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Fetzer Vineyards Becomes Largest Winery To Go Net Positive

By Joi Sears

Fetzer has been pioneering earth-friendly winemaking long before it was a buzzword. Ever since Barney Fetzer founded the company in 1968, Fetzer Vineyards has been on a mission to go beyond making great wine to also making a positive impact on the planet. Pursuing an earth-first philosophy and groundbreaking practices, he charted Fetzer in a new direction, and the industry is still catching up.

As the largest wine company in the world to receive B Corp certification, Fetzer has joined the growing movement toward harnessing the power of private enterprise to create public benefit. It is the first winery in California to operate on 100 percent renewable energy, the first wine company in the world to receive zero-waste certification, and the first winery to publicly report its greenhouse gas emissions with the climate registry.

However, being sustainable is not enough. Fetzer is on a mission to become better than sustainable. The company set the ambitious goal to become completely net positive by 2030. A fresh take on a familiar agenda, net positive is a new framework for doing business in which a company aims to put back more into society, the environment and the global economy than it takes out.

Spread across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, companies that take a net positive approach share an ambition to achieve a positive social impact on the world. Rather than ‘do less harm,' net positive commits organizations to doing more good overall.

“We have implemented a regenerative strategy at Fetzer Vineyards because our goal is to not only sustain the world we live in, but to enhance it,” said Josh Prigge, Fetzer’s director of regenerative development. “We are committed to using regenerative and restorative business practices that create positive impacts on our natural environment, the people of Fetzer Vineyards, and our communities.”

By following a clear set of principles, net positive organizations are restoring natural capital, building social capital and establishing a new way of doing business.

“We feel that this is the way corporate sustainability is heading,” Prigge explained. “Businesses should lead the way when it comes to innovation and developing solutions to global challenges. It is not big enough to simply minimize the negative impacts, we are actively creating new ways to have a positive impact on our environment. We want to be a positive force in the world, with the ultimate goal being that each purchase makes the world a better place.”

Fetzer is working to achieve a positive corporate footprint through a series of on-site initiatives and in the process have set some stringent environmental goals. The company plans to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and become carbon neutral by 2016. By 2020, the goal is to reduce energy use by 20 percent, achieve a 99.9 percent solid waste diversion rate and attain 100 percent certification of sustainable grape suppliers. The company is already the largest organic wine grape grower in the U.S.

Fetzer is also committed to water conservation: In 2012, the company adopted the use of a new cleaning product for its wine tanks, called peracetic acid, which requires less water to be used for rinsing. This saved over 200,000 gallons of water annually and also reduces the energy needed to pump the water.

That same year, the company started removing lees (yeast residues) from wine tanks, and shipping this byproduct to a third-party. The removal of the lees greatly reduces the solids from the waste-water stream and the biological oxygen demand (BOD) that it creates. This proved to be not only good for the planet, but brought in a profit as well. In 2014, Fetzer removed 202 tons of lees and earned over $48,000 for this byproduct.

Fetzer is also committed to protecting and enhancing wildlife and biodiversity through sustainable farming practices. Regenerative agriculture helps to increase the health and fertility of the soil and the environment. As opposed to conventional farming with harmful chemicals that deplete the health of soils and pollute the environment, the company practices regenerative agriculture which helps increase the health and fertility of the surrounding environment.

One of Fetzer’s core commitments is ‘being human.' The company believes that being net positive means not only being good to the environment, but also working to enrich the lives of its employees and wider community. Continuous improvement is a core value at Fetzer Vineyards and includes technical on-the-job skills based programs, strategic developmental training for leaders and robust safety training.

“We prioritize employee engagement, recruitment and retention,” Prigge said. The company frequently awards employees for exciting innovations in the field of sustainability. Because of this, Fetzer has attracted a whole slew of aspirational millennials who want to support companies that are doing good.

Fetzer’s regenerative business strategy aims to move the organization beyond its history of sustainability and toward creating a positive impact in the environment and in our communities. The aggressive target of becoming net positive is not only industry leading, but could also create the demand for more wineries and consumer goods companies to move in this direction.

Barney Fetzer had a simple philosophy — what’s good for the earth is good for the grape. Better grapes produce better wine. And, he used this philosophy to build one of the greenest wineries in the world. Pioneers in sustainability, Fetzer Vineyards is continuing its legacy of hard work, rebellious thinking and wines that make a difference.

Images courtesy of Fetzer Vineyards 

Joi Sears headshot

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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