Starting a Green Business
Once considered a feel-good niche supported by a dedicated but small base of consumers, green businesses are becoming more mainstream -- and more profitable -- than ever. Entrepreneurs starting a green business should keep in mind that it involves much more than simply promoting an image of sustainability. We tend to think of green businesses as those selling environmentally sound products, but it can also refer to sustainable office space, low-impact manufacturing or related practices.
The most successful green businesses typically are those whose founders and management team are genuinely committed to sustainable practices, since consumers often see through insincere "green-washing" tactics. That is why the certification process is so vital to the integrity of green businesses.
Green Business & the Certification Process
Several international and domestic certifying organizations, including some governmental agencies, exist with the purpose of maintaining the integrity of so-called green practices. Some of the more recognizable certifications, often prominently placed on packaging, include the Fair Trade and Certified Organic labels.
Becoming certified shows consumers and business partners that your business and/or products meet the criteria set out by the certifying body. For example, you can't legally advertise your canned tomatoes in the U.S. as "organic" even if you use organic methods in the absence of certification from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA). Keep in mind that different organizations and agencies usually have different standards for the same thing.
Domestic (U.S.) Certification Programs:
- Green Seal: Offers comprehensive green certification services for products, services and businesses that meet certain standards. Green Seal certifies a wide variety of products, services and business processes.
- USDA National Organic Program: Organic certification for food, natural textiles and other agricultural products. Organic growers selling less than $5,000 annually may use the "organic" label without undergoing the rigid certification process.
- LEED Certification: The non-governmental U.S. Green Building Council has a multi-level building certification system for energy-efficient and otherwise green buildings, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
- Scientific Certification Systems and Smartwood: Both organizations certify materials and processes that adhere to sustainable forestry standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council.
- Green-e: Certification related to the use and/or generation of renewable energy and/or carbon-reduction practices.
- Chlorine Free Products Association: Certifies products and business processes that are free of chlorine.
- Energy Star: Managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy; certifies products, buildings and business facilities that meet energy efficiency standards.
Green Business Resources
- Green Guide for New Businesses: 10-step guide from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
- Green Product Development: FAQs and resources to help with the development of green products (SBA).
- Tips for Energy Efficiency: Ways to reduce your energy use and utility bills (SBA).
- Green Business Case Studies: How Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foods and other well-known businesses employed green business practices (SBA).