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Small Businesses Get Free Help to Go Green

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- When it comes to running an environmentally responsible business, it may seem the big guys have all the advantages. Large corporations can afford to build LEED-certified offices, hire sustainability consultants and explore alternative energy sources.

Small businesses usually have to make smaller shifts. Adding a recycling bin to your office snack room, replacing leaky warehouse windows or encouraging employees to bike to work are all modest ways to show employees and clients you're mindful of your company's environmental footprint.

Small businesses going green often have to make small shifts, such as bringing in recycling bins. But free help is available to take the next step.

But what if you're ready to take more significant steps? There are plenty of energy-efficiency consultants who will give your office a full green makeover -- if you can afford it. But there's also an ever-growing network of nonprofit advisers who will help you sort through your options for free.

Thanks to a recent SBA initiative -- the Energy Audit and Energy Efficiency Program -- small businesses across the country can get help assessing and improving their energy use. The program is being implemented through Small Business Development Centers in each state (to find the closest location to you, visit the Association of Small Business Development Centers.

Local nonprofit groups and government agencies are also stepping in. In California, the Bay Area Green Business Program advises small businesses on specific steps they can take to lessen their environmental impact. Each of the nine counties in the San Francisco area has its own local coordinator, to make the services as accessible as possible.

The program started in 1996 by targeting auto repair shops, since they were businesses with a relatively high negative impact on the landscape. Since then, 2,200 companies have been certified as green, and the program has developed checklists and standards for a variety of industries, including hotels, restaurants, landscape design firms, custodial services and small manufacturers. (Since this is Northern California, they also have recommendations for wineries.)

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