PREPARING FOR A GREEN BUSINESS CERTIFICATION WITH A CHECKLIST
Green business certifications, also known as “sustainable business certifications”, are valuable programs that can help companies demonstrate their sustainable operations, products, services and practices to employees, customers, partners and investors.
But is your business green enough for certification?
How do you become a greener business that can pass a certification?
How do I find the right certification for my business and then prepare?
In this article, we answer those questions. If you want your business to be a great business with passionate employees and customers who respect and admire your business and brand, you’ll need to credibly and transparently show them you care about the environment and social responsibility. A green business certification can help accomplish this. Let’s get started.
BENEFITS OF GREEN BUSINESS CERTIFICATIONS
We know consumers and employees prefer green businesses. They flock to companies that care about the environment and are socially responsible. They avoid “greenwashers” like the plague. By greenwashers, we mean companies that make false claims about their positive impact on the environment just to drive sales and profit.
Green business certifications are a great way to avoid green washing and a perfect way to demonstrate a company’s commitment to sustainability in a credible way. Trusted third-party organizations like LEED, B Corp and Green Business Bureau provide certification programs that can prove your company’s green cred. If you’re a small business owner, sustainability manager or green team leader, you need to understand your certification options and know how they work. But at their core, they all assess a very similar set of policies and procedures. Let’s go through a checklist of the action and initiatives businesses need to take to become a certified green business.
TYPES OF GREEN CERTIFICATIONS
Depending on the type of business you are and the industry you’re in, you might consider any of the following types of green certifications:
- Overall Green Business Certifications
- Commercial Green Building Certifications
- Green Product Certifications
- Organic and Sustainable Food Certifications
This article and checklist focuses on overall green business certifications. This includes all aspects of your business, across all departments and functions. It includes your building, operations, vehicles, supplies, products, procurement, recycling, reuse, waste, policies and procedures.
GREEN BUSINESS CERTIFICATION CHECKLIST
The checklist below was created by Green Business Bureau to prepare for Green Business Bureau’s certification. But companies will find it useful for any green business certification. In essence, this is a checklist of how to become a more sustainable business. The checklist looks at 10 areas of your business. Here are the areas and questions to ask yourself.
- Energy – How much energy do we use? Can we use less or adopt clean alternative energy sources?
- Waste and Recycling – What waste do we produce and where does it come from? Is it hazardous? How can we reduce waste and prevent pollution? Can we find ways to recycle or upcycle waste materials (e.g. install recycling bins in the break room)?
- Buildings – How eco-friendly are our buildings? Are there opportunities to improve energy efficiency and upgrade lighting, insulation, heating and cooling? Are we maximizing natural light or natural airflow whenever possible?
- Products & Packaging – Do our products use sustainably sourced and eco-friendly materials? How does manufacturing our products impact the environment? Is our packaging also safe for people and the planet?
- Supply Chain – Are we using vendors and suppliers who are environmentally and socially responsible? Are we sourcing products locally or from the closest source? Are there areas to improve supply chain efficiency in terms of lowering waste and carbon emissions?
- Water – How much water do we use? How much do we waste? Can we conserve water with smart technology (e.g. motion sensor faucets)? Do we use plastic bottles for water?
- Food – Where do we source our food from? What food do we provide employees? Is it healthy and produced from sustainable sources? Can we minimize meat and offer more plant-based options? Are we composting food waste?
- Transportation – What vehicles do we use for distribution and operations? Can we reduce employee business travel? If not, how can we offset our carbon emissions?
- Community – Do we support our local communities and local farms? Do we get involved in environmental causes, events and associations? Are we evangelizing green business?
- Employees – Do we offer employee training in sustainability? Do we have a green team? Are we creating a green culture? What’s our level of employee engagement? Do we communicate policies company-wide?
Here’s a sample, section 1, Energy Savings.
1. ENERGY SAVINGS CHECKLIST (SAMPLE)
Energy usage is most often the top carbon contributor for a business. Investing in renewable energy is a notable solution towards reducing fossil fuel use. This can be a costly upfront investment for many businesses, but can lower your bills over time and provide a strong ROI. There are so many other ways to save energy and lower fossil fuel use such as switching to LED lighting, implementing energy saving habits (turning off lights), investing in Energy Star certified appliances, unplugging electronics when not in use to avoid phantom power, use natural lighting when possible, program thermostats to regulate temperature efficiently, and ensure building insulation and HVAC systems are in optimal condition. Here’s the Energy Savings Checklist.
- Schedule regular maintenance for high electricity use appliances (e.g., air conditioner or refrigerator)
- Replace light bulbs (T-12 fluorescent) with energy-efficient (T-8 or T-5) bulbs or other equivalent efficiency lighting
- Reduce number of lamps/fixtures; expose natural light
- Improve sign efficiency by using efficient signs (e.g. LED)
- Replace equipment with energy efficient design (e.g. Energy Star®)
- Use renewable energy by installing solar or using a clean/green energy service from your utility provider
- Use power management software/plug load to save energy
- Regularly clean and inspect HVAC and refrigeration systems
- Monitor electricity bills for unexpected increases and adjust your usage
- Turn off lights while daylight is sufficient and when leaving the room
- Install light timers and motion sensors
- Turn off power when leaving room or after hours (use reminders)
- Use sleep or standby mode on equipment (set defaults)
- Increase lighting efficiency by installing optical reflector or diffuser
- Use appliances to promote air circulation (e.g. ceiling fan)
- Use window film to reduce solar heat
- Be frugal with your use of AC and heat; Set thermostat to 76F for cooling and 68F for heating
- Conduct annual or bi-annual energy audits
- Change A/C filters and Heating filters frequently
- Use a tankless water heater
The COMPLETE GBB Green Business Certification Checklist includes 10 checklists for the following areas:
1. ENERGY SAVINGS CHECKLIST
2. WASTE MANAGEMENT CHECKLIST
3. BUILDINGS CHECKLIST
4. PRODUCTS and PACKAGING CHECKLIST
5. SUPPLY CHAIN CHECKLIST
6. WATER CONSERVATION CHECKLIST
7. FOOD MANAGEMENT CHECKLIST
8. TRANSPORTATION CHECKLIST
9. COMMUNITY CHECKLIST
10. EMPLOYEE CHECKLIST
WHAT GREEN BUSINESS CERTIFICATION OPTIONS ARE RECOMMENDED?
Here are the most popular and trusted green business certifications that look at an entire company across all functions. These are ideal for holistic corporate-wide sustainability programs.
ISO 14001, part of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and its over 18,500 developed International Standards, is an environmental management system certification. It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system.
An ISO 14001 certification is well respected and understood in the industry, but it is a major undertaking. The budget, time and resources required are significant and hence ISO certifications are typically only taken on by large, mature, well-funded organizations. Here are the three main challenges with an ISO certification.
- An ISO project can run several months and requires certified ISO consultants and auditors, an expensive endeavor. The potential cost of fines and penalties due to non-compliance is also a significant factor.
- An ISO project will use up lots of internal employee time and take them away from their vital daily activities. This time can be reduced by having an employee who has completed an ISO 14001 certification in the past.
- ISO Projects require the right expertise and knowledge. There are online resources and external consultants available, but this will obviously lead to more cost and time.
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 Corporation certification establishes very high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability that may be difficult for some businesses to meet. Companies applying must undergo a rigorous certification process and meet a long list of significant conditions. The B Corp certification looks at operations, which covers a company’s day-to-day activities and business models, which must be designed to create additional positive impact.
- Unfortunately, not every company has the resources and budget to meet the standards, verify compliance and complete the audits required. Companies considering B Corp certification can complete the assessment as a first step to see if they qualify and to better understand their compliance gap. They may discover that their governance procedures, customer processes and sustainability practices fall short. But the assessment would not be wasted as it would enable a company to set future goals and establish a roadmap to compliance.
Green Business Bureau’s program is a robust program for helping companies of all sizes become more sustainable and includes the online EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner tools and green business certification. It includes over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to consider and choose from.
- The GBB certification is the most automated and guided certification available. GBB’s certification process is entirely online and initiative based, so 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. This even includes initiatives completed before joining the program. As more initiatives are fulfilled over time, your EcoScore will increase, granting an opportunity to reach Gold and Platinum certification levels.
- Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as building, cafeteria, transportation or office materials, and further marked by the effort, cost and greening impact of the initiative. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.
- The GBB 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.
HOW LONG WILL A CERTIFICATION TAKE?
Certifications can take anywhere from a few hours to a year. I know that’s a crazy nebulous answer, but it truly depends on the state of your sustainability program, how green your business already is and what certification options you choose.
The online EcoAssessment from Green Business Bureau takes an hour or two to complete. If you are a green business, your EcoScore will reflect that. GBB will schedule time to validate and verify your results and you can have your online Green Business seal up in no time.
ISO 14001, B Corp and LEED certifications are much more rigorous and involved. There are no lower levels or entry-level certifications, which means you need to be 100% compliant with all their specifications. This often requires onsite audits and very detailed analysis and reports. If you are a small business or just starting out, these options are not likely viable for your business.
HOW MUCH WILL A CERTIFICATION COST?
Certifications can cost anywhere from a few hundreds dollars to a half million dollars. I know, again, nebulous answer and wide range, But, again, it truly depends on the state of your sustainability program, how green your business already is and what certification options you choose.
The Green Business Bureau certification starts at $250 per year. It is online, self-paced and uses guide software to minimize the need for consultant or outside support.
ISO 14001, B Corp and LEED certifications are much expensive. Since they almost always require onsite audits and consulting, the billable hours can add up to $10,000 or more. If you are a small business or just starting out, these options are cheap.
HOW LONG WILL A CERTIFICATION LAST?
Most green business certifications last at least one year. In other words, after the first year, your business needs to be assessed and audited. You also need to pay the annual certification fee again. This is not the case with Green Business Bureau. Your certification can be extended automatically with a simple online validation.