Congratulations! You are considering starting a Green Business Program, and with it, receiving a number of benefits for your city or county. You are probably wondering what the different types of certification programs are and what is the best fit for your City or County. There are several different possible components that your program might include, and several models to consider. Since each component adds its own benefits and costs, reviewing them will help ensure that you develop the right program for your area. In reviewing the different options, you’ll soon learn that there are different shades of green.
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With a self-certification program, a business becomes certified after reporting to the program that the measures are complete, and then they receive the benefits of certification; promotion, public recognition, etc. The program does not provide independent verification that the measures have been completed.
While self-certification appears cheaper for the jurisdiction, and easier for businesses, it also has important limitations. Both the public and local government must trust that the business has done what it claims. Generally, when a business completes a checklist on their own, many of the measures have not been completed. The checklist is usually filled out by an employee who is not a sustainability expert, and the business may be tempted to answer questions in their own favor.
In contrast, programs that provide third-party verification send a sustainability professional out to the business after the checklist is completed to ensure that all measures are done, and to provide technical assistance to help the business complete the tougher measures. These third party audits may be performed by program staff, utility partners, or contracted to another party.
Gamification of behavior change has been proven to work. Do you want to provide a challenge to businesses, or do you want them to finish a specific set of measures? A “Challenge” program sets up a friendly competition for area businesses (for example, see http://www.icleiusa.org/main-page/climate_and_energy/green-business-challenge ). Depending on the goals set by the program, businesses can receive public recognition in a range of categories, and enjoy the process of the challenge. Most challenge programs are self-certification, and therefore have the same problems of businesses reporting that they have completed measures that they haven’t actually accomplished. In contrast, a “Certification” program focuses on ensuring that businesses complete specific measures that are important to the jurisdiction. All businesses complete the same group of measures, and are recognized when they do.
A program can check environmental compliance in any area important to the local jurisdiction as part of the certification process. For example, checks could be performed for air, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste, or food safety. This component can be set up with staff at the appropriate agencies. Usually, it entails a simple call or email to the contact person, who can look up the business and report whether or not it is currently in compliance. By including environmental compliance checks, the program avoids the awkward situation of certifying a business that is still a known polluter. There is no quicker way to lose credibility with the public, with your partners, and with your funders than to promote a business that has a bad history of compliance.
As well as sending program staff when the checklist is completed, a program may include other trained personnel to audit sections of the checklist along the way. For example, staff from the local water district may audit water conservation measures, or the energy company could send an auditor for the energy conservation measures. Trained student interns can also be used. Third-party audits offer possibilities to engage agency stakeholders. They may save money for the program, although they require additional management.
Tracking the outcomes of the program are important to report success to funders and to keep the program sustained. This can be done using spreadsheets and a lot of follow-up with the businesses. Also, tracking the businesses through the program can result in endless amounts of paper use and file storage. The California Green Business Program utilizes a database that uses key metrics to measure the outcomes of completing certain measures, such as greenhouse gas reductions, kW/hrs saved, gallons of water saved, hazardous waste and materials reductions, and solid waste diverted from the landfill, to name a few. The database also tracks a business through the process, allowing the checklist to be completed on hand-held devices, eliminating paper use. Being able to generate reports on the outcomes that multiple certified businesses in a region can accomplish is central to obtaining continued program funding. The database can also be set up so that your certified businesses can see the results of their efforts in a “scorecard” format.
Many programs are set up to reward for energy conservation only, or for complying with wastewater and Stormwater regulations only, or for achieving air emissions reductions. It is very simple for one agency or utility to run a single media certification platform because they do not need to interface with other agencies to do so. However, several opportunities may be missed in doing so. The opportunity to network with like-minded and often well-connected environmental professionals in your community is often touted as the biggest benefit in a multi-media program. Assembling all the environmental and conservation agencies together in the same room on a regular basis is invaluable. It breaks down government silos and often sprouts numerous other beneficial programs as a result of the networking in establishing a Green Business Program. An example single media program is the Clean Ocean Program in Santa Cruz, California. An example partnership of agencies to develop a multi-media program is the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program.
The California Green Business Program (CAGBP) is a voluntary program for businesses to gain recognition for operational changes that prevent pollution, conserve resources and greatly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The program is run by a network of government, non-profit, utilities, and for-profit agencies that serve businesses locally while working together to oversee the program statewide. The CAGBP assists and validates sustainable business activities, establishes a green marketplace, and tracks results through metrics. It ensures that the business is in compliance with all environmental regulations. The program coordinators manage and promote the local programs using a statewide database, and provide expert technical assistance to businesses in all environmental arenas: air, solid waste, water supply, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste and materials, and energy. Newly certified businesses are then promoted broadly to encourage consumers to increase the demand side of the green economy. From the start up 1996 program in the San Francisco Bay Area, the CAGBP has grown to include 21 active programs, and has certified over 2700 businesses to date.
The CAGBN is a third-party verification program; in fact, it is essentially the only green business program in the state that verifies that all checklist measures are completed. It was designed as a certification program, ensuring that all green businesses have completed a minimum set of measures, as opposed to a program which would simply encourage businesses to do more. It is based on partnerships among government agencies and nonprofits as well as businesses, and often includes third-party audits provided by these partners. The Green Business Program creates a positive relationship between the government and the business community, as the government helps businesses comply with environmental regulations, and promotes the many beneficial measures the businesses have instituted.
In 2011, the Governor of California signed AB 913 (Feuer), which legislatively created the California Green Business Program. The legislation recognizes the integrity and credibility of the local Green Business Programs and has provided a strong foundation for the continued success of existing programs and expansion to other communities throughout the state
The California Green Business Network is a group of local governments operating similar green business programs. It was formed in 2005, when programs throughout the state formed to meet and share experiences, promote consistency and efficient operations. Network members collaborated on the development of database, an Internet-based measure system to quantify environmental benefits, manage business’ certification process, and provide an online directory to the public. The CAGBN currently includes 21 active programs, which have certified over 2700 businesses.
Due to history and experience of the CAGBN, new members can now join and benefit from a well-established network of programs. Joining the CAGBN is like receiving a “program in a box” – new users can learn from the tried and true practices of other programs, receive training in establishing their own programs, copy existing checklists, benefit from statewide marketing, and become part of and use the statewide database. See Join Us! for more information.
The first Certified Green Business Program in the state was the Bay Area Green Business Program, which was developed in 1996 by San Francisco bay area local governments and regional agencies with participation and funding from US EPA and Cal EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and in collaboration with the business community. DTSC continues to provide guidance. They and local foundations have provided grants for special projects.
Launched in 1996, the San Francisco bay area program combined the successful compliance-oriented Sonoma Green model with pollution prevention and resource conservation standards developed by Santa Clara County. Initial outreach was to auto repair shops in Alameda and Napa counties. By 2007, the Program was being delivered in all nine Bay Area counties.
Quickly recognizing the success of the Program, other regions coordinated with the Bay Area Program and Cal EPA DTSC to model local programs and utilize program checklists and other resources. Currently there are active Certified Green Business Programs in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Diego and Santa Barbara counties, and the Cities of Santa Monica and Thousand Oaks. The City of Los Angeles and Mendocino and Humboldt Counties are in the planning stage. The current program network geographically serves about 27% of California and with several upcoming additions it will cover 38% of the state.
As the Program expanded geographically, the types of businesses served also grew. The statewide program now has standards and checklists for 19 industries including auto repair and auto body, printing, hotels, restaurants, landscape design and maintenance, remodeling, garment cleaning (using wet cleaning or CO2 systems exclusively), dentists, wineries, custodial/cleaning, small manufacturing, and office and retail operations. Each local program chooses to direct their efforts to particular industries, based on local priorities. More than 2,700 businesses, including dozens of government agencies, have been certified statewide.
In 2005, programs throughout the state formed the California Green Business Network which meets regularly to share experiences, promote consistency and efficient operations. Network members collaborated on the development of an Internet based measurement and management system that quantifies environmental benefits, manages the process from the time a business applies until it achieves Green Business status, and provides searchable listings to allow potential customers to easily find Green Businesses throughout the state. The database accumulates environmental outcome data at the program or state level based on the specific practices implemented by businesses qualifying for Certification.
In 2011, the Governor signed AB 913 (Feuer), which created the California Green Business Program. The legislation recognizes the integrity and credibility of the local Green Business Programs.
The annual environmental results, as measured by the metrics collected in the database, of the California Green Business Program in 2014 were the following:
|Metrics||Average Annual |
|Annual Savings for |
|Greenhouse Gas Emissions Saved||639,750 lbs of CO2||822,677 metric tons of CO2|
|Energy Saved||73,562 kWh||282,113,714 kWh|
|Solid Waste Diverted from Landfill||62 lbs||419,947 metric tons|
|Water Saved||32,415 gallons of water||124,312,888 gallons of water|
|Hazardous Waste Reduced (gallons)||7,5 gallons||28,861 gallons|
|Mercury Avoided||5 mgs||376,196 mgs|
|Fuel Saved||3,5 gallons||13,523 gallons|
The mission of the California Green Business Program is to lead the state and nation in developing a healthy green economy with business partners. The Certified Green Business brand is recognizable statewide, understood, respected, and trusted by consumers and businesses.
The California Green Business Network (CAGBN) is a partnership of local GBP Coordinators, their partner NGOs and consultants, and California state agency staff mutually supporting each other to implement the California Green Business Program, and:
Led by a coalition of California state, and local agencies and non-profit organizations, the program will achieve its mission by the following goals and operating principles:
1. We leverage technology,
2. We strive for/aspire to sustainable, reliable funding,
3. We maintain high and consistent performance standards,
4. We develop/implement effective marketing, branding, and outreach,
5. We foster sustainability education in schools,
6. We participate in and promote green workforce development,
7. We expand our program reach and impact,
8. We practice collaborative governance, and
9. The program is driven by accurate and current performance data.