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TheStreet Open House

Going Green? Make It Official

CHICAGO (MainStreet) -- When the first Earth Day was held in 1970, it was a grassroots, people-powered movement, with events organized by environmental activists and conservation-minded students. Corporate America was kept on the sidelines.

Fast-forward 40 years, and U.S. companies are eager to align themselves with the Earth Day spirit. Major international corporations from GE (GE) to Cargill to Coca-Cola (KO) brag about their sustainability initiatives on their websites, while the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart (WMT), has made energy conservation a central message of its corporate marketing.

Being environmentally conscious is seen as being good for business, but it's important to prove it's not just talk.

Unlike 1970, many of the Earth Day events we saw Sunday were paid for through corporate sponsorship. Which means going green is seen as being good for business.

But how do you know if a company really walks the walk? It's one thing to say you care about the environment; it's another thing to completely revamp your supply chain to eliminate waste. Small businesses that have invested a lot of time and money into improving sustainability want customers and suppliers to know that their concern for the environment is more than just good PR.

That's why it's become increasingly important for small businesses who take sustainability seriously to get a stamp of approval from an independent third party. It shows customers that the company doesn't just boast of being green, but can back up that boast with specifics.

Certain industries have their own specific certification processes. Organic food, for example, is regulated by the USDA's National Organic Program, while builders and architects can get LEED certification for their projects through the U.S. Green Building Council. Business whose products are not covered through an industry-specific agency can apply to an independent organization that offers green credentials.

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