Learn what it means to be a green business

Learn what it means to be a green business, some terminology, and how to become green.

In this series, we will share a lot about starting and growing a green business. In this article, you’ll learn what exactly it means to be a green business, some terminology, and how to become green.

What is a “green business”?

A “green business” can be defined as an organization that uses renewable resources (environmentally sustainable) and holds itself accountable for the human resource aspect of their activities (socially responsible).

Being green requires developing an attitude toward sustainability and practices that can be incorporated into our everyday lives.  Being a green business means changing the way a business purchases, develops, produces, and provides products and services so it has a positive impact on the environment. Think of the planet as a warehouse of goods.  When you use the goods, you have to pay for them with money or fair trade.  When you use the environment’s resources, you have to pay the environment back to offset your consumption.

Shades of green

There is a misconception that “becoming a green business” means being a radical “environmentalist” from the “green movement” of the past.  This is NOT the case.  Think of the old “green movement” as “dark green” and “becoming a green business” as a “bright green”.  There are many shades of green in between.  You will have to decide what shade of green you want your business to be.

To help you decide what shade you want to be, ask yourself these ten questions.

  1. What are my reasons for becoming green?
  2. Are there any market factors involved?
  3. How does being green integrate with my business plan?
  4. How does being green give me a competitive edge?
  5. Am I starting a new green business or am I running an existing business that wants to slowly move toward being green?
  6. Do I want to be 100% green or are there areas I will not be green?
  7. In any area where I cannot go green, how can I offset my consumption?
  8. Do I want to have my business certified as being green?
  9. Are there any green groups in my area, or should I start one?
  10. When choosing to purchase products and services, how do I qualify them as green?

Choosing which shade of green – a practical example of picking a green product

Recently, many companies have chosen to make reusable shopping bags available to their customers.  Each has chosen a different approach.  Company ‘A’ chose to provide large bags made of a thick blue plastic material with cloth handles imprinted with their logo.  Company ‘B’ chose to go with black cloth bags with their logo imprinted on the side, and Company ‘C’ went with small cloth bags made of hemp and had their logo imprinted using soy-based inks.  Each company thinks they made a good “green” choice.  As you can see from this example, Company ‘C’ chose the most environmentally friendly product, but is it really the “greenest” if it is too small to hold enough products?  Will people continue to use it or just throw it away?

What terms do I need to learn?

There are a number of new “green” terms you will need to familiarize yourself with.

Sustainable / Sustainability

“Sustainability” refers to three areas, environmental, economic, and social.  It is about making choices that meet your needs without compromising the needs of future generations.

  • Environmental Sustainability” refers to maintaining the quality and longevity of environmental resources used by the business.  This can include energy, water, waste management, emissions, etc.  If a business puts back 100% of the natural resources it consumes, it is considered an “environmentally sustainable” business.  This is because it replenishes the very resources it depends on.  If a business consumes more resources than nature can replenish, uses too much energy, or causes excess waste / pollution, it is not considered sustainable.
  • Economic Sustainability” includes the overall financial model and productivity of a company.  The income and expenses must provide for a financially sustainable business. If a business is constantly going deeper into debt, it is not financially sustainable. In our context it also refers to evaluating the products and services you purchase to determine if they are “more sustainable” or “less sustainable”.  For example, purchasing energy-saving Compact Florescent Lights (CFLs) is considered a “more sustainable” choice.
  • “Social Responsibility” refers to social impact of a business.  It includes ethical principles, giving back to society, health & safety, respect for human rights, equal opportunities, fair compensation, and ensuring a high quality of life. It involves eliminating unethical and corrupt behavior. It involves thoroughly investigating your sources to ensure they provide fair compensation for work performed, provide a safe work environment, and do not violate human rights in the treatment of their workers. It may also include doing things for the local community, educating / helping others, participating in community groups or your local city and chamber of commerce.

Carbon Footprint

“Carbon Footprint” refers to your impact on the environment.  It refers to measuring how much carbon dioxide does a particular activity, purchase, or product produces. For example, driving a car to the store produces a much larger carbon footprint than does walking to the store, as it produces much more carbon dioxide.

“Carbon Offsets” or “Carbon Credits”

“Carbon Offsets” or “Carbon Credits” refers to offsetting your carbon footprint instead of reducing your own carbon footprint. This used to mean planting a lot of trees to offset your carbon output. Today, this means purchasing carbon credits from a company that offsets carbon emissions. This is commonly used to compensate for air travel or use of an automobile.  For example, if you take a plane to travel somewhere, you can buy carbon offsets to compensate the environment for your production of carbon dioxide. Be careful and thoroughly research a company before buying carbon credits.


“VOC” refers to Volatile Organic Compounds.  These include paints/thinners, dry cleaning chemicals, petroleum products, and tobacco.  Sources can also include copy machines, carpets and products containing formaldehyde, such as particle-board-based furniture and cabinets.

Why do businesses become “green”?

Some people have heard of global warming and want to learn what they can do about helping to slow the process.  Some see other businesses going green and aspire to be as successful.  Some simply see it as a market trend while others realize the actual benefits to the planet and future generations.  Whatever your motivations are, the planet will appreciate your efforts to not only reduce your overall impact on the environment, but your efforts to restore it.  Your business will benefit from it.

How do businesses become “green”?

Becoming a green business involves a learning curve where business owners learn how other businesses have changed their business practices, then make changes to their own practices that are appropriate to their line of business.  It can involve a certification process.

Becoming a certified green business can be difficult and confusing, as there are no commonly defined standards.  Each organization has its own requirements to qualify.  They all require you to go beyond achieving basic regulatory compliance and take additional measures to become sustainable.  Some organizations have a standard that they apply to everyone, while others are more flexible and adapt their requirements to your line of business.  They all seem to have some common areas for which they judge your business.

  • Compliance with all environmental regulations
  • Pollution prevention
  • Conserving energy, water and other natural resources
  • Reducing waste
  • Controlling chemicals & hazardous materials
  • Tracking resource use
  • Educating employees and customers
  • Introducing green practices to other businesses
  • Don’t forget that you will need a tagline – Become Green, Be Green, Stay Green…

Some organizations require you to integrate additional practices such as verifying the fair treatment of the human resources used to produce products you buy, use and sell.

When you first encounter Green Businesses, you may run into logos and terminology that are somewhat foreign to you.  You have likely seen the “recycling logo” on cans, bottles, and recycle bins.  But do you understand the meaning behind it?

Understand the Three R’s

The “Three R’s” are not the old “Reading wRiting and ‘Rithmetic” we were taught years ago. They stand for the “Three-R’s” of the waste hierarchy, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  The commonly used symbol of the three R’s is a logo with three rotating arrows.  To eliminate your carbon footprint, you must Reduce your Consumption and Waste, Reuse what you have, and Recycle everything you can.

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