Consumers are increasingly interested in the environmental impact of the businesses they patronize. Issues that used to be regarded as the hallmark of the green movement - pollution and energy use, for example - have now become mainstream concerns. In keeping with the region's reputation for being at the forefront of eco-friendly initiatives, the pioneering Bay Area Green Business Program was launched more than 10 years ago to assist and recognize small and medium businesses that want to make their operations more sustainable.
"The GBP offers an environmental performance certification to an underserved sector of the business community-small, locally-based businesses," says Pamela Evans, Alameda County Green Business Program Coordinator. "It is an easy-to-use framework for motivated businesses and agencies to improve their environmental performance." Evans' many years of experience in the field have shown that recognition of a business as green is not just "of great interest" to customers; it has also become a "valuable marketing tool."
The overall GB program is coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, and implemented by individual coordinators like Evans in the nine participating counties, from Alameda to Sonoma. Funding comes from the counties, cities, regional and state agencies, utilities, special districts, and nonprofits.
Unlike some other environmental recognition programs, Evans points out that the Bay Area Green Business certification takes a comprehensive look at resource use, as illustrated by its strong network of relationships. "Our partnership with more than 35 government agencies, utilities, and business service organizations does several things," she explains. "We directly involve technical experts in the program areas-energy conservation, water conservation, waste reduction, pollution prevention and environmental compliance-so that GB candidates get their information straight from the horse's mouth-and at no cost to them. Candidates also get direct access to information on rebates and grants that can help them implement additional 'green' measures."
The program has also pulled together an extensive toolkit of resources to support businesses that want to communicate their commitment to green practices to customers and the communities they serve. Many small companies have little time to think about how to undertake a green marketing campaign, Evans notes. GB certification includes access to an extensive array of practical, promotional ideas, from free publicity to word-of-mouth advertising, to help get the green message out.
Evans, who has coordinated the Alameda County certification program since its inception in 1997, recalls that in the early days the initiative targeted specific industry sectors with a more visible environmental impact - first auto repair, then printers, hotels, and landscapers.
"Meanwhile, we were getting a lot of pressure from 'white collar' businesses such as attorneys, banks, consultants and so on to become certified," she relates. In response, the organization developed an office checklist to accommodate a wider range of small- to medium-sized, locally-based companies. Sector-specific checklists have now expanded to include restaurants and dentists.
Over 1,600 Bay Area businesses, utilities, nonprofits, and public agencies have been certified since 1997, more than 300 of them in Alameda County. For information about greening your business, visit www.greenbiz.ca.gov .
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