The certification group with the longest track record is Green America, a nonprofit organization with impeccable environmental credentials that was founded in 1982. The group assesses businesses based on their environmental practices and social justice initiatives, meaning workers' rights and community involvement are just as important as recycling and conservation.
A small business can get the Green America "Seal of Approval" if it actively promotes positive social change or uses environmentally responsible sourcing, manufacturing and marketing. Companies can also earn the designation of "Green Certified Business" at three different levels (the highest, Gold, is reserved for companies that show leadership within their industry and make social responsibility a core of their mission). The organization works on a membership model, with members given access to assessment tools and educational materials. The organization also encourages peer-to-peer networking through meetings and webinars.
Two other organizations, founded more recently, also offer green certification, with a focus on environmental practices rather than the broader, social justice mission of Green America. The Institute for Green Business Certification assesses all aspects of a company's environmental impact, including waste removal, energy efficiency, water use and carbon footprint. The organization works on a consultant model: A small business is assigned an environmental analyst who works one on one with the company through telephone calls and on-site visits.
Another resource is the Green Business Bureau, which emphasizes the marketing opportunities green credentialing can provide. Companies start by taking an online assessment, then get individualized action plans, suggestions for specific activities and links to online vendors that supply green-friendly products. Members also get a "Marketing Tool Kit" with sample press releases, website keyword suggestions and other strategies for drawing attention to their green credentials.
Now that Earth Day has gone mainstream, it's in every company's interest to show concern for the environment. But consumers have gotten sophisticated, and businesses that that don't back up their environmental claims with concrete actions are quickly accused of "greenwashing" -- a guaranteed way to lose credibility.
Businesses that display a green certification in their office window or on the home page of their website want the public to know that sustainability is a year-round priority. And going through the process of certification might just inspire business owners to make other, even more impactful changes in their day-to-day routines.