. “The Fetzers started farming organically decades ago, long before organic products became a mainstay of American culture. Today, Fetzer Vineyards remains a change agent in sustainable, organic and regenerative practices across the wine industry — and we are always asking ourselves how we can do more, do better and go further.”

From neutral to positive

A few of the initiatives in place to help Fetzer Vineyards reach its net positive goal include leaving nearly 50 percent of its land undeveloped, recognizing that protecting and enhancing wildlife and biodiversity in vineyards and the surrounding ecosystems is of vital importance. Fetzer Vineyards protects and maintains the natural oak woodlands and riparian (riverbank) habitats on its ranches, the result of which is that habitat corridors with over 100 plant species and protected riparian vegetation harbor beneficial insects and create ecosystem balance. Crucially, the vintner farms all of its ranches organically, as well — and organic, regenerative farming delivers climate benefits that help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Most recently, the winery partnered with Pacific Agroecology of Davis, California, USA, in a study to help show how farming choices affect organic carbon storage in vineyards. The research findings, made available earlier this year, provide directional indication confirming that organic, regenerative farming has a positive impact on soil-carbon stewardship, a key component of the global effort to slow climate change.

“Today, instead of simply doing less harm — a core tenet of traditional sustainability — we are pursuing an ambitious goal to be net positive in our business operations.” — Giancarlo Bianchetti, CEO Fetzer Vineyards

In ways such as these, Fetzer Vineyards maintains a balance that is both helpful to the environment and to the business, enhances soil quality and, ultimately, benefits the quality of the fruit. Most importantly, Fetzer Vineyards is helping to build awareness about the potential for widespread regenerative farming practices to lead to healthier, more productive soils, while contributing to the mitigation of climate change by holding more carbon underground.

It is just this kind of passion for accelerating the impact of business, in concert with making net positive impacts on farms, communities, and the environment, that made Bianchetti the obvious choice for this year’s YPO SEN Sustainability Award for Sustainable Business.

“To create a truly sustainable business, we must thoroughly consider our environmental and social impacts,” Bianchetti says. “We have to move beyond an approach focused exclusively of profits and ensure we are working to give more back to the environment, society and the global economy than we take. With a fact-driven approach grounded in research and results, and a clear purpose, we can all work together to build the foundation for a net positive tomorrow.”

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