How to get certified as a green business

Whether you are a well-established firm or a start-up, green business certification is a must for any company committed to the welfare of people and the planet. GBB’s forward-thinking certification program enhances your credibility and paves the way for long-term positive impact and rewards. This step-by-step guide shows you how to get started on your company’s green certification journey.

We know consumers and employees prefer green businesses. We also know businesses need to become greener and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Green business certifications are a great way to meet both these new business demands. If you’re a small business owner, sustainability manager or green team leader, you need to understand your certification options and how they work.

Amidst global discussions on climate change and growing stakeholder support for corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship, you’re probably well on your way ready to greener future for your business. One of the most powerful ways to launch and promote your commitment is to earn a third-party sustainability certification such as that offered by Green Business Bureau. This practical guide offers 11 steps for getting started on your green business certification journey.


From international airfreight to the birth of eCommerce, market changes have historically transformed the way we do business. Today, the global outcry to tackle climate change and a surge in support to hold companies accountable are driving the market towards green business practice. There is a growing desire among consumers for products and business practices that are eco-friendly and morally sound. In fact, 87% of Americans choose to do business with those who support the issues they care about; 76% of Americans expect companies to address climate change specifically. This desire for planetary wellbeing is not only at the heart of your customers, but within your employees’ as well. 79% of people seeking employment look for companies with positive environmental credentials. A green work culture not only attracts new employees but encourages purpose-driven employee engagement and retention.

Support for sustainable products and green business practices will continue to grow as younger generations gain more market leverage. Majority of Millennials, now America’s largest generation, prefer buying from and working for companies who care about their impact on the planet. To stay relevant and competitive, it is necessary to understand how and why the market is shifting towards sustainability. This awareness ultimately reinforces your company’s purpose and decision to go green.


In a market tinged with greenwashing and illegitimate programs, a trusted third-party certification validates your company’s sustainability commitment and highlights your credibility. Today, the best options for sustainability certification are B Corp and GBB.

The B Corp and GBB programs are similar in that they both establish corporate social responsibility and reveal opportunities for improvement and goal setting. However, B Corp covers a broad range of impact areas (Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers) whereas GBB is more finely tuned to sustainability and environmental impact. The B Corp certification process is also rigorous in nature, closely evaluates company operations, and requires high compliance standards to be met. B Corp is appropriate for companies who have the resources and budget in place to achieve these high standards. For those who may be new to sustainability or those wanting to solely focus on their environmental impact, GBB offers a more affordable and flexible approach.

The GBB certification program is initiative based, meaning that members earn points for each and every green initiative that they complete. With over 400 green initiatives spanning from the office breakroom to transportation, GBB offers a robust platform that companies across all industries can use to optimize their environmental impact.

Still undecided? Learn more about how B Corp and GBB compare here.

If you’re interested in making your business more environmentally friendly, Green Business Certification is a great option.

The California Green Business Program certifies local businesses that meet high standards for environmental performance.

It was launched in Alameda County in 1996 and since then, it has grown to certifying businesses throughout the state.

The program is unique compared to other certification programs in that it is a collaboration between local government and utilities to help small to medium sized businesses.

The Benefits of Green Business Certification

  1. Do the right thing. Most businesses get certified because they want to align their business with their values. The certification framework and process helps them to make sure that they are doing all they can to reduce their environmental impact.
  2. Cost savings. You can identify opportunities for reducing expenses through implementing water conservation measures, saving energy, and reducing waste. Reducing the resources you use directly benefits your bottom line.
  3. Continuous improvement. One of the unexpected benefits that many businesses encounter is that they find opportunities for improvement. Even if they are already doing a lot to be green, or even if they already have another sustainability certification such as B Corp certification, they are still able to find ways to improve upon their current sustainability efforts.
  4. Stand out from the crowd. You’ll be able to differentiate from your competitors who are not minimizing their environmental impact or may not have the third-party verification to support their claims.
  5. Authentic marketing. Let your customers know, in an authentic way, that you are not just talking about sustainability and being green, but you have actually taken concrete steps and been vetted by a third-party.
  6. A proven framework. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sustainability. You’ll be able to use a proven framework to make sure that you’re evaluating all of your environmental impacts, rather than taking an ad hoc approach and maybe overlooking something important.
  7. Join a community. With over 500 Certified Green Businesses throughout Alameda County, you can help to raise the level of consciousness among both consumers and business owners about the importance of operating in an environmentally responsible manner as a business.

What Green Business Practices Will I Need to Implement?

Green Businesses are required to implement practices that conserve natural resources.

Among these are using only:

These aren’t the only practices, but they’re some of the required practices for certification.

In addition to that, Green Businesses need to establish sustainability policies and switch to green purchasing practices.

If you’re interested in getting certified but your business isn’t yet doing these things, don’t worry! Every business needs to make changes as they go through the process in order to get certified.

What Does the Certification Process Involve?

The certification process is straightforward:

  1. Register your business. You can enroll online by filling out a short form. When you enroll, you will need to select a “sector” that reflects your business type. In many cases, this will be obvious, such as “Office/Retail” or “Restaurant.” If you don’t see a sector for your business or if you’re not sure which sector is best for you, you should check with the Program Coordinator.
  2. Complete the online checklist. The checklist consists of seven sections: Solid Waste, Energy, Water, Pollution Prevention, Transportation, Wastewater, and General. In each section, you will need to make sure that you implement all of the required measures and the minimum number of additional measures.
  3. Pass the on-site audits. After your checklist is complete, you’ll need to schedule the on-site audits. The auditors will confirm that everything that is on your checklist has been implemented at your business. If the auditor finds that you’re not meeting the program requirements, the auditor will let you know what you need to do to correct the deficiency.

Once you complete these steps, your business will be certified!

How Long Will It Take?

The certification process can vary quite a bit from business to business. On average, it might take 3-4 months. Some factors that affect the length of time required to complete the certification include:

  • Capacity. Even for a small business, the certification process can take some time. Having a dedicated individual who can dedicate time to working on the checklist, gather information, coordinate with other staff, and arrange the on-site audits is important. Businesses that aren’t able to allocate staff resources to this find that it takes much longer for them to get through the process.
  • Business size. Obviously, a larger business will have more information to gather and departments to coordinate, which can take longer than for a smaller business.
  • Changes needed. A business that already meets many of the program standards will have fewer measures to implement compared to one that needs to make significant changes. Some changes, especially ones that relate to your facilities, can take longer to implement.
  • Audit follow-ups. Sometimes items will come up during the on-site audits that need to be addressed before a business can pass an audit. Delays in addressing the follow-up items will of course slow down the overall certification process.

How Long Does the Certification Last?

In Alameda County, the certification is good for four years. At the end of your certification period, you will be contacted to begin your recertification.

Is There a Cost for Certification?

At this time, there is no fee for the certification itself. If your business needs to implement some changes to meet the program standards, there may be costs involved.

Next Steps

Green Business Certification is a great opportunity for many small businesses in Alameda County: you align your business with your values, get a framework for sustainability, and get a marketing advantage all at no cost to you!

If your business is located in an area where the Green Business Program operates, consider getting certified.

Join the network that is greening California. One business at a time.
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Join the Green Business Community!

The California Green Business Network leads the state and nation in working with small to medium sized businesses to create a vibrant green economy. Led by a coalition of cities and counties, we contribute by helping to make our communities healthier and more livable while also conserving resources and saving money.

Why Join?

There are many benefits to getting recognized as a green business. Here are the three most important reasons.

How to get certified as a green business

Green Business
is Smart Business

When customers see that you are GREEN certified, they know you’re more than just a business. You are a solution to a real environmental challenge. That translates into dollars and good sense.

How to get certified as a green business

Great for
the Environment

Conserving energy, water, and resources is great for the environment. The California Green Business Network will show you how. You know what else it’s great for? Your bottom line.

How to get certified as a green business

Great for

Businesses enroll in our program for many different reasons. Some come for the rebates, some do it because it’s the right thing to do. All businesses stay for the networking and the sense of community. As we build a greener, more vibrant economy, communities thrive.

Say Hello to a Community of Innovators

Certified Green Innovators have met the highest verifiable standards of sustainability. They represent the spirit of our work better than any words could describe. And they are leading the movement of businesses in California making a positive impact on people and the planet.

Join the Community

How to get certified as a green business

Green business certification is a recognition that a business meets standards set by a certifying organization focusing on promotion of sustainable business practices. Many consumers expect businesses to be environmentally responsible and will seek out companies with green certification to do business with, making this a useful tool for businesses that want to grow their customer base. Consumers should be aware that there are myriad certifying programs of varying quality. It is advisable to look up the organization offering the recognition to see what kinds of standards it sets and how it enforces them.

To receive green business certification, a company must apply and provide documentation. The level of investigation an organization will use is quite variable. Some organizations take businesses at their word or rely on receipts and other proof of work to grant certification. Others want to perform an inspection. They will visit the business and determine whether it lives up to environmental ideals, looking for specific issues. They can also inspect products and packaging.

If the business passes muster, it will receive a green business certification. It may be able to use special labeling to provide information about it, and usually advertises the recognition in its promotional materials. Businesses with a reputation for being careful stewards of the environment can appeal to people with ecological concerns and may be eligible for government grants and other benefits. Environmental organizations may list them in catalogs of green businesses, providing companies with access to new customers.

Certification standards may be lax or stringent. Some organizations claim the process is proprietary and may only provide basic information, while others offer a detailed breakdown of what they look for in applications to see if businesses meet their standards. People who want to check on a green business certification can contact the certifying organization to confirm that a business really is listed, and can also ask for information on what the organization looks for and how it follows up with companies to see if they are still meeting the certification standard.

Some things a green business certification may indicate can include: a commitment to using renewable energy, pollution reduction measures, green building techniques to save energy and resources, use of recycled materials, and environmentally friendly supply chain management. People with specific concerns should ask if they are addressed, rather than assuming a certification includes those issues. Green certification does not necessarily include issues like animal and human welfare, for example.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to get certified as a green businessMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Become a Certified Green Business

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“THANK YOU for all of your help, guidance, and support. Thanks to you, becoming a certified green business has been a great business decision for us – the savings speak for themselves!”

Regional Director, General Assembly

How to get certified as a green business

“Running a busy business while achieving certification was possible with the excellent support and help of the GBC team. We are so proud to be the first Green Certified Arthur Murray Dance Center in the country and have been recognized by Arthur Murray International, Inc.”

Arthur Murray Dance Center Santa Monica

How to get certified as a green business

“Perry’s is saving more than $4,000 annually in energy costs. We also purchase eco-friendly products, save water and maintain a store-wide recycling program. We feel that it is our responsibility, and the duty of all business owners, to be green, to educate themselves, their staff and their customers.”

Business professionals who invest in sustainability and pursue Green Business Certification in California recognize something important:

Running a business that is aligned with their values, operates efficiently, and can differentiate from its competitors just makes good business sense.

This is just the start. There are really many benefits of Green Business Certification:

  1. Align your business with your values. Most owners of Certified Green Businesses go through the certification process because they already believe that minimizing their environmental impact is the right thing to do. Green Business Certification becomes an extension of their values and helps them to make sure that they are doing all that they can to operate sustainably.How to get certified as a green business
  2. Use a framework to green your business. Having worked with countless small businesses on sustainability initiatives, I find that many small business owners lack a comprehensive strategy. Often, some important elements might be in place (such as waste reduction through a recycling program) while others (such as water conservation) are overlooked. The Green Business Program (GBP) provides a sustainability framework that ensures that a business is looking at its impact in several key areas. I have yet to meet a business, no matter how much it’s already doing with sustainability, that doesn’t find opportunities for improvement by using the program checklist!
  3. Identify cost savings. Fortunately, implementing green practices in your business can also help you save money. For example, energy efficient lighting can reduce your energy bill, saving water can reduce your water bill, and recycling and composting can help reduce your garbage bill.
  4. Receive free technical assistance. The GBP offers technical assistance to help businesses implement green initiatives. In addition to providing assistance through the Program itself, the GBP also partners with utilities and cities throughout the county to provide assistance to businesses. Imagine being able to tap into a network of specialists in energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction who can answer questions, provide suggestions, and share resources, all just to help you! Think of it as your own personal sustainability consulting team.
  5. Get third-party certification of your green practices. While many businesses say they are green, few can actually prove it – this is why greenwashing has turned off a lot of consumers. A business may claim that it’s green because it has a recycling program or because one of its products is made from recycled materials. However, this doesn’t mean that they have comprehensively evaluated their environmental impacts or that a third-party has vetted their claims. Third-party certification separates your business from others whose green marketing claims haven’t been substantiated.
  6. Earn a legitimate certification. Third-party certification is important, but alone, it’s not enough. It’s important to make sure that the third-party certification you rely on is a legitimate one. There have been many scams in this area, and just a few years ago the FTC even cracked down on a bogus certification that was “neither tested, nor green.” If you’re going to take the time and effort to certify your business, it’s important to make sure that you use a legitimate certification program. The Green Business Program is the only program of its kind that has been supported by the state of California.
  7. Differentiate from competitors. More consumers are looking to support companies that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. In fact, a recent Nielsen survey concluded that, “Going forward, brands have to define a credible, relevant social purpose, deliver greater social value, and communicate that value effectively to attract and retain consumers.” Businesses that can demonstrate that they stand for more than just making money will have the competitive advantage in the future.
  8. Leverage the marketing benefits. As a Certified Green Business, you can use the Green Business Program logo on your print and electronic materials, including your website, email, business cards, postcards, and other items to convey your green credentials. You’ll receive a certificate and decal that you can post in your office. Your business will also be listed on the Green Business Program public directory (which you can see here). Plus, you can let your customers know what you did to attain the certification – meeting a comprehensive list of requirements and having on-site audits – through a blog post or sustainability page on your site.
  9. Join a community. Certified Green Businesses represent a wide range of industries, from restaurants and print shops to dental practices and hotels. Additionally, there are a number of professional service providers, including attorneys, consultants, insurance agents and more who have certified their businesses. When your business gets certified, you will be part of a growing community of almost 600 businesses that are certified in Alameda County and more than 3000 that are certified statewide.
  10. Raise public awareness. As a business professional committed to being green, you can also help to increase public awareness about the efforts that local businesses are making to operate sustainably. Using the GBP logo, sharing information on your website about being a green business, and other activities help to spread the word about the businesses that have committed to being green. The more that the public knows, the more that they will be able to choose between businesses that are aligned with their values and those that aren’t.

In addition to the benefits above, there’s also another bonus that businesses have mentioned to me time and time again:

11. Learn a lot. The process of going through the certification, using the checklist, and meeting with auditors means that you and your team will learn quite a bit as you go through the process. You’ll uncover practices that you hadn’t thought of before, you’ll find resources that you didn’t know about, and you’ll talk to experts who are there to help you. This is probably the biggest benefit that businesses have shared with me as they get certified.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in Green Business Certification, the best thing to do is to register your business on the California Green Business Program website. It takes just a few minutes to get started. By doing so, you’ll be able to view and work on the online checklist (there’s no cost to register).

Paths to Green Certification

How to get certified as a green businessAt Berkeley there are numerous ways to certify your sustainability efforts and your programs and initiatives. The Office of Sustainability offers a Staff Sustainability Certification, a Green Departments Certification and a Green Events Certification. The campus also offers Green Labs Certification and Zero Waste Caterer Certification. The ASUC has issued Green Campus Guidelines for student groups.

Sustainability Staff Training and Certification

Created by the Office of Sustainability, this UC Berkeley Sustainability Staff Training is composed of ten comprehensive modules, designed to allow you to work and complete at your own pace. Upon successful completion of the 10 modules, UC Berkeley Staff can earn a Staff Sustainability Training Certification of Completion showing your gained knowledge in sustainability.

The modules are cover environmental, social and economic sustainability and offer a snapshot of UC and UC Berkeley’s unique approach. Each module takes about 20 minutes to complete and are supported with videos, articles and more. The modules include carbon neutrality, zero waste, resiliency and environmental justice, sustainable eating, ecosystems and biodiversity, built environment, transportation, sustainable spending, water, and engagement.

To record your staff development achievement it is recommended that staff enroll through the UC Learning Center . Becoming certified through this program also situates you (if you want) to become a peer to peer campus sustainability advisor, helping us build a widespread culture and community of sustainability at Berkeley.

To access this staff training through the UC Learning Center.

To access the training and NOT complete the certification, click the link here.

Green Labs & Certification

In May 2020 the campus produced its first Green Labs Action Plan. The Plan identifies short and longer-term initiatives to improve sustainable practices – such as water reduction, waste elimination, energy saving technology, engagement and procurement strategies – in campus lab and research spaces.

The Green Labs Certification Program recognizes laboratories for their implementation of sustainability and efficiency practices. Labs are able to achieve credits in the areas of Energy Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Waste Reduction, Chemicals, Purchasing, and Education, and evaluate potential areas of improvement. The new studio certification program encompasses traditional and non-traditional chemical or engineering labs, and may include design studios, architecture programs, electronics, robotics, prototyping, 3D printing and fabrication shops.

Green Department Certification

Green Department Certification recognizes campus departments who excel in their efforts to curb negative environmental impacts arising from: energy, waste, transportation and purchasing. Departments are encouraged to contact the Office of Sustainability as they begin the certification process and to consult the Checklist guidance for more information on the program. Departments are asked to re-certify every three years.

There are now 30 certified departments, representing over 4,400 employees. This means that 27% of staff and faculty are part of a department that has been recognized as green.

Once your department has completed its checklist below, please submit it to [email protected]

Green Event Certification

How to get certified as a green business

Green event certification helps event planners reduce their impact in a range of areas, including catering and food, venues, and waste reduction. Completed green event applications – including documentation as laid out in the Resource Guide – should be sent to the Office of Sustainability at least 1 week before the event date.

Events can now be certified under three categories: green, zero waste, and zero waste green.

ASUC Green Campus Guidelines

The ASUC has specific Green Campus Guidelines issued by the ASUC Internal Department of Sustainability. These guidelines were created to encourage student groups to discover new ways to reduce their environmental footprint, as well as to recognize groups that have already taken steps towards making UC Berkeley a zero waste campus.

Since implementing its free-of-charge Green Business Certification program in 2018, the City of Long Beach has recognized 56 businesses for their adherence to sustainable business practice guidelines laid out by the California Green Business Network (CGBN). By following these statewide standards, businesses are joining the Green community, reducing their environmental impact, and saving money.

“There are a lot of small changes you can do that will make a big difference,” said Courtney Chatterson, Communications Specialist in the City’s Office of Sustainability who also serves as Coordinator for the Green Business Certification program. “Businesses seeking to get certified can apply on the City’s Green Business Program page, where they can view a checklist of requirements for certification. These range from pollution prevention measures and waste disposal to energy usage and employee engagement,” Chatterson said.

Businesses that get the Green Business certification, along with those who opt to pursue a lower-level “Efficiency” certification, are eligible for a $500 rebate from the City to help put sustainable practices in motion. Staff from the Office of Sustainability provides walk-throughs of potential Green-Certified businesses, noting areas that need improvement and connecting business owners with resources.

How to get certified as a green business

“Courtney Chatterson was an incredible help and advocate for both our business as well as for achieving the City goals and requirements,” Said Aimee Mandala,
Chief Operating Officer of Environ, a Green-Certified Downtown architecture firm. “She walked us through every step and really simplified the process.”

The DLBA helped kick-start the Green Business Certification program, partnering with the Office of Sustainability in 2018 to create the Green Business Academy, in which businesses could go through the certification process together.

“I’m encouraged by the many small businesses in our Downtown that have committed to implementing sustainable business practices they learned from the Green Business Academy,” said Austin Metoyer, DLBA’s Economic Development and Policy Manager. “These practices not only make sense from an environmental perspective, but can also have a financial benefit, especially among a growing environmentally conscious consumer base. We would like to partner with the Office of Sustainability again and help support those businesses seeking to learn and implement such practices.”

How to get certified as a green business

Dina Amadril, who owns and operates the hand-crafted ice cream parlor, Long Beach Creamery, located in Downtown and Bixby Knolls, had been applying Green practices in her shops long before the certification program became available. “Respecting the earth is one of the core values of Long Beach Creamery,” said Amadril. “Since the early days, we have been avid recyclers and food waste managers. Becoming Green-Certified felt like the natural course for us.”

How to get certified as a green business

Maggie Stoll, owner of the Green-Certified East Village boutique Burke Mercantile, elaborated on her day-to-day sustainable business practices: “Energy
efficiencies in my shop — from utility use to electronic equipment — as well as simple daily routines, are positively affected by Green practices,” she said. “They offer a way to check myself before each decision I make. Ensuring that trash and recycling are separated, choosing eco-friendly and low-to-no-waste cleaning supplies, and using recycled and recyclable paper options are some of the practices I have implemented.”

How to get certified as a green businessStephen Groner started his Downtown-based marketing company, SGA, on the premise that the company could use the tools of marketing to improve lives and protect the environment — not just sell products. SGA works with cities and counties across the state to help educate residents in living more sustainably. “Becoming Green-Certified was a no-brainer for us,” said Groner. “The City’s program helped give us a benchmark to align our internal office practices so they minimize any impact on the environment and ensure we are ‘practicing what we preach.’”

The Green Business Certification program may help provide a fresh start for Downtown businesses recovering from the effects of the pandemic; Besides a $500 rebate, certified businesses get recognition on a statewide Green Businesses list compiled by the CGBN, and the satisfaction of providing green practices for their community, customers, and employees.

“The community’s appreciation for Green-Certified businesses is only going to grow from here,” said Amadril. “It shows you are community-driven and concerned for your immediate environment and your employees. The process is not difficult, and the costs to make Green changes are almost negligible. I would definitely recommend Green Certification to other Downtown businesses.”