Oakland aims to add more businesses to its “green certified” list

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What do the Chabot Space and Science Center, PGAdesign, Red Oak Realty, The Tip Top Bike Shop, Mr. Sparkle Window Washers, and Baja Taqueria have in common?

They are all “green” businesses in Oakland.

Oakland is currently home to 138 green certified businesses—restaurants, stores and offices that meet county standards of energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling, and waste reduction, among other things. City officials aim to certify 100 more by next fall thanks to a recent push by Oakland’s recycling program to spread the word about green certification and help business owners complete the process.

“I personally notice when a business has a green certification logo in their window,” said Becky Dowdakin, supervisor of the city’s recycling program. “Every business is supposed to be in compliance with general regulations, but it impresses me personally when a business goes beyond that.

Certification is coordinated at the county level. To be certified as green, businesses first register with the Bay Area Green Business program online, which has a list of 46 required measures—things like installing low-flow faucets and recycling all glass, plastic, metal and paper materials—as well as supplemental actions a business can take, such as offering reusable bags to customers (for a more complete list of green certification standards, see the above graphic).

Oakland Recycles began offering free assistance last fall to local business owners interested in having their enterprises certified as green by the Bay Area Green Business Program. The city’s environmental services division partnered with contractor EnviroSystems Group (ESG) to send representatives to business association meetings, stores, and offices to encourage business owners to enroll in the program and help them navigate the process.

“The contractors can help them over stumbling blocks,” Dowdakin said. “Every site has constraints. Businesses might not want to pay extra or make substantial changes to lighting or plumbing if they rent rather than own the space.” ESG representatives point business owners in the direction of grants and rebates to defray the costs of “greening” a business, from sources like StopWaste.org, Smart Lights, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, and Pacific Gas and Electric. They can also help with anything from finding the proper recycling bins or type of light to install to coordinating certification inspections with city and county officials.

Once a business owner has made the necessary changes to the property, building and business practices, he or she can submit the application. Oakland and Alameda County officials then visit the business to confirm it is meeting all of the standards.

“Green businesses are more eco-efficient, using fewer resources—less energy, less water—and recycling more,” said Pamela Evans, coordinator for the Alameda County Green Business Program. “Their business practices are going to have less impact on the environment.”

Once certified, business owners receive a “Green Certified” sticker to display, as well as an electronic version of the logo to promote themselves in e-mails and newsletters. The business is also listed on the Bay Area green business website, where consumers can search for a business by city, county, name, zip-code, or type—education, entertainment, food, retail, and so on.

“Alameda County has a lot of very environmentally conscious consumers,” Evans said. “Given a choice, they would prefer to patronize businesses that have green values. A lot of businesses seem to be thinking that, in order to really be competitive, to stand out in their markets, they needed to have some kind of green credential.”

Businesses have to apply for re-certification every three years because the standards are often updated. For example, Evans said, installing energy efficient lights and low-flow toilets used to be an optional measure; now both are required for green certification.

The certification program began in 1997, but interest has increased over the last few years, said Evans. The county certifies or re-certifies about 150 small to medium size businesses every year, she said, and this has been the trend for about the last three years. There are about 500 green certified businesses in Alameda County, and over a quarter of those are in Oakland.

“The program is pretty active in all the counties around the Bay Area,” Evans said. “Berkeley has a few more green businesses than Oakland, but compared with other cities in the Bay Area, Oakland and Berkeley rank up there at the top.”

Although the certification is done by the county, Oakland’s recycling program has taken a more active interest in green certification by sending representatives directly to business owners. Since the push with ESG began in August, said Dowdakin, about 27 to 29 new Oakland business have enrolled in the program and are in the process of being certified. This is “unprecedented” growth, she said; usually about 15 new businesses are certified over the course of a year.

The city has a number of environmental goals under the draft Energy and Climate Action Plan to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The participation of businesses in the green certification program will help achieve these goals, Dowdakin said.

“In the end it is up to individuals— residents and businesses—to change their behavior using the resources we provide,” she said. “The green business certification program invites them to step up and do something better.”

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