Green Business Program Models

A green business program promotes and encourages the adoption of best management practices with the aim to reducing a business’ environmental footprint and going above and beyond basic environmental compliance. After a business has implemented these green practices, the program then verifies that those businesses meet higher standards of environmental performance and, if those standards are deemed sufficient, they are then certified as “green”. There are many different kinds of green business engagement programs across the USA, with varying degrees of success. Here are some of the most common program models:


With a self-certification program, a business becomes certified “green” after reporting to the program that an agreed upon list of environmental measures are complete. Businesses receive the benefits of promotion and public recognition without having to provide independent verification that the measures have been completed. Self-certification appears cheaper for the jurisdiction, and easier for businesses, but it also has important limitations. Both the public and local government must trust that the business has done what it claims.

Third-Party Verification

Programs that provide third-party verification send a sustainability professional out to the business after the checklist is completed to ensure that all measures are done, and to provide technical assistance to help the business complete the tougher measures. These third party audits may be performed by program staff, utility partners, or contracted to another party.

Environmental Compliance Checks

A program can check environmental compliance in any area important to the local jurisdiction as part of the certification process. For example, checks could be performed for air, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste, or food safety. This component can be set up with staff at the appropriate agencies. Usually, it entails a simple call or email to the contact person, who can look up the business and report whether or not it is currently in compliance. By including environmental compliance checks, the program avoids the awkward situation of certifying a business that is still a known polluter.

California Green Business Network (CAGBN)

The California Green Business Network (CAGBN) is a voluntary program run by a network of government, non-profit, utilities, and for-profit agencies that serve businesses locally while working together to oversee the program statewide. The CAGBN ensures that the business is in compliance with all environmental regulations. The program coordinators manage and promote the local programs using a statewide database, allowing checklists to be completed and provide expert technical assistance to businesses in all environmental arenas: air, solid waste, water supply, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste and materials, and energy. Newly certified businesses are then promoted broadly to encourage consumers to increase the demand side of the green economy. The database can also be set up so that your certified businesses can see the results of their efforts in a scorecard format. New Program Guide.

Third-Party Audits.

As well as sending program staff when the checklist is completed, a program may include other trained personnel to audit sections of the checklist along the way. For example, staff from the local water district may audit water conservation measures, or the energy company could send an auditor for the energy conservation measures. Trained student interns can also be used. Third-party audits offer possibilities to engage agency stakeholders. They may save money for the program, although they require additional management.

Environmental Scorecard Program

Green Alliance

Established in 2008, the Green Alliance is a green business certification program operating in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Members fill out a sustainability evaluation in such areas as energy use, waste, consumer education, community involvement, and sustainable product offerings. A “report card” is produced based on the evaluation. The business then receives an overall numerical grade as well as grades in each area of the evaluation, and is compared to the industry standard. There is no independent evaluation. An annual fee is required at approximately $3,000. Businesses receive strong marketing content, including the Green Alliance seal and plaque, social networking, monthly networking meetings, and listing in the online business directory. For a $35 annual fee, consumers can also participate by receiving a membership card and discounts at many member businesses.

A Better City’s Scorecard

Boston nonprofit, A Better City, has a Challenge for Sustainability program. The program challenges and recognizes businesses, institutions and building owners to meet a broad range of sustainability standards and practices, including increasing energy efficiency, reducing resource consumption, decreasing solid waste, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Where applicable, information is provided on financing options, incentives, and rebates. In addition to technical assistance, mentoring and sharing best practices, the program provides companies with a scorecard for setting and tracking company-wide goals.

Challenge or Gamification

A “Challenge” program sets up a friendly competition for area businesses. Depending on the goals set by the program, businesses can receive public recognition in a range of categories, and enjoy the process of the challenge. All businesses compete with the same group of measures, and are given a set amount of points for each completed activity.. A leaderboard is used to then rank participants in the challenge to show leadership and foster a friendly competitive atmosphere. Gamification strategies are used to incentivize participants to continue through the challenge and become recognized throughout the process. A good example of a Gamification model is the ICLEI Green Business Challenge .

ICLEI’s Green Business Challenge Overview: The Green Business Challenge engages local businesses and commercial property managers in a fun, friendly competition to save money, energy, water, and waste, improving their business’ environmental performance. This innovative program in turn helps local governments reach their energy and climate goals. ICLEI co-developed this proven program with the City of Chicago, and now offers the software and guidance resources necessary for any local government, school, or corporation to customize and implement their own Challenge program.

The St. Louis Green Business Challenge, a joint program of the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Botanical Garden, delivers “triple-bottom” line results (financial, social, and environmental) to businesses of all types and sizes across the St. Louis region. The Challenge supports integration of sustainability measures into the kinds of everyday operational practices common to every business. Participants identify and adapt the strategies that improve financial performance and engage employees in voluntary measures to reduce environmental impacts.

Green Building Certification

Green business programs typically have many sustainability practices that are being measured such as increased energy efficiency, reduced resource consumption, water conservation, reduction in waste and the overall impact on climate change.  Green building is a specialized area that has its own measuring system (LEED).  Green business programs give points for companies that meet green building and other standards.

LEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) comprises a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. It was developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), to provide building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. It operates in the United States and 30 other countries. LEED certifies buildings, not business operations.

Green Marketplace

Green marketplaces listed online, such as eBay Green, generally focus on buying and selling green products, rather than featuring individual green businesses. Green Alliance, noted above, features and supports both businesses and their products and services, and establishes a consumer following.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Here are some success stories written by different green businesses. These success stories describe a change in behavior resulting in environmental benefits and often times business performance improvements and cost savings:

California Green Business Program

Certifiably Green Denver, CO

Green Business Partnership

How to Submit

If you are a green business and would like to share with us your successes in reducing toxic chemical usage, waste, water, energy or other natural resources, please let us know about it.  We will publish your case study or success story on our website and use your company as an example of positive actions that companies take to reduce pollution. Contact us to learn how to submit a case study or success story.

2021 Summit

The 2021 GBENN Summit was sponsored by greenUP! and Western Nevada College. A virtual Summit was held on September 8-10 and an in-person Summit was hosted in partnership with the Longmont Sustainable Business Program and the City of Longmont on September 23-24. More information, recordings, and slide shows can be found here.

2018 Summit Information

The 3rd National GBENN Summit occurred on November 8-9, 2018 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois. Over 35 green business programs that were interested in networking, learning, and sharing best green business engagement strategies for success attended. Thank you to the Museum of Science and Industry for donating space for the event and hosting the GBENN Summit. Thank you also to our Keynote – Aaron Stash – United Eco-Skies, to greenUP! in Nevada and the Illinois Green Business Association for hosting this year’s event

2018 Summit Agenda and PresentationsThe 2018 Summit Agenda and Speaker Bios can be found here.

Keynote Presentation: United Eco-Skies –Aaron Stash – Manager, Environmental Strategy and Sustainability

Aaron Stash – Manager, Environmental Strategy and Sustainability, will be joining us to discuss how United is committed to operating sustainably and responsibly. This commitment means we strive to minimize the environmental impacts associated with our operations and continuously look for ways to reduce our footprint in the air, on the ground and at our facilities. Aaron will speak about their biofuels program in Los Angeles, as well as many other initiatives United has taken on to reduce their impact in the air and on the ground each day.

To learn more about United Eco-Skies before the Summit, click here.

Session 1: “Building Collaborative Community Partnerships that Bolster Funding and Build Program Capacity”

Session 2: “Listen to your Business Community – Adapting Program Models to Meet Business Needs and Interests”

Session 3: “Comparing Two Regional Program Models – Engaging and Sharing Business Participants Across Partners and Synergistic Community Programs”

Session 4: “Building Standards and Adjusting Your Program to Serve Unique Business Sectors”

Session 5: “Focus on Impact and Efficiency, Not Waste! Engaging Large Facilities and Major Events in Resource Reduction Best Practices”

Session 6: “Marketing and Business Recruitment – Strategies for Business Recruitment while Maintaining your Program Brand and Presence in the Community”

2016 Summit Information

The 2016 Summit was held on October 19th and 20th in St. Louis, MO. Below is the agenda and presentations from the event:

Conference Day 1: Wednesday, October 19, 2016

8:30am – 9:30am: Keynote Presentation – Dominick Brook, US Leader – Global Sustainability Tax Services, Ernst and Young

Ernst and Young has a rich portfolio of sustainability services for corporations across the world. Mr. Brook has been instrumental in creating programming utilizing incentives for businesses to implement sustainable activities within corporations. However, a national and global trend around corporate carbon taxes and trade might be on the horizon. Mr. Brook will address how corporate carbon tax markets are coming about in states across the U.S. and how green business programs can work within their communities, municipalities and businesses to address energy efficiency using carbon taxes.

9:45am – 11:30am: Session 1 – Formulas for Success: How to Efficiently Work with Small Businesses and Local Municipalities

Green business engagement programs use a wide variety of models to serve their local business population. Whether it be interns, cohorts of business participants, partnerships, or accreditation frameworks, each green business engagement program is unique. Learn from four very different green business engagement programs about their model and how they efficiently work with small businesses and/or local municipalities to drive environmental reduction in their communities.

11:30am – 12:20pm: Session 2 – Recognition – Elevating the Value of your Program through a Badge System

Recognition is one of the key benefits and reasons why businesses participate in green business engagement programs. The Illinois Green Business Association will discuss its new certification badge system: why and how it was developed, benefits of the new system, lessons learned, and how to develop one for your own program.

  • Anthony Santarelli – Director, Illinois Green Business Association

12:30pm – 2:00pm – Lunch and Tour of the Missouri Botanical Garden

2:30pm – 3:30pm: Session 3 – Sustainability Reporting and Metrics

Collecting environmental metrics from businesses can be a challenge, but organizing and aggregating that data can prove to be an even bigger hurdle. Learn from the California Green Business Network and the Vancouver Economic Commission on how they use interactive platforms to manage green business metrics, identify industry trends, and provide real-time data on green business environmental outcomes in their programs.

3:30pm – 4:30pm: Session 4 – Leveraging Collective Impact to Address Community Climate and/or Environmental Goals

Community-wide partnerships can increase collective environmental reduction, provide collaborative service offerings, and engage more businesses in environmental efforts. Learn about how two organizations deployed community-wide sustainability programs that increased their impact and participation through leveraging their regional and/or local networks and successfully engaged businesses in the process.

4:30pm -5:00pm: Day 1 Wrap-up

6:30pm – 9:00pm: Networking Reception for Green Business Programs

GBENN’s networking event is at Schlafly Bottleworks in the Green Dining District certified restaurant in Maplewood, MO. The band that will be playing is Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers – this is a great local swing band.  Part of the nation’s first Green Dining District, this indoor-outdoor venue in a recycled supermarket is a cultural and social anchor of the thriving business district in historic Maplewood, MO.

Conference Day 2: Thursday, October 20, 2016

8:30am – 9:30am – EPA Environmental Stewardship Resources – Benefits for Every Green Business Program

There are a number of resources that green business programs can use to help meet program goals. Some of these programs include Energy Star, US Green Business Counsel’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), Green Schools and others. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a number of sophisticated programs that are business friendly, free to use, measurable, and reap significant results. In a panel, EPA representatives will talk about how any green business program can leverage resources in EPA’s ENERGY STAR, Safer Choice, Food Recovery Challenge, and Waste Wise. EPA staff will also discuss data system management opportunities that GBENN members can use to measure both participant and whole program outcomes.

9:30am – 10:30am: Session 5 – Reaching New Industries that Do Not Have Existing Sustainability Standards

Staff from Certifiably Green Denver, the green business program for the City and County of Denver, Colorado will share their strategies for working with the emerging cannabis industry. Certifiably Green Denver is utilizing existing green business program staff and resources to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities this new industry presents.

  • Emily Backus – Sustainability Advisor, City & County of Denver

10:30am – 11:30am: Session 6 – Evolving a Green Business Program in a Saturated Marketplace
As sustainability has hit mainstream media and major corporations, there has been an increase in organizations and communities launching efforts address climate change and decrease overall community and/or regional environmental impact. As these new programs take the spotlight, how can your green business program maintain visibility and uniqueness, while working with these new partners? Learn from our presenters on how this issue has been addressed in their cities and regions.
“Unifying green business programs under an umbrella brand to better serve business customers and maximize results.”

11:45am – 1:45pm – GBENN Development Session with Lunch

  • How do we help foster growth within individual programs? What are those activities?
  • How do we grow awareness of our collective impact?
  • How can we become more nationally engaged as a collective group?
  • Discuss overall Network structure and membership

1:45pm – 2:00pm: Wrap up and depart

3:00pm – 5:00pm:  (Optional) Tour of University City Loop Green Dining District

2013 Summit Information

The first National Summit on Green Business Engagement Programs drew over forty leaders from across the United States to Boston on May 9 and 10, 2013. The Summit provided a forum for leaders to share achievements, discuss challenges, and exchange best practices for engaging the business community, partnering with local governments, collaborating with utility districts, and delivering program services. The summit was highly successful in identifying the critical factors for green business programs to support economically vibrant and sustainable cities where current and future generations will want to live, work, and play. The summit was organized by A Better City and facilitated by the Consensus Building Institute.

Participants were welcomed by Rick Dimino (President and CEO, A Better City), Brian Swett (Chief of Environment and Energy for the City of Boston) and Mariella Puerto (Senior Program Officer, Barr Foundation). These leaders stressed the importance of efforts to encourage businesses to reduce their environmental impact voluntarily through education and a little healthy competition. Throughout the event, participants told stories about their programs and shared lessons learned.

Download the Full 2013 Summary

GBENN co-hosted five “how-to” webinars in 2013, 2014, and 2015.   You can watch to the webinar recording for each webinar and download speaker presentations below.


In 2016, GBENN hosted a green business survey, collecting information from green business programming across North America to highlight program diversity and trends, establish best operational practices, determine Network learning opportunities, and identify areas of collaborative opportunity. There were 18 Green Business Programs in US and Canada that participated in the 2016 survey resulting in coast to coast participation. Most respondents have been working with green businesses for 5-9 years but some had been working as long as 21 years! The majority of programs have one to two full-time staff members and many utilize volunteer assistance to operate their programs.

On February 7, GBENN hosted a membership call to review the results of the 2016 green business program survey. GBENN also announced outcomes from the 2016 GBENN Summit, its strategic plan, and a call-to-action for volunteers interested in building the GBENN network.  Following are some highlights of the green business survey for 2016.  A recording of the meeting and a PDF of the PowerPoint can be found at the end of the web page.

2016 Green Business Program Survey – Number of Businesses Served

GBENN asked survey respondents to identify what a “participant” meant for their green business program. Respondents mainly described a participant as an enrollee or dues-paying members in green business engagement programs. Others noted specific business types/sizes, but public entities were also listed as participants in many descriptions. Here’s a breakdown of how many businesses or organizations green business engagement programs serve.

Number of business served 1Number of Businesses Served 2

Green business programs provide a multitude of services to their business participants. Here are the most common services provided:

  • One-on-One Assistance (100% of respondents)
  • Marketing and Recognition (100% of respondents)
  • Online Resources and Toolkits (89% of respondents)
  • Group Meetings and Networking (89% of respondents)
  • Technical Assistance (83% of respondents)

2016 Green Business Program Survey – Marketing

Promoting and increasing community awareness of green businesses is one of the most challenging aspects of green business program operation. To gather information on effective methods of promotion, we asked survey participants about the methods their programs used to communicate a business’ sustainable achievements, since increased community awareness and market differentiation are major benefits to engagement program participation. The most effective marketing or communication services provided for businesses included:

  • Case Studies or Infographics (14 Respondents)
  • Marketing and Recognition via Social Media (13 Respondents)
  • Annual Recognition or Awards (10 Respondents)
  • Window Decal (8 Respondents)

Business reported that the least effective marketing or communication services provided for businesses were:

  • Press/Marketing Kit
  • Press Releases
  • Certificate or Plaque
  • Film or Video

2016 Green Business Program Survey – Funding

We asked green business programs to identify their annual budgets to understand the diversity in size and resources of green business programs throughout North America.

Annual Program Budget

annual program budget  Annual program budget 2

Most green business programs are either completely or substantially funded through grants (50% or more – 10 respondents), utilities, or membership fees (4 respondents at 40%). However, responses varied across the board on this question. A majority of organizations are either funded by 1-2 major funding sources, with a dash of other sources to comprise their budgets. This question was asked to understand the viable sources of funding that keep green business engagement programs running. Here are some additional findings:

  • Corporate sponsorship or partnership seemed to be a funding source that more programs are using, with 4 organizations noting that they receive between 30-50% of their budgets from this source
  • Membership fees comprise of about 40% of four respondents’ budgets, but this is a minor or unused opportunity for a majority of organizations.
  • Many programs are not funded by state funds, but there were a couple of programs that were either 20-40% funded or 90% state funded
  • Less than 5% of respondents said they were funded by utility programs, but 2 programs reported that they were 60 -100% utility funded.

2016 Green Business Program Survey – Participant Fees


2016 Green Business Program Survey – Utilities and Partnerships

Partnerships with utilities and municipalities can bring a multitude of synergy to green business program efforts in communities across the country. We also wanted to understand how other programs utilized these relationships to help benefit their program participants. We asked respondents how they utilize partnerships with these entities and what services they provided to their program participants. The top services provided by utilities and municipalities to green business engagement programs are:

  • Program funding (87% of respondents)
    • Incentives/rebates for participating businesses (67% of respondents)
    • Free audits (47% of respondents)
    • Marketing (47% of respondents)
  • Additional key partners for green business program success in local communities are:
    • Business Associations/Districts
    • Utilities
    • Elected officials

2016 Green Business Program Survey – Challenges

Climing a cliffThe most challenging aspects of managing or executing green business programs are:

  • Tracking metrics (energy, benchmarking, water, waste) and measuring impact
    • Not uniform systems, time constraint, follow-up difficult
  • Finding and maintaining funding
  • Marketing of program and recruitment of businesses
  • Community and business awareness



2017 GBENN Membership Call Recording

The MP3 recording from the February 7 meeting and a downloadable copy of the PowerPoint are below.  Please download the PowerPoint slides and follow along with the audio recording. We hope you can join us on our next membership call!


GBENN All Member Call PPT

Green Business Data Tracking Systems: the End to the Excel Nightmare

This webinar introduces the players in the newly established Green Business Engagement National Network, discusses some great work that is being done in Green Business Programs across the country, and establishes a framework to distribute best practice information and share successes through the GBENN network. (Run time: 1:32:20)


Watch Recorded Webinar


Marketing Your Green Business Program, How to simultaneously attract new businesses while providing benefits to your existing participants

How do you effectively market your green business program? It’s not just advertising and social media. This webinar will explore some business models and case studies of communities that have successfully launched and grown their green business programs. This is a must for those who are currently considering a program or have recently launched a program. (Run time: 1:15:14)


Funding Your Green Business Program, Diverse Funding Sources Add Up

This is part of a how-to webinar series on green business sponsored by the Western Sustainability & Pollution Prevention Network (WSPPN) and the Green Business Engagement National Network (GBENN) focused on finding essential funding for your program. (Run time: 1:06:17)


Watch Recorded Webinar


So you want to start a Green Business Program?

Green Business Programs are being started all across the nation. Where does one start? What are the benefits and how much does it cost? They’re many different approaches from self-certified and gamification to third party audits. Learn about different programs that are working and determine an approach that makes sense for you. (Run time: 1:19:54)


Watch Recorded Webinar


How to Start Green Business Programs for Grocery Stores

This webinar covers all aspects of the green business program for grocers. How grocers apply online for recognition, how state programs are able to review and approve applications and facilitate follow-up, and built-in calculators that will help programs report on the outcomes of program participants. (Run time: 1:00:00)


Watch Recorded Webinar