Certifying Your Law Office as a Green Business

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THE BAY AREA GREEN BUSINESS PROGRAM offers a path towards environmentally friendly operations for your business—and then rewards you for it!  More specifically, the Program has laid out specific standards in the areas of energy and water conservation, waste reduction and pollution prevention that businesses must meet in order to be certified as a green business.  While that’s the gist of what it means to be certified by the Bay Area Green Business Program, the specifics are much more detailed!

Green Business Program logoThe Bay Area Green Business Program is a group of environmental agencies and cities within Contra Costa County working in partnership to develop program policy and assist in the certification of businesses in the county.  This includes the water companies, wastewater districts, waste reduction programs, PG&E, 511 Contra Costa, etc.—24 partners all together.

Let’s move onto the certification process itself.  There is no fee for the Program (at least not yet!).  A program applicant completes a one-page enrollment form and then completes a checklist that is appropriate for its business type.  There are 14 different checklists—auto repair, office/retail, home remodelers, restaurants, janitors, hotels, etc.  (For your law firm, use the  Green Business Program Checklist- office/retail ) Each lays out very clearly the standards for the certification, covering the four areas mentioned above:  energy and water conservation, waste reduction and pollution prevention.

A business is asked to implement x number of measures to conserve energy, and x number to reduce chemical use, and x number to reduce air emissions, etc.  Some measures are required, such as using printer/copier paper that has 30% post-consumer waste paper and installing energy efficient T8 lights and 1.6 or 1.28 gallons per flush toilets.  This is asked of all businesses, even though they may not own their property.  And businesses are asked to work with their property managers to make some of these changes.

The Plaza at Walnut Creek is the home of two Contra Costa law firms which are certified as Green Businesses. Both Cooper, White & Cooper and Miller Starr Regalia partially attribute the ease of the green certification process to the cooperation of CB Richard Ellis, the property manager at The Plaza. Gina DiMatteo, General Manager of The Plaza, believes that “going green definitely saves energy which will ultimately save money.”  All the tenants at The Plaza, not just the Green Businesses, are grateful for the sustainable efforts which save them money.

It should also be noted that two significant undertakings with the program have been completed.  All of the checklists have been updated with more current green standards.  As you probably know, there are new developments in green technology occurring these days, and at a faster pace.  And what was once considered green has become common business practice.

As all businesses are recertified every three years using checklists with current standards, we are very proud of the fact that we are moving along all of these businesses that we have certified previously, even though they may have been certified in 1998, under old standards.

The second undertaking is that we are just now completing the arduous task of putting 1600 measures from 14 checklists and 15 counties all online; in August we will begin asking businesses to complete the enrollment form and checklist online.  This means that we will be able to go paperless and, more importantly, that we will be able to track the environmental impact of our program.  It also means that we will have a fully functioning searchable database so that consumers can more readily find the green business they want.

Back to certification.  Once the checklist is completed, we pass it on to auditors.  Each checklist section will be verified by an appropriate auditor.  For instance, the water conservation part of the checklist will be verified by staff from either EBMUD or Contra Costa Water District.  The staff will either pass or fail a business.  If the business initially fails, staff will continue working with that business to help it pass by providing rebates and their extensive expertise—at no cost to the business.  Once we hear back from all four auditors that the business has passed, the business is certified.  Additionally, for businesses that have environmental compliance as a part of their business, the appropriate inspectors will visit them to ensure their compliance with waste water, storm water, hazardous materials/waste, and air regulations.

Once certified, Green Businesses are recognized by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in April, around Earth Day.  They also receive a framed certificate and a decal for their window, the ability to use the program logo on any of their promotional materials and websites, and are listed on both the program website and in a hard copy directory that is given out at various fairs and public events.  Typically, certification also gives Green Businesses healthier workplaces, improved worker morale, a marketing edge, customers that are like-minded in their thinking, and the respect of the community.

If your business supports environmental stewardship and wants to be recognized as a leader in this area, contact Claudia Pingatore at the Green Business Program (925/335-3220).  She can help you, no matter what shade of green you currently are!  And don’t forget to visit the website at www.greenbiz.ca.gov.

About the Green Business Program – History and Background

Contra Costa is just one of 15 counties in California—including all nine Bay Area counties—that is implementing this program.  In the mid 90s, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and its Hazardous Waste Committee had just completed work on determining which county would have to receive a hazardous waste incinerator facility, landfill facility, etc.  Given that none of the counties wanted any of these facilities, the committee directed staff to “go upstream” to reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated in the first place.  ABAG then pulled together representatives from U.S. and Cal EPAs, as well as local governments and businesses themselves to create a program that certified businesses for both being in compliance with any applicable environmental regulations, and for voluntarily going beyond compliance to meet other green standards (in the same areas of energy, water, waste, pollution prevention).  This led to the creation of the Bay Area Green Business Program.

Our county began the program in 1998 and has certified about 400 businesses since that time.  While the Program initially certified only printers and auto repair shops, it now certifies almost all business types—not just the largest facilities where they have their own environmental managers and recognition programs that cover their size and type of facility.  Smaller businesses do not have the luxury of environmental managers; the program wanted to fill this gap.  Ultimately, the program wants to see every business in Contra Costa County meet our standards and be green!

Unfortunately, the rise of businesses marketing their products and businesses as green has created a situation where most of the green claims cannot be verified.  The Green Business Program, however, stands apart from this situation.  Its standards are very specific and clearly written, and each of the businesses is visited by a neutral, third party auditing team that verifies all claims.

About the Author

Robin Bedell-Waite works in the Contra Costa Hazardous Materials program and coordinates the Green Business Program for Contra Costa County.

Kristen Thall Peters is Chairman of Cooper, White & Cooper’s Green Practice Group and former President of the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s Real Estate Section.

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