Green Business Certification in Alameda County


If you offer a green product or service, it’s important to also incorporate green initiatives into your own business. That’s why I’ve enrolled Cultivating Capital in the Bay Area Green Business Program.

The Bay Area Green Business Program was launched in 1996 and serves to “distinguish small businesses that protect, preserve and sustain our environment.” It operates in all nine Bay Area counties and has certified over 2200 businesses. The program is unique in that it is coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments and has partnerships with cities, utilities, and environmental agencies.

Why Should You Get Certified?

Going through the Green Business certification process can help you in different ways. First, you can identify opportunities for reducing expenses through implementing water and energy conservation measures, among other things. Second, you’ll be able to differentiate from your competitors who either may not be green or may not have the third-party certification to support their claims. And of course, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing your part as a responsible business owner to reduce your environmental impact!

As more businesses go green, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to verify the claims you make about how your business is sustainable. Indeed, if you market your business as green, you should be aware that the FTC is revising its Green Guides and that there are guidelines regarding the claims that you can and cannot make. As part of this, the FTC is cracking down on rogue certifications that are effectively worthless. Receiving third-party certification can be an asset to your business, but only if it comes from a reputable organization; aside from the Green Business Program, B Corp certification is also worth looking at. [Full disclosure: As a Green Business Consultant with Alameda County, I assist businesses that are going through the certification process.]

The Green Business Certification Process

The process for getting certified is simple. You can enroll online by filling out a short form. After you enroll, you will need to fill out an online checklist. The checklist consists of six sections: Solid Waste, Energy, Water, Pollution Prevention, Wastewater, and General, and in each section you will need to indicate if you are performing both required and additional measures. The final step after you submit your checklist will be to coordinate on-site audits.

For an overview of ways to cut costs and emissions in your office, you might be interested in this previous post about “Going Green in Alameda County,” which features an interview with Alameda County Green Business Program Coordinator Pamela Evans.

Human Capital: The “People” Part of the Triple Bottom Line

The triple bottom line is one of the principles of sustainable business that gives weight not just to making a profit, but also to being responsible for how a business impacts people and the planet. In short, it looks at people, planet, and profit in all business considerations.

The financial component is the one that we are most familiar with, because it has traditionally been the only part that a company has to be concerned about. The concept of natural capital has gained increased attention as we realize that many of the natural resources we take for granted are not going to be around forever. The “people” part is really about human capital – the people who actually carry out the work of the company, as well as the people who are impacted by the company (this is the part that puts the “social responsibility” in CSR, corporate social responsibility).

Putting People First

Many forward-thinking companies look at how to really value their people. Perhaps one of the most important developments has been the emergence of B Corps, which expands the concept of shareholders to consider all stakeholders – basically everyone touched by the business, including employees, customers, suppliers, and community members.

Other examples of companies that are putting people first include: Human Capital: People Part of the Triple Bottom Line

  • Zappos, which CEO Tony Hsieh has famously built around employee happiness.
  • Semco, a Brazilian company that has implemented innovative workplace practices, including allowing workers to set their own salaries, as the “Caring Capitalist” video explains.
  • Clif Bar, the food company with 5 aspirations, one of which is to “create a workplace where people can live life to its fullest, even from 9-5.”

Companies that put people first realize that it’s good for business. Some early research suggests that green businesses may have happier employees – employee productivity may actually increase when people feel good about the sustainability initiatives of the company that they work for.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

Remember that your business is all about people. Who is touched by your business? Obviously, employees and customers are, but what about others, such as the people who live in the community where your raw materials are originally extracted? Then ask yourself, “How can my business impact them in a positive way?” Some ways to do this are to implement employee engagement programs, partner with a non-profit in your local community, and ensure that, if you outsource any of your work, it is done in compliance with human rights and labor laws.

The more that you can do this, the more that you will build goodwill and loyalty among the people who make your business possible. In turn, this will help your business to be sustainable for the long-term.

Why Your Small Business Needs to Go Green & Market Online

Isn’t one of the ongoing challenges of being a business owner just keeping up with the changes around you?

Your customers are constantly looking for a better value, your competitors don’t let up for a moment, the technology you’re used to becomes obsolete quickly, and you need to run your business while also trying to have some balance with your personal life. No wonder you’re so busy!

However, keeping up with changes becomes especially important in this day and age. In particular, there are two recent developments that have changed the landscape of business and that will affect you now and in the future. All businesses, large and small, will need to incorporate these into their overall strategy in order to be successful in the 21st century. These two changes are the need to become more sustainable and to effectively leverage online and social media marketing.

By now, you probably know that going green and marketing online are important. The question is: are you doing both effectively? Consider that 46% of small businesses don’t have a website (still!) and many businesses are still learning how to integrate sustainability into their overall strategy and operations. If you’re focused on just surviving in the present, you’re missing out on gaining a competitive edge for the future.

If you go green but don’t market, you may not generate enough sales to make your business profitable. Most customers, including older Baby Boomers, are now going online for information. Without an online presence, your business simply can’t be found. Without social media, it’s harder to connect with and educate your customers.

If you market but don’t go green, you will be at a disadvantage in several ways. First, your expenses may be higher than those of competitors who have implemented green practices such as conserving water and energy, which can directly benefit your bottom line. Second, you may be missing out on potential customers who are factoring environmental considerations into their purchases. And finally, you may be unprepared for how changes such as increases in gasoline prices may affect the shipping of your products.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that your business will survive and thrive for the long-term is to integrate sustainability and the triple-bottom line into your business and market yourself online effectively.

Going Green in Alameda County

We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have a well-developed green business program. The Bay Area Green Business Program includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. San Francisco and Monterey also have Green Business Programs. Since 1996, over 2200 businesses have been certified.

In this short video segment hosted by Bill Roth of Earth 2017, Alameda County Green Business Coordinator Pamela Evans talks about “Best Practices for Cutting Costs and Emissions in an Office.” Tips and information for helping businesses to go green include:

  • What is the quickest way to reduce energy in your office?
  • What uses the most water in your office, and what can you do about it?
  • What is the number one reason that businesses go green in Alameda County?

If you’re interested in pursuing Green Business Certification, you can visit the California Green Business Program website and enroll online.

5 Resources for Small Green Business News & Information

News sources for small green businessesLet’s face it: a lot of the sites for green news tend to focus more on large businesses. The blogosphere is overflowing with posts about everything from Pepsico’s ongoing effort to develop a quieter, compostable Sunchips bag and to the sustainability efforts of companies like WalMart and GE.

It is important for us to understand how large corporations are undertaking and reporting on their green initiatives. However, these sites often don’t address the issues that most small businesses are facing when it comes to going green. Most small business owners aren’t writing CSR reports, implementing sustainability initiatives across multiple business units, or developing sustainability scorecards for suppliers. Instead, the business owners I’ve spoken with are trying to figure out how to grow their business with limited financial and human resources, while also trying to do right by people and the planet.

With that in mind, here are five resources for green news and information that are relevant to small businesses:

  1. Greenbiz: As “the business voice of the green economy,” Greenbiz is one of the best all-around sources for green business news. The content is overwhelmingly focused on corporate news, but there is a section that specifically focuses on small business.
  2. Green Marketing TV: The mission of Green Marketing TV is to inspire individuals to participate in the green economy. From interviews with entrepreneurs to a series of posts about unique green business ideas, the website provides solid information and resources.
  3. New York Times: The standard-bearer of news publications that provides “all the news that’s fit to print,” (or, in this day and age, “all the news that’s fit to publish online”) has not missed a beat in keeping up with the times. Within its “Business Day” section is a section on “Small Business,” and within that, you’ll find the small business sustainability news.
  4. Small Business Trends: This award-winning site is a great resource for all small business owners. Posts on the site are written by their Small Business Experts and cover topics ranging from marketing to financial management. While it’s not updated too regularly, they do have a Green Business category that provides some helpful posts.
  5. Triple Pundit: This new media site focuses on triple bottom line businesses that value people, planet, and profit. Although it covers its share of corporate news, its comprehensive coverage of all things related to green business on its website is helpful for small business owners as well.

With all of the information out there, I’m sure that there’s a few sites that aren’t on this list. What would you add?

How to Join the Women Leading the Green Economy

Last week, I had the good fortune to co-present on the topic “How to Join the Women Leading the Green Economy,” with Grace Tiscareño-Sato. Grace is the author of “Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them.” The book is the first to examine the role of Latino entrepreneurs in the emerging green economy.

Our presentation was at the 3rd Annual Women’s Business Expo held by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (video highlights are available below). We focused on three main topics:

  1. Women and sustainable businesses are a powerful combination. The rise of women-owned businesses and sustainable businesses is presenting us with a unique opportunity to reshape business as we know it.
  2. Many women business owners are already active in the emerging green economy. Examples include women like Carmen Rad of CR&A Custom, a large-format printing company that uses biodegradable materials, and Sandra Artalejo, a fashion designer who repurposes discarded materials into new products.
  3. How you can go green in your business. This involves looking at the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. While most businesses are quite adept at looking at the profit component (a necessity to survival in business!), the focus on people and planet tends to be much less prominent.

In terms of reducing your impact on the planet, areas to look at include:

  • Energy and water conservation: How can your business reduce its energy and water consumption?
  • Solid waste reduction and pollution prevention: How can your business divert waste from the landfill and minimize use of harmful chemicals?
  • Production and distribution: How can your business modify its production and distribution practices to make it more environmentally responsible?

To ensure that your business is having a positive impact on people, areas to look at include:

  • Employee wellness: How does your business provide for the well-being of your employees?
  • Community impact: How does your business support its community?
  • Supply chain impact: How are people impacted throughout your supply chain?

These are all important areas to look at in your business as you consider what you can do to go green and develop a sustainable business. The actual practice of greening your businesses in these areas may seem to be overwhelming, but it’s important to realize that the business case for sustainability has already been made: businesses that minimize their environmental impacts can in turn reduce their expenses, while also generating goodwill among employees and customers, which can lead to higher revenues. The businesses that do this will also realize a competitive advantage in being able to tap new markets. Finally, this is just an overview (we only had 45 minutes!), but fortunately, there are several resources available:

  • Certifications: Bay Area Green Business Program and B Corps
  • Networking and advocacy groups: Sustainable Business Alliance and the Green Chamber of Commerce
  • News and information: Greenbiz, Triple Pundit, and Sustainable Industries

This short video captures some of the highlights from the Expo:

Are you a woman with a green business? Share your story below!

AB 361: Benefit Corporation Legislation Introduced in CA

The state of California recently became another in the growing list of states to consider Benefit Corporation legislation. Introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman of the 6th Assembly District, representing Marin and southern Sonoma County, the legislation proposes establishing a new type of corporation in the state.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman’s website explains the proposed legislation:AB 361: Benefit Corp legislation - B Corp logo

AB 361 – Benefit Corporations: This bill creates a new type of corporation for a new type of corporate social responsibility. Current law requires corporations to prioritize financial interests and shareholder profits. This bill creates a new, entirely voluntary type of corporate entity to let California businesses balance the pursuit of corporate profits with environmental and social goals. “Benefit Corporations” would operate under a broadened definition of fiduciary duty that allows business leaders, shareholders, and employees to include environmental stewardship and community development as part of their companies’ mission – people, planet, and profit.

The ability to incorporate consideration of people, planet, profit – the triple bottom line – will allow Benefit Corporations to move past the limited focus on pursuit of financial profit, regardless of social and environmental impact. Instead, Benefit Corporations will be able to focus on making a financial profit while also being socially and environmentally responsible.

This follows on the heels of increasing momentum for Benefit Corporations nationwide:

  • Maryland and Vermont became the first states to pass legislation last year.
  • New Jersey and Virginia are awaiting the governor’s signature; legislation in both states has passed the state Senate and Assembly and both houses of the General Assembly, respectively.
  • Colorado, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have all introduced legislation this year.

The B Corp website provides a complete list of Benefit Corporation legislation on their public policy page.

If you’re interested in learning more about B Corporations, the post “What Are B Corps?” contains some helpful background information.

Reflecting after the 2011 State of Green Business Forum

The State of Green Business Forums have recently wrapped up. The San Francisco Forum kicked off a three-city tour on Feb. 2 & 3, followed by a forum in Chicago on Feb. 9 & 10 and one in Washington D.C. on Feb. 16 & 17.

Green Business Forum

GreenBiz Chairman Joel Makower interviews former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at the State of Green Business Forum on Feb. 2.

The forums are an opportunity to get the latest on the State of Green Business, an annual report that captures the 10 key trends and 20 indicators that tell us which way the winds are blowing in sustainable business. The 2011 State of Green Business Report is an important resource for anybody who is interested in gaining a better understanding of the developments in green business. The forums are also worthwhile events that have generated a flurry of activity in both the blogosphere and the twittersphere, with the first posts and tweets being published during the conference and a steady stream following ever since.

A multitude of topics have been covered in these posts – ranging from trends in sustainability reporting to green dentistry and green travel – and a wealth of information has been generated. For a complete overview, you can visit the State of Green Business page, which includes links to the report as well as highlights from all of the forums.

Yet, as with all conferences, it’s always helpful to step back and remind ourselves about the most important question of all.

Why are we doing this?

Umair Haque writes about the need for reflection in business. As he notes, we often jump right to the “what” and the “how” – what are the trends in sustainability reporting, and how do we keep up? We end up missing the “why.”

In this case, asking, “Why are we doing this?” can yield numerous responses: we are doing this to learn, to help our companies be competitive, to network with other sustainability professionals.

We can delve deeper and answer the question on another level as well: we are doing this to advance sustainable business, to demonstrate that a new paradigm in business is possible, to build a community committed to common goals.

Finally, we can answer the question on the most fundamental of all levels: we are doing this because we care about the world that we live in, we care about the people in it, and yes, we may even want to make the world a better place.

It may seem virtually impossible sometimes to stop and reflect. After all, emails need to be sent, meetings need to be scheduled, calls need to be made, and businesses need to be run. Who has time to stop and reflect? Yet it is by reflecting that we can renew our commitment to sustainability and to the work that we need to do.

What about you? Why are you doing this work? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Natural Capital: What It Is and What It Means For Your Business

Natural capital and triple bottom line  business

One of the fundamental features of sustainable business is the concept of the triple bottom line. Rather than just focusing on growing financial profit, a sustainable business will take into consideration its social and environmental impact as well. This requires recognizing the value that lies in both social and natural capital, in addition to financial capital.

Ray Anderson, former CEO of Interface, described this in a recent post titled “Is Interface’s Sustainability Strategy Still Relevant?”:

“Soon, “green” was becoming mainstream, a crowded field of corporations, governments, academic study, and celebrity endorsement. Today, it’s mostly a healthy mix of doing the right thing and good old capitalism in action, in which “natural” capital takes on value along with financial capital.”

But what exactly is natural capital?

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, “Natural capital is the land, air, water, living organisms and all formations of the Earth’s biosphere that provide us with ecosystem goods and services imperative for survival and well-being. Furthermore, it is the basis for all human economic activity.”

Natural capital is continually providing us with something of value, whether it is the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, or the raw materials that we use in our products. The problem is that we have not traditionally placed a financial value on these natural resources. By not placing a financial value on them, it became easy to destroy forests, pollute rivers, endanger species and habitats, and otherwise plunder our natural resources.

Now, however, we are starting to recognize the value of natural capital. In fact, it is estimated that the value of natural capital worldwide is $33 trillion per year. In 2008, humans destroyed $6.6 trillion worth of natural capital – equivalent to 11% of the global GDP. The top 3,000 companies by market capitalization were responsible for $2.15 trillion in environmental costs. Unfortunately, under our current economic system, these costs are externalized, which means that while these companies caused this damage, they are not footing the bill for it. In many cases, it is the local communities and taxpayers that ultimately pay the price (the BP oil spill in the Gulf is but one example of this).

If this were cash, we would be appalled to see it squandered so recklessly. However, because these costs aren’t factored into our current economic system, this waste goes largely unrecognized. That’s why natural capital is important: it has value, and once we recognize that, we have a responsibility to spend it wisely.

What does this mean for your business?

The calculations for placing a financial value on natural capital in a business are still being developed, but there are simple ways that you can begin to consider natural capital in your business. For example, removing waste from your production process will conserve natural resources – while also possibly providing cost savings to you as well. Using materials that can be more rapidly renewed, such as bamboo, will ensure that the most scarce of our natural resources are preserved – while also building your products around a resource that may be more abundant in the long-term.

Although we are still figuring out how to accurately value natural capital, this is the direction in which we need to move – it is part of reimagining business for the 21st century. The businesses that begin to consider natural capital in their decisions now will be the ones to gain a competitive advantage in a future of constrained resources.

Why We Have So Few Women Leaders

In a TED talk that has rightfully received considerable attention, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently addressed the important question of “Why we have so few women leaders.”

The statistics that she points out are rather grim for women:

  • Out of 109 world leaders, only 9 are women
  • Of all the people in parliaments around the world, only 13% are women
  • In business, women hold no more than 15-16% of C-level and Board positions

Sandberg is focused on keeping women in the workforce, particularly in corporate positions. She prescribes the following recommendations for women:

  1. Sit at the table. According to Sandberg, “No one gets to the corner office by sitting at the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success or if they don’t even understand their success.” The problem lies in women systematically underestimating their abilities and attributing their success to external factors rather than their own abilities. This results in women not reaching out for opportunities as much as men.
  2. Make your partner a real partner. Right now, the work that is done outside the home is generally viewed as more important than the work done inside the home. This makes it harder for men who may choose to stay at home while their wives work outside the home. By placing both on more equal footing, it will make it easier for women to remain in the workforce.
  3. Don’t leave before you leave. Her theory here is that many women step back at work in advance of having children…once they are thinking about having kids, they might not take on more challenging projects or go after a promotion, which results in them “leaving” their work before they’ve physically left.

Although her talk centers on helping more women get to the top in corporate America, it has important implications for women entrepreneurs as well, since taking advantage of opportunities, balancing work and family life, how successful women are perceived, and believing in your own ability to be successful are all pertinent issues for those of us who start our own businesses.

She concludes by saying that a world in which half of the countries and companies in the world are run by women will be a better world. We may have a long ways to go before women hold 50% of the leadership positions in global politics and in corporate America, but in U.S. business as a whole, women have made greater strides. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2007 indicates that “businesses where women were owners or half-owners numbered 12.4 million firms, representing 45.7 percent of all firms.” This trend in women’s entrepreneurship, particularly when combined with the trend in sustainable business, is indeed a powerful combination that can move us closer to a better world.

You can view the video below and then share your thoughts about it in the comments.