Sustainability More Than an Apéritif in Wine Country

Article excerpt

When Beringer Vineyards, the oldest continuously operating winery in California's Napa Valley, applied for sustainability certification, vineyard manager Drew Johnson was prepared to provide information about the vineyard's extensive environmental practices. But when he finished detailing his careful stewardship of the land and streams, he barely made a dent in the application.

"Most of the questions were for HR," Johnson recalls of the application he filed in 2011. "There was a chapter in the questionnaire on how we treat employees and another chapter on community relations. They wanted to know about pay and benefits and even about how we lead our grape pickers in stretching and calisthenics before they start to work."

What Johnson learned that day, and what companies across the nation are learning, is that sustainability isn't just about the environment. The term "sustainability" has taken on a new, broader meaning. And in business it has become a concept that denotes a holistic view of how the company treats the earth and its inhabitants--particularly employees, stakeholders and customers.

Steve Lederer, director of environmental management at the county of Napa, whose Green Certified Winery Program certified Beringer Vineyards as sustainable, says human resources has been part of the sustainability game for the past several years. He has worked with sustainable businesses for a decade and has seen HR's role grow from simply stating, "We recycle," to playing an active role in building an engaged corporate culture around sustainability efforts.

"I've seen a lot of organizations that take sustainability beyond the environmental and include social aspects," Lederer says. "How they relate with their community and diversity are sustainability issues that HR gets involved in. Is there proper diverse representation on corporate boards, for example, and are they hiring in a sustainable fashion by looking at diversity issues and fairness issues in the community? …