These days, consumers are more careful about where they spend their money. Product quality, service and price are important of course, but more and more, people are examining what a company stands for and how ethically they operate.
That’s where B Lab comes in.
A nonprofit network transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet, since 2006 it has issued B Corp Certification to measure a company’s entire social and environmental impact.
B Corp certification covers everything from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials. To earn certification, businesses must demonstrate high social and environmental performance, make a legal commitment by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, and exhibit transparency by allowing information about their performance to be publicly available on their B Corp profile on B Lab’s website.
Great wine with great practices
“The thing that appealed the most to us was that it’s so holistic. It looks at everything,” says Alison Sokol Blosser, YPO member and Co-President of Sokol Blosser Winery, a B Corp certified winery since 2015.
Sokol Blosser Winery was started by Alison’s parents, Susan Sokol and Bill Blosser, in the Dundee Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) of the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 1971. This was before any sort of wine industry existed in the state. So not only were they pioneers in planting the seeds of what would become a region known globally for its quality varietals, but from their first vine, Sokol Blosser Winery prioritized good environmental practices, understanding how their business would impact the land.
Now a certified organic operation spanning 128 acres across three locations, the second-generation winery led by Alison and her brother Alex Sokol Blosser, is still known as an innovative industry leader; in 2002 it became the first winery to gain LEED certification (the most widely used and well recognized green building rating system around the world.)
“We’d always looked at how we operated through that people, planet, profit/triple bottom line lens, but everything from our construction to our farming and packaging, etc., was sort of siloed in its own area,” says Sokol Blosser. When we heard about B Corp, it just brought it all together and it made sense. It created this strategic roadmap for how we could become an even better company.”
Incremental efforts lead to great impact
Sokol Blosser says about every other month, they gather a group of people from across the company to meet and discuss all things that fall under the B Corp umbrella, discussing current initiatives as well as areas where they can improve.
Since their initial certification in 2015, with each re-certification (in 2017 and 2021), they have improved their overall B impact score each time. The winery has also been named both a “Best of the World: Environment” and “Best of the World: Changemakers” three separate years, which recognizes the top 5% of all B Corp companies globally for each of those impact areas.
“I feel like we can always improve on everything, that’s the fascinating and thing about going through the assessment,” Sokol Blosser says. “You get to find out where you’re succeeding and doing well, but then you have all the questions right there of all the other things you can be doing.”
One particular question, “Do you harvest rainwater?” recently interested Sokol but also intimidated her with its potential scale, as the winery has more than 100 acres of land where this could potentially be enacted. Her team however, came up with a solution: Start small, collecting rainwater just within their kitchen garden.
Incremental efforts like this, tend to grow into bigger operations, such as their composting efforts, which also started with just a focus on their kitchen waste, but has since grown to cover the entire winery. Other impact areas Sokol Blosser is proud of is their commitment to their employees and the community. They have dedicated time to volunteer within their community as a team and in 2020 they gave a total value of USD35,049 in in-kind donations, certificates for VIP tastings, and cash donations to support local charities.
It all helps them act on the principles they’ve had from the beginning, while still producing quality wine for their consumers.
“Even though we’ve been farming organically for so long, we don’t want be known as the green winery,” she says. “We want be known as the winery that makes great wine, we just do it in a really nice way for the planet and for people.”
Bourbon with a purpose
More than 2,300 miles away in Loretto, Kentucky, USA, another family-owned-and-operated alcohol company with a history of sustainability and ethical practices viewed B Certification similarly: A way to honor a decades-long mission and efforts of social and environmental impact, while using it as a way to strategically look at their future.
Maker’s Mark Distillery became the largest distillery in the world and the first in Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Country to achieve B Corp Certification in January 2022.
“In many ways it’s verification of our family’s legacy and our team’s legacy of living a higher purpose and brand,” says YPO member and Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels. “What I loved about B Corp, the more I learned about it, was of course there is sustainability at the heart, but it’s about so much more than that. It assesses your supply chain, and there’s comprehensive benchmarking around how you engage and treat your team, the culture of your company, and your involvement as an organization community.”
Rob’s grandparents, Margie and T. William Samuels Sr., began Maker’s Mark in 1953 based on 100 years of family distilling. They reimagined what bourbon could be, from the rough aggressive beverage it had been up until that point to a more elevated and refined experience, intentionally created.
“My grandfather was a craftsman. He obsessed over flavor each and every step of the process, purposefully and efficiently. And from the very beginning, they were always adamant that we give back to society and that we were active in the community,” says Samuels.
The distillery sits on a 1300-acre working farm, now recognized as a national historic landmark. Within the property there is a 14-acre spring lake, which serves as the sole source of water for the bourbon making process – the only distillery that can make that claim. They have a distillery-wide zero landfill initiative, an onsite recycling program that is open to community members, and they’ve implemented a solar array that powers their extensive warehouse complex. They also partner with the University of Kentucky to create the largest White Oak repository in the world.
Additionally, the company has invested millions of dollars in the hospitality industry and local Kentucky causes, and since its founding, they are a principal partner of The LEE Initiative, which addressed equality and diversity in the restaurant industry.
Creating impact is a team effort
Community impact is not just something that comes from the top down. The same day the governor of Kentucky had to make the call to shut down bars and restaurants in March of 2020, a Maker’s Mark team member went into action and partnered with a James Beard award-winning chef in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, turning it into a relief kitchen for the independent restaurant community that same night. Throughout the pandemic, Maker’s Mark and The LEE Initiative built on that model to help feed more than 1.5 million hospitality works across the United States.
“I think it is very motivating for our team members to work for a brand that has an overriding message. That, under pressure, we live our values and want to make a difference in the communities in which we operate,” says Samuels. “Part of my job is to make sure our team members are afforded the opportunity to do great work, in a better way than it’s ever been done.”
Community has always been the heart of the company, with the distillery launching the concept of bourbon tourism. “My grandmother designed the distillery with the idea of, there’s no more endearing way to connect with a friend then to open your doors and have them visit your home,” says Samuels.
Now guests can now explore more of Star Hill Farms to experience nature’s influence on the whiskey. Samuels is excited to see how their continued sustainability efforts parallel with the overall flavor and quality of their whiskey for their consumers. The company has a 100-year vision to ensure sustainability for the next generation of whiskey makers, including research into how regenerative farming can help them push flavor boundaries.
“While we celebrate this moment of certification, it’s less about us feeling great about the past, and more about our commitment to continuing to improve,” says Samuels. “I see it truly as just the beginning as we continue to chart out a better future.”
YPO has partnered with B Lab, a global network of organizations transforming the global economic system, to engage and combine resources, knowledge and networks in order to create a positive impact in live, businesses and the world. Members of YPO can get connected with the YPO B Corp community by joining the B Corp Certification Sub-Network and the Sustainable Business Network.