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The Playbook for Becoming a Sustainable Business

If your company is working toward improving its sustainability performance, you need a strategy, plan and roadmap. There are ten steps we’ve defined at Green Business Bureau to gear your company’s purpose, culture, focus and actions towards sustainability. All 10 steps below were summarized in the first article, The Executive Guide for Becoming a Sustainable Business:

Step 1: Define your vision, mission and values
Step 2: Create a sustainability committee or green team
Step 3: Benchmark and assess your current sustainability performance
Step 4: Engage your employees
Step 5: Plan, set goals and prioritize based on over 400 GBB initiatives
Step 6: Implement the plan, establish and communicate new policies and practices
Step 7: Leverage the GBB Scorecard to track progress and measure results
Step 8: Analyze your results and compare to goals and benchmarks
Step 9: Celebrate and communicate your accomplishments
Step 10: If you’re ready, get Certified or continue making improvements

Today’s article will cover Step 10, how and why to certify sustainability for your business. This is often referred to as a green business certification, especially when the focus is on the environmental aspects.

Step 10: Sustainability Certification

The 10th step in your sustainability journey is to verify your results and get officially certified by a third party. If your company has worked hard to become a more sustainable, greener business, you should verify your accomplishments. Your accomplishments are part of a meaningful and valuable story you should share with your employees, customers, partners and investors.

Benefits of Sustainable Business Certification

Getting an official green business certification is part of telling your green story in the right way to the right audiences. A certification will improve your reputation, elevate your brand, draw in new customers, attract great employees and promote a more sustainable ecosystem around you. It will also allow you to bid on contracts and business that requires you demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

Benefits For Small and Midsize Businesses

The benefits of sustainability certification for small businesses go well beyond a sticker, a seal or certificate of proof. The process and program itself becomes a journey to create a green culture where everyone in the business truly cares about being more environmentally and socially responsible and is actively involved. The sustainability certification program becomes a means to the end of becoming a certified green business. At the same time, it engages employees and drives a business-wide commitment and sense of purpose.

Of course, the final official seal and certification is valuable. It not only demonstrates your commitment to employees and partners internally, but it verifies your sustainability to customers and community.

Getting Started: Picking the Right Certification

Here is an overview of the most common and popular sustainability certifications focused on being environmentally responsible.

Local Municipal Sustainability Certifications

Many towns, cities, counties and states offer a local green certification program. These programs are often delivered via a local chamber of commerce or business association.  There are no industry standards and hence these certifications are proprietary and vary from place to place across the country.

Local Private Sustainability Certification Programs

Many private sustainability consultancies and certification companies offer local green certification programs. These local programs are typically delivered by a hands-on consultant who completes an audit, creates a custom sustainability plan and helps the business implement the plan. At the completion of the project, a sustainability certification is awarded. In most cases, these programs are not well known and may not be accepted or trusted by customers.

LEED

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most well-known and prolific green building certification system in the United States. Buildings that are LEED certified have been designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy efficiency, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reductions, improved indoor air quality and resource stewardship.

LEED is an excellent certification for your buildings, but that’s it. It does not cover all the other dimensions of being a sustainable business including waste management, pollution, recycling, reuse, plastics, vehicles, commuting, delivery, manufacturing, etc. In other words, it is useful for ensuring your physical building is environmentally friendly, but misses all the other important elements of being a sustainable business. And for some, it can be a very stringent and difficult process to undergo renovations to meet LEED requirements.

B Corp

B Corp Certification is an international certification that verifies companies meet the highest standards of overall social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. The scope includes 5 major areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers. Adherence to the requirements are assessed and verified by B Lab, a non-profit corporation that certifies B Corporations.

B Lab certification requires companies to pass an online assessment for social , environmental and governance performance, and integrate B Lab commitments into company policies and documents. It is a major undertaking and may be overkill if you are focused on environmental aspects. Membership is not cheap. Members pay an annual fee ranging from a minimum of $1000 for a business under $150,000 in sales to $50,000 for larger businesses.

Green Business Bureau

The Green Business Bureau program is a global green certification program for helping companies become more sustainable. It is online and initiative-based and includes an online EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner tool to complete the certification and manage planned initiatives. The GBB program is for both companies starting their green journey as well as companies who are well on their way. It includes over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to choose from.

GBB’s certification process is based on completing very specific initiatives. A company will receive points for each and every activity it has completed. Initiatives are very granular and well-defined and the library is designed to capture your completed initiatives and give you full credit for all your accomplishments. Simple initiatives like using silverware instead of plasticware, eliminating plastic bags and bottles, adding timers to lights, are worth a few EcoPoints. Larger initiatives requiring more investment like solar energy, LED lighting, electric delivery vehicles, are worth more EcoPoints. As initiatives are fulfilled over time, the GBB EcoScore increases and grants members the opportunity to reach Gold and Platinum certification levels.

The Green Business Bureau has been around since 2008 and their seal is well-recognized so member businesses get the positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike. A ‘clickable’ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s certification level, total points, sustainability mission and accomplishments.

Winning Contract Bids With Certification

Sustainable sourcing, sometimes referred to as green procurement, has become commonplace in most state and federal contract bids. These federal government and municipal organizations are requiring their suppliers and vendors to be sustainable. Many private sector companies issuing Requests For Proposals or contract bids also require or prefer purchasing from sustainable suppliers. They often require some sort of environmental or sustainability certification that demonstrates the bidders’ products, services or business practices are built and delivered in a sustainable way.

Learn more about sustainable sourcing and contract bids in GBB’s blog article: Sustainable Sourcing, How to Demonstrate Sustainability and Win More Contract Bids

Next Actionable Steps

When you’re ready to become green business certified, there are several steps you will likely take. Here are some of the key ones.

Complete a Sustainability Assessment

Many certification programs offer an online self-assessment of your company’s current level of sustainability. This survey entails a comprehensive list of questions involving company practices such as employee carpooling, recycling, virtual meetings, water conservation, use of energy efficient products, community involvement, and much more.

Green Business Bureau’s EcoAssessment recognizes the green efforts that you have already made and rewards points for every green initiative completed. Points are added up to give you an overall EcoScore which reflects your sustainability performance and certification level, Aware, Gold or Platinum.

Engage Employees

Being a certified green business means sustainability is at the core of internal operations and it requires teamwork and a “can do” spirit. A certification program is a valuable opportunity for employee engagement, learning and team building. By creating a green work culture, every employee can feel like a sustainability champion working towards a higher purpose. 96% of employees report that their company’s sustainability programs improved their relationship with their employer. Not only will your employees feel proud to work for a company committed to planetary and social good, but they will find satisfaction in seeing real results.

Schedule Verification and Prioritize Next Steps

Once you determine your company’s sustainability status, determine if you are ready to go public with your assessment. In some cases, certification is as simple as being verified that your assessment is accurate and enabling your assessment results to be public. If you are a Green Business Bureau member, you would simply add your clickable GBB seal to your website and marketing materials.
In some cases, you may want to reach a higher level of certification before going public. GBB members can use the GBB EcoPlanner to set goals tailored to your company’s unique needs and capabilities. The EcoPlanner offers a variety of green initiatives ranging from low to high difficulty in terms of cost, effort and environmental impact. You can quickly filter green initiatives by category (Ex. Business Processes, Bathrooms, Cafeteria, Copy/Print), level of difficulty and cost. Use the online tool to plan the initiatives you want to complete before you go public with your score and completed initiatives.

Update Marketing Materials and Website

Once your results are final, it’s time to share your progress and promote your accomplishments. Unlike other third-party badges and seals that are stagnant or physical, the GBB certification seal and member profiles are dynamic and transparent online to employees, customers and partners. Whether you are Aware, Gold, or Platinum certified, your personal certification seal is directly linked to your online Member Profile and automatically updates with every new initiative you complete. By clicking on your certification seal, online users can see the details of your sustainability status in real time, your mission and values, and a timeline of your accomplishments. This approach provides public transparency and reinforces your credibility and trustworthiness. It also eliminates the hassle of frequent website updates.

The commitment to becoming a greener business is worthy of recognition both in and outside of the office. Every company that becomes more sustainable has earned the right to share and promote their story and accomplishments and reap some sustainability marketing benefits. Release a PR statement to announce your new green business certification and what your decision to go green means for your company and stakeholders. This is a great opportunity to be recognized as a sustainability leader in your community. Update your brochures, sales presentations, email templates and webpages to reflect your certification completion and level. Don’t forget to share your sustainability accomplishments on all the social media channels you typically use for communication and marketing. This is also a great opportunity to engage users online and ask for their feedback.

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