Empowering your staff – Laura Catena and Karissa Kruse

Innovation doesn’t always have to take the form of massive shifts in the business model or transformational structural changes. Sometimes it’s the small shifts in the day-to-day running of a business or taking care of employees that can have the greatest impact.

Dr. Laura Catena, Managing Director of Argentina’s Catena Zapata, and Karissa Kruse, President of the Sonoma County Winegrowers in California, are two women leading by example when it comes to social sustainability. Below are a selection of the initiatives run by their respective organisations.

Catena Zapata

At the winery, they were finding it was challenging to attract and keep employees. A lot of young people preferred to move to the city to bartend or work in a restaurant rather than work in the countryside at a winery or were instead were choosing to pursue higher education at a university. To make their winery a more attractive workplace, Catena Zapata has done the following:

  • Provide flexibility and easy opportunities for movement within the company
  • Support employees financially and with flexibility in achieving higher education (one Catena vineyard worker was encouraged to get his PhD and is now the world expert on Malbec!)
  • Adopted the “Toyota” philosophy, by involving every person down to the vineyard workers in creating and proposing ways to do things better
  • Serve a daily warm, cooked lunch for all employees (a must in Argentina)
  • Facilitate visits to the vineyards and winery for high school students to encourage them to go to professional school and work in the vineyard

Catena is also the founder of the Catena Institute, which uses science to preserve nature and culture.

“Sustainability is about preserving an ecosystem, and we humans are part of this ecosystem,” says Laura Catena. “I think the best way to do this is for each producer, each company, to think about it really hard and try different things and actually do them, with the philosophy that you are trying to preserve the ecosystem that includes humans.”

Sonoma County Winegrowers in California

In 2014, Sonoma County committed to becoming 100% sustainable. To date, they are 95% of the way there as they enter into the final months of the campaign. This ambitious goal is not only with regards to environmental and financial sustainability, but also social sustainability as well.

In Sonoma County the average age of a farmer is 60 years old and, as in Argentina, young people are increasingly choosing college over agriculture. As a result, immigrants have been a huge source of workers for the community. However, unfriendly immigration policies, coupled with a housing crisis in California, means Sonoma County has many issues to deal with to ensure the future of the region.

Some of the initiatives the Sonoma County Winegrowers have enacted to achieve social sustainability include:

  • Launched a non-profit to support the Sonoma workforce and their families in 2016, which has become increasingly relevant after the October 2017 fire and housing crisis
  • Invested in building housing for workers, particularly those who enter the US via the “guest workers program”, who must be provided with housing during their 10 month work stay in the US
  • In building their foundation, they brought in their workforce to ask them directly for guidance on how they could best help, rather than assuming they had all the answers on childcare, healthcare, housing, etc.
  • Introduced employee recognition programs, nominating employees each month for awards in various categories and rewarding them with a $500 gift card, as well as an annual event to honour an employee of the year. This is a very simple, inexpensive way to make employees feel valued and appreciated.

Speaking about the end of year Employee of the Year award ceremony, Kruse says: “We had 300 vineyard workers in a room celebrating what they do, and it’s such a great celebration at such little cost. You have to look for those big ways that are so transformational, but also for those little ways that just recognise what we all love, which is just this little ‘thank you,’ and that goes a long way.”