How to Get Certified As a Green Business
Different businesses can be certified as being "green" in different ways. When your business is certified as green, it means you are taking steps to make sure your operations are environmentally friendly. If you have a business that includes one or more physical buildings, you can pursue green building certifications. If you manufacture products for the public, you should pursue applicable green labeling opportunities. If you have a food operation (e.g., farming), apply to become certified organic. If none of these certification methods match your business operations, there are plenty of other certification opportunities to be found.
Pursuing Green Building Certification
Review your eligibility for green building certification.If your business operates in physical buildings you own, you can pursue a green certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which runs the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED certification works for all types of projects including homes, corporate headquarters, and retail shops. In addition, if a building has already been constructed, you can update that building in order to achieve LEED certification (i.e., you do not need to construct a building from scratch).
- Projects pursuing LEED certification must generally comply with environmental laws, be a permanent building, use a reasonable site boundary, comply with minimum floor area and occupancy requirements, and commit to sharing certain energy and water usage data.
Select the appropriate LEED rating system.If you think you qualify, visit the LEED website and select the most applicable rating system based on the type of project you are starting. The rating systems are based on the type of construction you are undertaking (i.e., complete constructions, core and shell constructions, interior constructions, or existing buildings improvement work) and the expected use of the building (i.e., schools, healthcare, retail, commercial, or residential).
- If multiple rating systems are appropriate for your project based on the type of construction you are undertaking, choose the rating system based on the expected use of your building.
- If multiple rating systems seem applicable, make a choice based on which rating system will fit your needs best.
Register your project.Visit the LEED Online website to start the registration process. You will need to create an account account by clicking on the "Create an Account" button.You should create an account and begin the registration process as early as possible - ideally during the design or planning phase of your construction.
- Once you create an account, you will register by providing LEED with information about your project.LEED will walk you through the process as soon as you create your account.
- Be sure you have a certification goal in mind at this point. LEED offers different levels of certification, which range from "Certified" to "Platinum". Each certification level is reached by getting various credits. The lowest level of certification requires you to get 40 points while the highest level of certification requires at least 70 points.
Assemble your project team.Your project team will be responsible for taking on certain roles during each stage of your project. The three most important members of your project team are the owner, agent, and project administrator.
- The owner holds the property associated with your project. He or she will be responsible for accepting the certification agreement. In other words, the owner has the ultimate control over the LEED certification application.
- The agent is a person given authority by the owner to do the things the owner would otherwise do (e.g., sign documents, make agreements, bind the owner). Most projects have agents because owners are often busy doing other things.
- The project administrator oversees the project's progress and delegates tasks to ensure the project is completed.
Collect LEED certification documentation.LEED certification is based on a points system in which you are awarded certain amounts of points for pursuing and accomplishing certain LEED credits. Working with your project team, identify LEED credits you would like to pursue and assign those credits to members of your team. Your team will be responsible for collecting information about the credit, performing calculations and analysis, and preparing documentation demonstrating how you have achieved the prerequisites for each particular credit.
- Available credits include, but are not limited to, integrative process, sensitive land protection, access to quality transit, bike facilities, open space, rainwater management, light pollution reduction, water use reduction, renewable energy production, collection of recyclables, air quality, clean construction, and local food production.
- Your application will consist of all the required documentation evidencing your ability to successfully get enough credits to become LEED certified. Different levels of LEED certification will require you to get different amounts of credits.
Submit your LEED certification application.Before you submit your application, be sure you double-check all of your work to make sure everything is in order. Once a thorough review of your application has been conducted, submit your application online through the LEED Online system. When you submit your application you will be required to pay review fees.The fees you have to pay are dependent on the type and size of your project. In general, fees are thousands of dollars and can easily exceed ,000 depending on the type of project you have.
Help with the review process.Once you submit your application, Green Business Certification Inc., (GBCI) will review your application. The review process you take part in will depend on the type of project you undertook. In most cases, your project will first need to pass a preliminary review. Here, GBCI will check your application for completeness and compliance with your chosen rating system and credits. The preliminary process will usually take between 20 and 25 business days. You will be able to accept the preliminary review if you are satisfied, or you will have the opportunity to amend your application and try again.
- Once you are pleased with your preliminary review results you will submit your application for final review. Your final review application is simply the application you submitted for the preliminary review plus any amendments. GBCI will review your final application and get back to you within 20 to 25 business days.
- At this point, if you are happy with the results, your review process is complete. However, if you are unhappy with the results you will need to file an appeal. During your appeal you will be given one final chance to submit an amended application.
Accept your certification.Once the review process is complete, GBCI will inform you of your certification. If you were successful, your project will be closed out and you will receive a certification based on the number of credits you earned. The different certification levels are as follows:
- LEED Certified: 40-49 points
- LEED Silver: 50-59 points
- LEED Gold: 60-69 points
- LEED Platinum: 70+ points
Applying for Green Labeling Opportunities
Find applicable certification organizations.Green labeling opportunities can be found by visiting the green Business section of the Small Business Administration's (SBA's) website.While there are countless opportunities to certify your green products, Green Seal certification is one of the most respected and rigorous certifications you can achieve. Green Seal is a nonprofit organization that uses science-based programs to help consumers and companies create a more environmentally friendly world.
- Green Seal offers businesses like yours an opportunity to apply for certification, which if successful, gives you the opportunity to place the Green Seal on all of your certified products. When you place the Green Seal on your products, consumers know that you have complied with a rigorous set of criteria and have sustainable and environmentally friendly products.
Review the application standards.To start the Green Seal certification process, review the Green Seal Standard to ensure the products you offer can be certified. To help you, Green Seal gives you the ability to search various standards on their website. Once you navigate to the Green Seal Standards page, search for your product to see if it is covered.For example, if you have a cleaning product (e.g., a bathroom cleaner for household use), you could click on the Green Seal Standard for titled "GS-08 Cleaning Products for Household Use."
- Once you click on the Standard, you will be given information about how to get certified. For example, with GS 08 products, you will only be able to get certified if your product has a certain level of reduced toxicity, biodegradability, and recyclable packaging.
Complete a preliminary application.If your product meets the requirements of the applicable Green Seal Standard, you will complete a Preliminary Certification Request. Your request will include your product's name, the Green Seal Standard you are applying under, and your company's information.Once your preliminary application is completed, click the "Submit" button.
Submit a certification application and confidentiality agreement.Once Green Seal receives your preliminary application, they will review it to make sure your product is within the scope of their certification standards. If it is, Green Seal will send you a certification application and a confidentiality agreement. Once you receive the documents, you will fill them out completely and accurately. When you are finished, you will submit two copies of each document (i.e., the application and confidentiality agreement). In addition, you will need to pay the application fee.
- Be aware that Green Seal will only accept original copies of all of your documents. Therefore, do not send them any scanned or faxed copies.
- You can mail your completed application, confidentiality agreement, and payment to Green Seal, Inc., Attn: Application Processing, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 827, Washington DC 20036-5525.
Work with the certifying entity and evaluate your product.After submitting your application you will be contacted by Green Seal. Green Seal will appoint you a project manager who will be responsible for evaluating your product to ensure compliance with the applicable Green Seal Standard. The evaluation process will require you to submit data about your product. This data, which might include ingredient lists, manufacturing processes, and distribution information, will help the Project Manager decide if your product is worthy of the Green Seal.
- This evaluation process typically takes several months. However, it may take longer if additional testing is needed or if your ingredient list changes.
Allow for an on-site audit.Near the end of your evaluation, a Green Seal Auditor will physically visit your manufacturing facility. You will be responsible for paying any out-of-pocket costs including travel and accommodation for the Auditor. Once the audit is complete, the Auditor will provide you with a report. If you need to take any corrective actions, those action will be laid out in the report. If corrective actions are needed, you will have 120 days to implement them.
Await certification.If you meet the requirements for Green Seal certification, you will be awarded certification and you will be given a license to use the Green Seal Certification Mark on all pre-approved products. In addition to being able to use the seal, Green Seal will provide you with tools and resources to help you market and promote your product and accomplishment .
- If you fail to meet the certification requirements, you will be allowed to modify your product and submissions and try again.
Comply with periodic compliance requirements.Green Seal will conduct periodic compliance checks to ensure your product continues to meet the standards necessary to remain certified. This monitoring is similar to the initial application process and will include data submission and on-site evaluations. Fees for monitoring are due every 12 months.
Becoming a Certified Organic Food Operation
Adopt organic practices.If you are a producer or handler of farmed products (e.g., produce and meat), you may be able to certify your products as organic. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a certification process that, if successfully applied for, will allow you to use the organic mark and market your products as organic. Before you can apply for certification as an organic food operation, you must use organic practices.Some of these organic practices include increasing soil quality, using organic seeds, rotating your crops, managing pests weeds and diseases, maintaining acceptable living conditions for livestock, maintaining animal health, using organic feed, and avoiding the commingling of organic and non-organic food during processing.
- Be aware that any land used for non-organic farming practices must go through a three year transition period before you can certify as organic. For example, if you used to grow non-organic tomatoes on your land, you will have to transition to organic practices for three full years before you can certify your product as organic.
Contact a USDA-accredited certifying agent.The USDA organic certification process is handled by private, foreign, or state entities that have been accredited by the USDA. These entities are called certifying agents.The USDA keeps an updated list of certifying agents. Look through that list to find a certifying agent near you.When you find a certifying agent, contact them to start the application process.
Submit an application.Your certifying agent will request that you fill out a certification application and submit it. The Application will ask you for a detailed description of the operation you are looking to get certified, a history of substances used on the land during the previous three years, the organic products grown, and a written plan describing the practices and substances you will use to maintain your organic operation.
- You will be required to pay a fee when you submit your application. The amount of your fee will depend on the size, type, and complexity of your operation, as well as who your certifying agent is. In general, the certification fee ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Await the initial review determination.Once your application has been submitted, the certifying agent will review your application. The review will work to verify your application materials in order to ensure that your practices meet the required organic standards.
Help with the on-site inspection.After the initial review, the certifying agent will send an inspector out to your operation to conduct an on-site review. The inspector will look at your land, the products being produced, and the items being used on your land. They will go through your operation to make sure everything in your application matches what is actually being done.
- Once the on-site inspection is complete, the inspector will draft a report and send it to the certifying agent.
Receive certification.Your certifying agent will look through the inspection report, and your completed application, to make sure you have complied with all organic requirements. If your application is accepted, you will receive certification. When you receive certification, your certifying agent will give you an organic certificate.
Use the organic seal.Once you receive organic certification, you will be able to download the USDA Organic Seal and use it on your products. Before you download the seal, make sure you understand how you must use it and what it must look like. This information will vary depending on the type of product you have. You can find all of this information on the USDA website.
Recertify annually.As a certified organic producer or handler you will be required to recertify every year. To do so you will submit an annual update to your certifying agent. An inspector will come out and do an on-site inspection of your operation, which will result in the inspector creating an submitting a report to the certifying agent. The certifying agent will review your annual update and the report to determine if you will maintain your certification.
Finding Other Certification Opportunities
Browse internet resources.While some of the most common certification processes have been discussed in this article, there are certainly other certification opportunities you can take advantage of. Try conducting an internet search for "green business certifications" and see what types of opportunities are out there. For example, the SBA has a website dedicated to green business certification opportunities. That website offers at least 15 ways you can certify your green business.
Contact your state and local governments.Green businesses are not only certified by private companies and organizations. A lot of times, green businesses can get certified through state and local governments as well. For example, in Maine, you can apply for green business certification through the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Ask other green businesses for help.Other businesses can also be a great resource for certification opportunities. If you see a product with some sort of green certification label, or if you hear of a green business in a news article, reach out to that business. Let that business know that you are interested in green certification and ask if you can speak with someone about their journey.
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