"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -


The Bay Area Green Business Program is a partnership of environmental agencies, professional associations, waste management agencies, utilities, and a concerned public that assists, recognizes and promotes businesses and government agencies that volunteer to operate in a more environmentally responsible way.

All local governments seek to encourage small businesses, because of the jobs, services and community benefits they provide. And yet local governments have also to deal with their environmental impacts, such as unwanted wastes, air pollution, or the dumping of toxic substances into stormdrains, causing the pollution of rivers, lakes and seas.

The Bay Area consists of the nine self-governing counties which include and surround San Francisco, from Sonoma and the Napa Valley in the north to Santa Clara in the south. Almost 7 million people live in the area's counties and 101 cities. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is the comprehensive planning agency for the San Francisco Bay region, and addresses issues such as housing, transport, economic development, education, and the environment.

In 1995, ABAG’s Hazardous Waste Management Committee asked ABAG, along with representatives from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and others to develop a Program that would promote source reduction and pollution prevention among the area’s small businesses. The Committee’s initial intention was to reduce the amount of hazardous waste being generated, to avoid having to site any more hazardous waste facilities in the region.

After looking at local programs, such as Sonoma Green, which was addressing water quality issues related to autobody repair shops, and Palo Alto’s Clean Bay Program, the Green Business Program realized that it wanted to motivate businesses to go beyond compliance, and do more.

Aims and Objectives
The overarching purpose of the Green Business Program is to improve the environment.  The Program gives assistance and public recognition to businesses that are in compliance with local, state and federal environmental regulations, and which have made a voluntary effort to do more. It is designed to work with smaller, mostly consumer oriented businesses which can’t afford to employ their own  environmental staff, for which the challenge of meeting environmental goals is often seen as a burden.

The Program is designed to encourage a positive relationship between the businesses and the various government agencies, in which the agency staff become partners and teachers for the businesses. It is also designed to encourage the agencies to green up their own operations, and become certified as green businesses. The Green Government Pledge represents a core operating principle of the Program, whereby the participating agencies demonstrate their commitment to the Program’s goals.

From a business perspective, participation can improve employee morale and the overall health of the workplace; offer a marketing edge over the competition; strengthen the bottom line by improving operating efficiencies; and provide the business with recognition as an environmental leader.

The central activity of the Program involves the certification of green businesses by the green business coordinators in  the six participating Bay Area counties. Certification has three elements. First, it involves compliance: businesses must demonstrate that they are in compliance with all of the relevant regulations governing such things as wastewater and stormwater discharge, air emissions, and hazardous materials. To make this easy, the coordinators provide businesses with a checklist of all the relevant agencies, and the local contacts.

Second, it involves going beyond compliance. The Program’s staff have created a general standards environmental checklist for all businesses, and seven checklists that are specific for auto-repair shops, printers, wineries, hotels, restaurants, office-retailers, and landscapers. They are in the process of developing a checklist for dental offices, and for marinas. 

Third, it involves taking a pledge: businesses which volunteer to participate in the Program are required to commit to ongoing improvement, and to post the Green Business Pledge where all their employees can read it.

Each checklist contains dozens of best management practices that can help a business meet the Program’s Resource Conservation/Pollution Prevention Standards, known as RC/P2. In order to be certified and listed as a green business, a business must undertake four general practice initiatives, and a specified number of initiatives in each of four areas: water conservation, energy conservation, solid waste reduction and recycling, and pollution prevention.

The four General Practice commitments are to:

  • Monitor and record rates of water and energy usage, and solid and hazardous waste generation;
  • Provide ongoing incentives or training opportunities to encourage management and employee participation;
  • Inform customers about your business’s effort to meet the Green Business Standards; and
  • Assist at least one other business to learn about the Green Business Program, and encourage it to enroll.

For the RC/P2 standard for energy conservation (for instance), a business must do the following:

  • Have the local energy utility or an energy service company conduct a commercial energy assessment;
  • Perform regular maintenance on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system; and
    • Either Implement two alternative technologies and five behavioural changes; or
    • Demonstrate a 15% reduction in annual energy use.

For Auto-Repair Shops, the  Top Ten list includes the following practices:

  • Minimize the liquids you use and discharge. Clean up spills immediately and use dry clean-up practices.
  • Cut out the use of absorbent spill absorbers such as kitty litter or rice hulls; use a squeegee and dust pan or oil mop instead.
  • Replace your petroleum naphtha solvent sink with an aqueous-based sink or parts washer.
  • Replace T-12 bulbs and fixtures with T-8s whenever feasible to produce good lighting with lower energy use.

The county coordinator and participating agencies are available to provide information and assistance throughout the process. When a business indicates that it is ready, the agency and utility staff will visit to verify that the standards have been met. Once all verifications are in, the business is given its Green Business Certification, along with a decal to place in the window, and a listing in the Program’s webpages. It is also free to generate local media publicity.

Structure and Finance
The Bay Area’s Hazardous Waste Management Committee, which consists of policy makers from each of the nine counties, provides general oversight of the program. There is a county coordinator in each of the six participating counties, who are the contact points with the businesses. The coordinators are also responsible for building strong relationships with the Program’s partners, the government agencies and utilities which regulate or offer services to businesses in their area. The regional coordinator maintains consistency from county to county, guides development of the checklists and other materials, and facilitates discussions that lead to new policy guidance.

The county coordinators are paid by the participating county governments The Green Business Program is consistent with their efforts to promote resource conservation, solid waste diversion and pollution prevention as a means of avoiding the costs associated with resource development, waste management and pollution clean-up.  County programs also receive funding from partner agencies, government and foundation grants, and other sponsors. The governing Committee has ruled out charging the businesses a fee for their participation, since it is felt that this would act as a disincentive to participation.

Since 1996, the Program’s staff have certified over 475 businesses in 7 counties. Certified businesses include grocery stores, attorneys, engineers, dentists, entertainment venues, food processors, cleaning services and retail stores, as well as the sectors listed above. They have also certified city-owned fleets, print shops and works yards, civic centres, and Palo Alto’s entire city’s operations. Certification lasts for 3 years, and businesses must demonstrate continued improvement in order to be re-certified. If there are serious deviations, such as an environmental violation or failure to maintain the RC/P2 measures, certification may be revoked. If a business relocates to a new premises or changes ownership, re-certification is required.

In addition to certifying the businesses, the Program has improved inter-agency coordination, as people come together to discuss common issues, and changed the way the inspectors and businesses interact. The participating businesses are more open to hearing from inspectors about pollution prevention, and the Program’s checklists provide an easy start to productive conversations.

The Green Business Program assists and certifies businesses that adopt environmentally-responsible practices. There is an ongoing discussion about how to motivate and reward businesses that do even more.

In December 2003, Marin County initiated a Sustainable Partners Program, designed to recognize certified green businesses that address all three "E's" of sustainability (environment, economy, and social equity). The program’s measures include a requirement that the business eliminates the use of toxic chemicals; dedicates company resources to restoring wetlands or planting trees; implements a company wide greenhouse gas inventory and 20% fossil fuel reduction per employee; sets up a certified Environmental Management System (ISO 14001); implements a “design for disassembly” policy; replaces at least half the company’s fleet with vehicles that run on natural gas or biodiesel, or with hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; and uses green building features in new facilities and major retrofits.

The Sustainable Partners Program also requires business to have a purchasing policy which gives preference to vendors with a strong environmental record, and stipulates a preference for products with no toxicity and high recycled content. For its staff, it must offer bike to work incentives and free transit passes; on-site or subsidized daycare (for companies with 50+ employees); offer flex-time and work from home options, and local organic food if there’s an in-house cafeteria; comply with Marin County’s voluntary living wage; offer an internship program that pays employees to work for up to two months with a non-profit environmental group; provide second language training; and offer services such as massage, yoga, and sports incentives. The business must also do company wide education about  environmental and sustainability issues, commit itself to corporate philanthropy; and develop a company policy that establishes sustainability and stewardship as core organizing principles. So far, three businesses have become certified Sustainable Partners.

The California Environmental Protection Agency promotes the Green Business Program model for expansion elsewhere in California, and Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Montery and San Diego counties have initiated programs.  Similar programs are being organized in Arizona and Hawaii.

For further information contact :
Ceil Scandone
Regional Coordinator
Bay Area Green Business Program
P. O. Box 2050
Oakland, CA 94604
Tel: 510-464-7961

Written by Guy Dauncey, Victoria, B.C., Canada