North Bay becomes hub of B Corp. companies that promote progressive values

In an industry of more than 11,000 other wineries in the US, Ron Rubin knows it’s difficult for him to stand out in the marketplace.

The Ron Rubin Winery in Sebastopol already has a good reputation with its well-regarded Burgundian varietals from the Russian River Valley. It also has been known for Rubin’s generosity of offering free defibrillators for any winery that has its staff trained by the American Red Cross for their use.

But that’s not enough.

And thus, his winery went through an arduous process that took 651 days to become certified as a B Corporation last month. Companies must score high enough in their environmental commitment; treatment of workers; overall relationship with the local community and customers; and their business governance structure to achieve the designation, which is granted by the nonprofit B Lab organization based in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a global community, and I like to be associated with other certified B Corporations,” Rubin said.

He then rattled off the list of some of the other well-known brands that have also been granted such status, which have helped endear them to consumers over their progressive vision: Apparel retailers Patagonia and Bombas. Ben & Jerry’s hippie-inspired ice cream. Warby Parker, the e-merchant of hipster glasses.

“How can we be an inspiration for the wine industry? It’s really amazing. There are so few wineries that are certified B Corp.,” he added.

In the North Coast, however, such status is nothing new as some of the most recognizable consumer products come from our own local certified B Corp. companies: The dairy products from Clover Sonoma of Petaluma; beers from North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg; fermented drinks from Biotic Ferments of Petaluma; vegetarian dishes from Amy’s Kitchen Inc. of Petaluma; and tea from Traditional Medicinals in Rohnert Park.

The companies are a reflection of the many forward-thinking executives within the area, said Ethan Brown, the interim executive director for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“I think it is also driven heavily by a marketplace that identifies just as much with the social and environmental values ​​of a given company as it does with the products. The B-Corp. designation is gaining enough recognition that consumers can make choices that align with their own values ​​easier than ever,” Brown added.

The examples are not only in consumer goods for the roughly 15 firms that have achieved B Corp. certification in Sonoma County. Those include Boox, a producer of reusable shipping packages in Petaluma; Solar Works, a solar installation provider in Santa Rosa; and Solectrac, an electric tractor manufacturer that is located in Windsor.

It also reflects a growing movement to get such certification.

Rubin noted his delay was in part because of the influx of applications for B Corp. status as 4,000 submissions were sent to B Lab since the beginning of 2020 from companies around the world. Overall, there are 5,659 businesses that have achieved certification since the process began in 2006, covering 456,610 workers at such companies.

“It’s not only nationwide, but it’s definitely a global trend,” said Christopher Marquis, a professor at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and who has written a book on the topic.

The pandemic reinforced for many executives that they needed to formalize their commitments and values ​​as an overall business, especially in more progressive areas, he said. “It just created a separation among different types of businesses and companies,” Marquis added. “It’s something that is growing quite a bit.”

The growth is not without controversy, especially over concern if the worker standards are sufficient enough. The Teamsters union in March filed a complaint with B Lab over Amy’s Kitchen on behalf of longtime employee Cecilia Luna Ojeda and it alleged a “callous disregard for workers’ health, safety, and human rights” that goes against its standards.

The union is in the midst of trying to organize workers at Amy’s Santa Rosa plant.

The Teamsters noted all certified companies must sign an agreement with B Lab that includes guiding principles that “business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered” and that Amy’s has not lived up to that by having to settle Cal/OSHA worker violations.

B Lab did not return emails on the status of the complaint.

Amy’s defended its treatment of its workers, and the company said it respects their right to unionize. The company’s worker standards were the second-highest ranking category behind its environmental work in its overall B Corp. score, with higher marks on pay as well as health and safety. A company disclosure in 2020 as part of its certification noted Amy’s had settled two class action suits by workers over rest-period claims and a technical violation over pay stubs.

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