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:

How to Submit

If you are a green business and would like to share with us your successes inreducing 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.

2016 Summit Information

The 2016 summit will occur on Oct. 19, 2016 in St Louis. Click here to learn more.

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.

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