Brooks Wine – Growing Through the Process of B Corp Certification and Renewal
Growing Through the Process of B Corp Certification and Renewal
Celebrating 25 years of making wines and 50 years of growing vines, Brooks Wine is a family-owned and operated winery located in the heart of Willamette Valley. Brooks is the living legacy of Jimi Brooks, a visionary Portland native who came to wine through his passion for history and philosophy. He devoted his life to holistic farming and winemaking in the community. In 2004, Jimi passed away unexpectedly at the age of 38, and his 8-year-old son Pascal then became the sole owner of Brooks. Jimi’s sudden passing deeply impacted many within the industry. With only two weeks remaining before harvest, 12 local winemakers volunteered to make Brooks wine that year so the family could coordinate their next steps. Through the generosity of those winemakers, Brooks has flourished and continues to share Jimi’s passion for sustainable practices.
On average, Brooks produces approximately 20,000 cases of wine each year across 60 different labels with a focus on single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Riesling, and other aromatic whites. It was important to Jimi that his wines belong at every table regardless of the occasion, and therefore they are intentionally set at accessible price points. Another priority for Jimi was to revitalize the reputation of Riesling. To this day, Brooks Wine is the top producer of single-vineyard Riesling in the USA with significant inspiration coming from German, Alsatian, and Austrian styles.
Brooks Estate is 25 acres in total, with 18 acres under vine. Both the vineyard and the winery are Demeter Certified Biodynamic. Soil health and vitality is of top importance, and therefore no laboratory-synthesized fertilizers, pesticides, nor growth serums are sprayed in the vineyard. Instead, biodynamic preparations and cover crop rotations are utilized to strengthen the soil and the vines. Brooks Estate is a no-till vineyard and is dry farmed. The 30 additional vineyards from which Brooks sources fruit are located up and down Willamette Valley. While those vineyards may not all be certified in the same way as Brooks Estate, the growers practice like-minded approaches to vineyard management and sustainability. To encourage the community’s growers to continue with those practices, Brooks is happy to maintain long-term contracts.
With such attention paid to quality fruit, Brooks proudly practices low intervention winemaking. Neither acid nor sugar are added to the wines at Brooks. The winery utilizes cross-flow filtration for consistent quality. Most of the work is done by hand, including stacking of the barrels. As another step toward sustainable winemaking, Brooks switched to lightweight, locally-sourced bottles in 2010. The use of tin capsules was stopped in 2019 to further prevent unnecessary waste in our landfills.
In 2019, Brooks Wine became a certified B Corp and member of 1% For The Planet (1%FTP). Fellow B Corp companies all adhere to rigorous metrics for business practices that ensure accountability, transparency, equitable supply chain practices, care for employees, and charitable giving. Members of 1%FTP donate 1% of total annual sales to nonprofits dedicated to environmental wellness. Due to the company’s commitment to biodynamic practices, Brooks donates their 1% to Kiss the Ground, a US-based nonprofit that studies and educates about regenerative agriculture. Organizations associated with both B Corp and 1%FTP are commonly and affectionately referred to as “B1” companies.
In 2021, Brooks partnered with Ecologi to future support global climate positive solutions with an emphasis on tree planting. Since the partnership began, Brooks and its loyal customers have contributed to just under 60,000 trees planted in the most impactful locations worldwide. On a local scale, Brooks Wine became a carbon neutral company in 2023 with the application of Oregon-based carbon offsets and a carbon neutral website supported by EarthFirst eCommerce.
Brooks Wine has been named one of the Top 100 Wineries in the world by Wine & Spirits three times (i.e., 2019, 2021, and 2023). Brooks was also ranked number 28 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Vineyards, which also takes into account the quality of the winery’s hospitality. The company donates approximately 2% of its annual revenue to local and worldwide communities.
Brooks Wine is one of only a handful of Certified B Corporation (B Corp) wineries in the world. The company adheres to a strict and comprehensive set of evaluation standards that measure positive impact rather than just profitability. Brooks incorporates policies and practices that merge environmental sustainability, business transparency, social
equity, and support for the community in an effort to benefit both people and planet. As an industry leader in other sustainability-focused commitments, namely biodynamic vineyard management and winemaking, Brooks welcomes the opportunity to share the experience of becoming a Certified B Corp, the impact it has made on the business, and suggestions for other businesses at the beginning of the journey.
SGD (SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL)
The concentration of B Corporations in Oregon is stronger than any other location in the world. When a couple nearby wineries began to showcase their B Corp certification and the ways in which it had shaped their companies, the team at Brooks Wine became interested in learning more about how certification could improve their own business.
The leadership team already knew the company’s practices and policies were oriented for responsible stewardship of the land and support of the team members, but they wanted to look at the ways the company was operating through pillars of accountability with credible benchmarks for impact. More specifically, Brooks wanted to learn where their operations fit from a global perspective to identify opportunities for meaningful improvement and growth.
While there are many organizations offering certification for carbon neutrality, Brooks decided to pursue B Corp certification for a holistic review of the entire company’s impact. Rather than being focused on a single environmental issue, B Corp certification takes into consideration a company’s contributions to sustainable environmental protections, inclusive employment, equitable internal governance, and regenerative local economics. For Brooks, B Corp certification was an appropriate next step toward increased corporate accountability across all sectors.
Transparency is a foundational standard of Certified B Corporations, and therefore the B Lab Global website offers that same explicitness regarding the purpose and process of certification. B Corp certification is intent on holistically measuring a company’s social and environmental impact. The process is rigorous and thorough. It requires engaging teams and departments across the entirety of the organization. Verification and documentation of the company’s business model, operations, and processes are required regardless of designation. Potential public complaints are also reviewed and site visits may be requested.
To earn B Corp certification, a company must:
- Achieve a score of 80 or above on the B Impact Assessment and pass the B Corp risk review.
- Make a legal commitment by changing the company’s governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. (Some organizations are also required to achieve benefit corporation status if available.)
- Publicly disclose the company’s performance as measured against B Corp global standards on the network’s website. Review the performance of Brooks Wine here.
There are different pathways to certification. B Lab, the international network that completes the certification, takes into consideration company size, revenue, industry, and ownership structure to help determine the most appropriate pathway for each company. Those pathways each have their own B Impact Assessment. The assessment used to measure Brooks Wine’s performance during their 2022 recertification consisted of 176 questions dispersed among five categories (i.e., Community, Customer, Environment, Governance, and Workers).
- Summarized steps to certification include:
- Register – The assessment is free and confidential.
- Legal Requirement Tool & Risk Review – Determine how to integrate stakeholder accountability into your company’s governance structure.
- B Impact Assessment – Respond to questions about your company’s structure, policies, and practices with supporting documentation and data. You can save and return to the assessment at any time. Pay a one-time submission fee.
- Baseline Score – Establish a company profile and learn your baseline score. According to the global B Lab website, “if [your baseline score] is under the 80- point benchmark, reevaluate and prioritize improvement areas.” Scores over the 80 points may continue with the certification process.
- Evaluation – An analyst from B Lab reviews your company’s eligibility. If eligible to continue, the analyst will be in contact to answer your questions and provide you with opportunities to address holes in your application.
- Verification – You will have a review call with an analyst and may be asked to provide additional information, verification, and documentation about your employees and suppliers.
- Post-Verification – If you can verify the responses that accrued the 80-point threshold, you will sign the B Corp Agreement and pay the certification fee.
- Certification – Publish your B Impact Assessment results in the public B Corp online directory and share your B Corp status with your team and community.
- Recertification – Prepare for recertification every three years to confirm the B Lab standards continue to be met on an ongoing basis.
The certification process requires 6-12 months and involves a one-time submission fee and an annual certification fee. The fees are dependent on a company’s size, structure, region, and gross annual revenue with a range of $1,000 – $50,000+ USD
Since B Corp certification in 2019, Brooks Wine has become more aware of both its existing triumphs and areas needing improvement for truly sustainable and equitable business. The largest benefit has unmistakably been the full transparency that B Corp certification has brought to Brooks consumers regarding the company’s efforts.
Many of the practices Brooks was following previous to certification aligned well with B Lab standards. Certification encouraged the company to maintain many of those specific practices such as biodynamic farming, the employee pay structure, and a supply chain heavily comprised of local vendors. To push the company toward growth and improvement, B Lab motivated Brooks to begin actively tracking their impact for reputable transparency with the public to bolster trust and confidence in the brand.
- The estate as a whole recycles 84% of its waste.
- Greater than 10% of Brooks Estate is set aside as a biodiversity reserve including a biodynamic produce garden, an insectary, hedgerows, perennial plantings, as well as chicken and bee keeping.
- 100% of health, dental, and vision insurance premiums are paid by the company for full time employees.
- Over 75% of the company’s leadership team identify as women.
- The average tenure of the company’s relationships with suppliers is well over 60 months with the longest being 300 months.
- New achievements resulting from B Corp certification include:
- Over 65% of the company’s expenses (excluding labor) are with local, independent suppliers.
- The company’s 401K plan honors a 5% match.
- Brooks Wine has a written employee handbook with a code of ethics, whistleblower policy, and internal financial controls.
- Formal customer service feedback mechanisms have been put in place.
- Products are guaranteed and submitted for third-party quality certification.
Overall, a substantial benefit of B Corp certification was that it created a broader network of like-minded businesses with which Brooks can learn and collaborate. Whether through in-person conferences or virtual social hours, the network is active and supportive. B Corp companies tend to attract innovative thinkers with fresh perspectives on purpose-driven ways to advance business forward.
With 4 years and a recertification under their belt, the leadership team at Brooks can attest to many lessons learned since becoming a certified B Corp. The company’s initial assessment revealed that their strongest sector was that of care for the environment.
However, the company was not actively measuring the impact of its positive actions. Brooks began calculating the type and tonnage of their waste, the percentage of energy used from renewable versus low-impact renewable resources, and carbon emissions created by operations as well as by transportation of goods and materials. Brooks also started tracking the percentage of local vendors and suppliers from which they purchased materials and raw resources. This allowed the company to assess how well they supported the local economy so goals could be set for future improvements.
Most of the adjustments to the company’s practices were made to further contribute to employee wellness and advocacy. Brooks started by putting verbal policies into writing with an employee handbook which includes policies on pay and performance, formal descriptions of work hours and job duties, an anti-harassment statement, and a whistleblower policy. The handbook is accessible to all employees, and they are informed each time a revision or addition is made. Next, Brooks added to the already competitive employee benefits package. All employees were given a cost-of-living pay increase to assist with inflation rates. Employees now have the opportunity to use up to 20 paid volunteer hours to contribute their time to community projects inline with the company’s core commitments. Brooks also added a tax preparation benefit to help curtail financial obstacles and anxiety that arise during annual federal and state tax season.
Another change influenced by B Corp certification was the increased clarity with which Brooks communicated with the public, suppliers, and employees. The company had always been open about its environmental and social commitments, but the exact impact of those commitments could now be presented to consumers through both quantitative and qualitative measurements. On the supplier side, Brooks put in place a Code of Conduct for all partners and vendors. This established clear expectations regarding the supplier’s alignment with the social responsibilities and sustainability commitments of Brooks Wine. It also allowed the company to better evaluate with whom they partnered and why. For greater transparency with employees, Brooks now hosts an annual all company meeting at which the leadership team provides updates on the state of the company’s finances, partnerships, achievements, and goals for the new year. Operations are closed for the day, but employees are paid so everyone may attend without hardship.
Perhaps the most significant lesson learned from B Corp certification was to set non-profit related goals to actively move the company toward continuous improvement. Brooks now has in place annual goals for measuring Scope 3 emissions, increasing the percentage of local vendors utilized, and increasing engagement and feedback from employees.
Recertification occurs every three years. During the span of those three years, the metrics by which a company is assessed often change. B Corp attributes these changes to the recognition that high-quality social and environmental business standards demand continuous improvement. The 80-point threshold remains consistent with each recertification. Brooks has completed one recertification since joining the B Corp community and found the new assessment did indeed carry new and more detailed metrics than when initially certifying.
Taking that experience into account, Brooks is diligent about tracking and measuring the results of their actions. With more data and resources available to the company’s recertification committee, the less challenging and time consuming the next recertification will be.
Brooks is also earnestly at work pursuing the goals they had set for greater impact. Some of their future projects include piloting a reusable wine bottle program in Oregon, applying grant funding to solar panel installation, and tracking emissions from activities like air travel and hotel stays during national sales trips.
POTENTIAL FOR REPLICATION
As of 2023, B Corp Europe reports that “there are now over 6,400 B Corps across 88 countries and 159 industries.” The rate of new B Corporations nearly doubled in 2022 with a record 2,047 companies across numerous industries gaining certification. Some of the most popular B Corp companies around the world include Moodle (AU), Coursera (USA), TOMS (USA), BrewDog (UK), Boomera (BR), and Ben & Jerry’s (USA) with each garnering millions of annual online searches. The potential for wineries worldwide to become certified B Corp companies is high.
For those interested, the best place to start is by registering for a free and confidential B Impact Assessment to determine your baseline score. The B Lab website also offers a wealth of information for current and potential B Corp companies. The “About” and “FAQ” pages are excellent resources as well as the team with B Lab. The analysts are supportive and eager to welcome and assist new candidates within each global region.
From the perspective of Brooks Wine, the largest piece of advice is to approach certification as a team effort. Wineries will want to assemble a team with a member from each department (i.e., Production, Farming, Business, Hospitality, and Human Resources). Keep in mind that time and people will be the two most valuable resources needed to complete both the initial application and the recertifications that follow. Brooks recommends taking up to a full year to work through the initial application because it will point out gaps in existing policies and metrics that will require both time and bandwidth to address.
Last, and perhaps most important, Brooks encourages all new B Corp applicants to remember that nobody knows your business better than you. There may be times when you need to challenge a metric or advocate for measurements that most accurately assess impact for your unique business. The mission of B Corp is to transform the global economy to benefit people, communities, and planet. Openly share feedback as it relates to your business and the wine industry as a whole. Our collective insight assists B Corp when revising and fine tuning the standards so the assessment better reflects both the
positive strides we have already accomplished and the good work still on the horizon.