Certified Green: To Be, or Not To Be, That is the Question

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Questioning Green CertificationWhen I decided to start my own business, I knew that I wanted it to be green. Of course, my definition of green could be quite different from everyone else’s. There are varying shades of green, which makes it very difficult to quantify or define. Perhaps this is why there are so many different green certifications, seals, labels, and standards out there. With the dizzying array of options for green and sustainable certification available, it’s hard for a business owner to decide which certifier to use or if it’s even worth bothering at all.

Since I’m trying to start a graphic design studio, I started by searching for a green certification agency that specialized in creative services. It seems that many of the certifiers lack standards for service-based businesses, as most focus on products. The only design specific green “certification” that I found was the Design Can Change Pledge, a voluntary pledge for designers who commit to move towards sustainable practices. The site includes many ideas for going green as well as a great introduction to what sustainability in graphic design means, but doesn’t offer certification for green design businesses. As of yet, there’s no LEED for the graphic design industry.

I broadened my search and found several options for green business certification. Many of the certifiers listed focus more on products or specific industries, but as green business certification gains momentum, I’m sure that their focus will be broadened. In addition to certifying businesses, many also offer directories for consumers wanting to shop green and other opportunities to promote member businesses to consumers. Here’s a run down of several certification options for green businesses:

  • Green Seal is an independent non-profit offering certification for green businesses according to scientifically tested standards that they have created for different industries. Currently their standards are limited to several product categories, but more are in development.
  • Co-op America is a non-profit membership organization that offers a Green Business Seal of Approval for green businesses and a green business directory for consumers. They certify businesses from any industry that complete a screening process to determine their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.
  • Bay Area Green Business Program is a partnership of local government agencies and utilities that recognize green businesses in San Francisco and nine surrounding counties. They consult with a wide variety of businesses to help them go green by following environmental regulations, meeting organization’s standards, and committing to conservation and green business practices.
  • MBDC Cradle to Cradle Certification certifies products on varying levels of sustainability and environmentally intelligent “cradle to cradle” design. Certification is limited to products based on the tenets outlined in the book Cradle to Cradle.
  • National Environmental Performance Track is a member program offered by the US EPA. It is a private-public partnership recognizing facilities with environmental management systems and continuous improvement in sustainability. It is geared mainly towards the manufacturing industry.
  • Green Business Alliance helps businesses integrate environmental stewardship into their everyday business practices. Businesses recognized in their program “greenify” their operations according to a list of guidelines. A portion of their profits from this program are donated to green causes.

Certification by any of these agencies usually involves meeting their idea of green as defined in their standards. Member businesses gain the credibility of being certified by an independent agency, and many programs offer placement in their consumer directories and other advertising opportunities. Usually certification comes with some cost, and many are geared towards specific industries and business types. So it may not be a good option for all businesses. Whether you decide to certify your business as green or not, it is always a good idea to back up your claims of being green with your own definition of what it means to be a green business, as well as a list of actions you are taking to become sustainable. Consumers are increasingly demanding accountability for green claims, so even if you don’t have certification to prove your commitment to sustainability, it’s a good idea to clearly define green standards for your business.

This article is the tenth in a series called Green Dreams following my journey starting a green design business. You can learn along with me: read the series introduction, see some green business resources, get inspired, learn how to write a business plan, find out how to name your business, learn why sustainability should be a part of your planning from the beginning, avoid commuting by working from home, build green business practices into your daily workflow, and work towards a paperless office. Stay tuned for more on starting a green business!


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