What Makes a Business Green?

By Michael Kramer

The economic cloud of a generation may have a green lining. Despite the downturn, consumer spending on green products and services continues to increase. While surveys illustrates that one in three consumers admit not having enough education to tell whether green product claims are true, four of five consumers continue to buy products that claim to be easy on Mother Earth, while one out of every five are purchasing even more of them than they did before the recession.

While this is encouraging news, the question remains: what exactly are green businesses? For some, they are simply sectors of the economy that increase the capacity of society to be more ecologically sustainable through renewable energy, organic food, natural fibers, recycled and biodegradable products, green building, environmental remediation, energy efficiency, and electric and biofuel cars.

But a broader definition of green includes

a variety of other sectors and criteria that address socially redeeming economic development goals: affordable housing, public transportation, disaster recovery, effective education, natural medicine, holistic health and healthy lifestyles, and mixed-use land-use planning. Moreover, other environmental, social and governance factors penetrate all segments of the economy, as they reflect business practices applicable to all enterprises large and small. Examples of these practices found in green business programs nationwide can be divided into several categories:


  • Third party quality & safety rating
  • Durability (non-disposable and long-lasting products)
  • Licensure/certification/other objective evaluation
  • Continuous quality improvement program
  • Warranties/money-back guarantees


  • Satisfaction feedback mechanism
  • After sale/service customer follow-up
  • Accounts with monthly billing
  • Frequent purchaser/user discount
  • Local or resident discount
  • Free pick-up or delivery
  • Discounts/incentives for referring new customers
  • No-interest payment plans
  • Sliding scale pricing structure and/or barter
  • Products or services aimed at marginalized populations


  • Unique hiring and retention efforts
  • Livable wages and benefits packages
  • Progressive leave and vacation policies such as flex-time, telecommuting
  • Excellent working conditions
  • Incentives to serve community
  • Wellness program
  • Commitment to diversity in promotion and management
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Worker rights policy and code of conduct


  • Analyze and screen local suppliers according to ethical criteria
  • Make or sell fair trade products
  • Local purchasing and sales emphasis
  • No exploitative or child labor
  • Make charitable contributions, volunteer, allow use of facilities by community groups, and sponsor community events
  • Participate in community organizing coalitions or efforts


  • Efforts to minimize harmful impact and conserve resources
  • Waste recovery and recycling program
  • Organic and non-toxic products
  • Natural fiber products
  • Hormone-free and GMO-free products
  • Products not tested on animals
  • Minimal or recycled-material packaging
  • Recycled, recyclable, reused, or sustainably harvested materials
  • Accept used items for reuse/recycling
  • Renewable or regenerative resources or energy
  • Energy and water conservation
  • Pollution control process
  • On-site stewardship activities
  • Erosion control
  • Reforestation and revegetation
  • Use of reclaimed water
  • Water harvesting
  • Natural or “green” building materials
  • Native species, drought-tolerant landscaping

For additional example national green business criteria and marketplaces, visit betterworldshopper.com, goodguide.com, greenamerica.org, bcorporation.net, worldofgood.com, etsy.com, and responsibleshopper.org.

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Michael Kramer

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