Oregon Solidarity winery prinicpals, winemakers and growers. From left: Amy Anderson, Villa Novia Vineyards; Laura Lotspeich, Pheasant Hill Vineyard; Taylor King, King Estate; Jim Ball, Five Tollers Vineyard; Brent Stone, King Estate; Ryan Johnson, King Estate; Ed King III, King Estate; Joe Ibrahim, Willamette Valley Vineyards; Christine Clair, Willamette Valley Vineyards; Michael Moore, Quail Run Vineyards; Justin King, King Estate; Leon Pyle and Cathy DeForest, Maison Tranquille; Mike Anderson, Villa Novia Vineyards; Ray Nuclo, King Estate; and Joe King, King Estate.

A Conscious Community

Building business through the lens of the Oregon wine industry

By Nathan Warren

On Aug. 19, 2019, 181 CEOs of the Business Roundtable — a nonprofit that includes industry-leading companies like Apple, Amazon, JP Morgan, Blackrock Securities and others — issued a statement renouncing a 40-year-old practice of maximizing profits for shareholders and declaring that their corporations were now committing to offering value to a broad range of stakeholders, including a promise to protect the environment through their practices. 

If you are wondering what this has to do with the Oregon wine industry, the story below will detail how Oregon businesses offer a model for how corporate America might move forward, beyond profits.

What is Conscious Community Theory?

Most of Oregon’s wine industry operates in balance with the natural world through norms of practice that have existed for decades. In 2016, I defined some of these norms, drawing from my 20 years of wine industry involvement as the owner and winemaker of Harris Bridge Vineyard in the South Willamette Valley. This work became known as the Conscious Community Theory of organizational function, the first awareness-driven organizational function theory in American business history. CCT is more about living in balance with the natural world and less about maximizing profits. 

Here’s some historical context. For about 40 years, there have been two dominant organizational function theories in American business: Shareholder Theory (profits first); and Stakeholder Theory (stakeholders or people first). However, many Oregon wineries exist for reasons beyond both profits and stakeholders, including life experience, community, nature, etc.

I define my own investment in wine as being about life and beauty. The way I see it: The magic of wine is that it is a living, breathing thing, always new and changing. The role of the winemaker is to listen to the life represented in the fruit and the fermentation, and to support that life as it transforms into a still-living, still-breathing bottle of wine.

In 2017, after drafting and circulating the premise of Conscious Community Theory (CCT) for academic review, including conversations with the authors of both Shareholder and Stakeholder theories, I was offered an opportunity to teach at Oregon State. In my first lecture, January of 2018, I offered my students a winemaker’s view of the world and then gave them a choice of one of the three theories: Shareholder, Stakeholder or CCT. If they didn’t like any of those three, I encouraged them to write their own.  This was a revolutionary approach in a corporate finance class that was using the 13th edition of a 40-year-old text filled with 34 chapters of Shareholder Theory dogma.  

The results from that class stunned me and validated my approach: 45% chose CCT to represent their organizations; 30% Stakeholder; 15% Shareholder; and 10% wrote their own. It was then that I realized the world was hungry for new thinking, that change was coming and that what happens every day in the Oregon wine industry might offer valuable insights for businesses in other industries that may not know how to operate in balance with the natural world. 

And so, two years after that first lecture at OSU, in August 2019, at the Business Roundtable meeting mentioned at the top of this article, the titans of corporate America openly rejected Shareholder Theory. An amazing turn of events that even I did not predict. And more recently, in the September 2019 edition of Oregon Stater Magazine, my theory — built in part from my experience in the wine industry — was cited in the College of Business “Business Matters” insert. Interest in CCT has been increasing ever since. 

Beyond Theory and into Practice

Oregon has been a “we” state for decades, and from both sides of the aisle. From the Oregon Solidarity Southern Oregon wine story, to the Timber trademark defense in the Willamette Valley, Oregon has had a long history of looking beyond traditional profit and stakeholder interests to respond in times of need. 

In 2014, I benefitted directly from Oregon’s Conscious Community approach when a Florida company tried take my “Timber” wine trademark. I’ll never forget the support I received from Jack Joyce at Rogue Ales, Dave Frohnmayer (Oregon’s former attorney general), Portland attorneys Ian Gates and TJ Romano, and Corvallis attorney Jay Faulconer. They all helped point the way forward. My wife, Amanda, and I did the legwork, including writing a 25-page motion of summary judgement that gave us the victory. But that 22-month-long successful defense was made possible by the help we received from Oregon business leaders and legal experts.  It was a Conscious Community effort, CCT in action, people stepping up based on their awareness of others in need.

In 2018, the Oregon Solidarity effort, which helped Southern Oregon fruit growers in their time of need, represents another example of CCT.  Clearly, the charitable work done in that case was not motivated by either profits or stakeholders. Instead, it came from an awareness of need, a conscious commitment to community and family, and a respect for the life left abandoned on the vine; in other words, CCT.

So, how have Oregonians come to act so consciously and collaboratively? I believe the origins of this “we” thinking are two-fold:  First, our state has a small population and with many small businesses — in this way, it could be described as an underdog; second, Oregon is a green state, where life abounds and it’s easy to feel small in comparison to the surrounding natural world.

The upside of feeling small is that our egos remain in check, and we tend to prioritize awareness and be more open to collaboration.  And, when life is less about “me” and my production or consumption, and more about “us” and our shared connection, we become less focused on profits and more focused on all of the life represented in and supported by our work.

I believe this collaborative, sustainable, community-focused approach results in the vibrant, healthy and balanced life experience that many Oregonians cherish. I’ve lived here my whole life, 45 years, and it has been a Conscious Community experience for me since my childhood, when my father moved us all to the Harris Valley, Oregon.

Awareness-Led Business

CCT is an awareness-led organizational function theory, which distinguishes it from the more purpose-driven Shareholder and Stakeholder theories. Currently, there are two primary Oregon industries where awareness leads the way: the wine industry and high technology. 

At first glance, you might think wine and high tech make an unusual pair, but, digging deeper, you’ll discover both are built on an incredible awareness of and respect for life, a foundational tenet of CCT.  While the wine industry is built on respect and appreciation for the potential of soil, fruit and a natural fermentation process; the Silicon Forest is founded on respect for the innovation potential of scientific awareness and the creative human mind. 

Concepts like agile project management, intelligent information systems and business analytics are common in the Silicon Forest, and these techniques and tools are spreading fast to other sectors. Agile project management is a Conscious Community approach, and as agile management practices spread to other industries, so does CCT. 

We live in a rapidly changing world — Henry Ford’s Model T was made for 19 straight years, compared to Apple’s release of 19 different iPhones in the last 12 years. People are “voting” with their dollars, and they’re choosing corporations most aware of and most able to meet their consumer demands while at the same time minimizing impact on the environment. CCT provides the organizational language to define and support this shift toward environmental awareness.               

As the global community becomes more scientifically driven, information-rich and connected, the old-purpose triad of mission, vision and values is no longer enough. CCT responds by adding a scientifically based awareness triad of observing, understanding and learning to the business lexicon.  As the old paradigms begin to crack, the result is a more balanced, conscious, responsive organization that remains connected to every aspect of its environment and is less dependent on the ego of its leader.

Looking back, how did we ever believe an organization would be sustainable without having a balance of both purpose and awareness? We know humans need both. Without awareness you are a blind bully and without purpose you go hungry. Both are essential for the survival of people and organizations alike. The awareness triad — observing, understanding and learning — which is the foundational tenet of CCT, is applicable to every business on earth, regardless of the economic or political system in which it operates. Our organizations should be as smart as the people working for them, and without awareness, an organization is lacking a critical component of intelligence.

Small-Town Roots, American Dreams, Hopes for Our Planet

While CCT has roots in the small timber town of Philomath, and while it is based largely on the wine industry and the natural world, it is applicable anywhere organizations are willing to put the health of the planet above their own egos and profits. If embraced by American mainstream businesses, CCT holds promise to increase innovation through collaborative scientific and technological projects as well as it holds promise to achieve a more sustainable balance between humans and the natural world. 

CCT is based on a code of life that is as longstanding as the planet itself, but it’s a code that we’ve forgotten as our culture has become dominated by economic and political systems.  We are human beings, and yet we’ve become human “doings,” and the awareness-led Oregon wine industry can help our world remember that our survival depends on our ability to sit in deep appreciation of and respect for the natural world that we all live on, together. Further, our survival depends on our ability to collaborate, and the Oregon wine industry does this better than just about any industry out there; it’s in our DNA.

Once a person is able to see outside of their own myopic purpose-heavy paradigms, there’s no going back. There’s no unseeing how powerful our planet and the natural world is, and how it dwarfs all of us humans and our egos.  The fact is that the average Fortune 500 company lasts 20 years while most wineries survive generations — some through world wars, and even economic and political revolts. Why?  Because (most) wine isn’t about profits or any system; it’s about life, and in the world of business, that thinking is rare. 

The hard truth is that we currently have an economic system in which tens of thousands of companies would no longer exist if the profit motivation were to be removed, and that’s a problem that CCT can help solve.  And Oregon’s wineries, natural resource industries and high technology companies can help lead the way.  

How to Get Involved

There are several pilots of CCT underway at this time in Oregon — a pilot is just an opportunity for an organization to try out the language. The next step is to get some pilots going outside Oregon, and maybe even outside the country. The time commitment for a typical pilot ranges from 10 to 40 hours. If you would like to have your organization considered as a pilot, please contact Nathan directly at 541-990-5919 or by e-mail at Find more information about this new theory at


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