Let’s Grow Better

Let’s Grow Better


By Jo Fleming, Executive Director, California Green Business Network and YaVette Holts, Founder and CEO of Bay Area Organization of Black Owned Businesses (BAOBOB)

We offer free services to businesses that give them an advantage, provides funding and resources, and promotion. Any business in California can take advantage of our services. Does that make our service equitable? Equal yes, but equitable no. 

Large businesses hire sustainability professionals and make a significant effort and investment to operate sustainably. Why? Because it pencils out, and their customers like it. Small businesses don’t have the resources or know how to do this. That’s why the Green Business Program was first created in Alameda County in the mid-90s. Small to medium-sized businesses needed a framework and guidance to operate sustainably. The program was wildly successful from the start and grew from one California County to 42 different municipalities and 7 other States in two decades and over 4200 Certified Green Businesses. But that growth has come with some gaps and blind spots.

In 2013, we overlaid a map of California showing the locations of our Certified Green  Businesses with the newly developed CalEnviroscreen map. We were horrified to see that there were little to no Certified Green Businesses in the communities most impacted by poverty, pollution, and lack of education…just to name a few of the data markers used by CalEnviroscreen. We knew we needed to do better. We wanted our program to benefit the communities that most needed it.

We formed an AdHoc Committee, brought in key people that were working on environmental equity around the state. We spent the next five years adding Green Business Programs in areas colored red and orange on the CalEnviroscreen map. We started filling in the map. But as we were celebrating our efforts, we realized while we were filling in the map, anecdotal evidence indicated that we were still reaching more affluent, white-owned businesses. We were still missing a large swath of the demographics of our State. We needed to step back and take another, harder look at how we let businesses know about our services. We started working with trusted Community Based Organizations to reach Black, Brown, Indigenous, Person-of Color (BBIPOC) owned businesses.

“I’m on your website. There’s nothing here that tells me this program is for my community.” Those were the tough words that YaVette from the Bay Area Organization for Black-Owned Businesses (BAOBOB) recently gave Jo from the California Green Business Network (CAGBN). The CAGBN wants BBIPOC owned businesses to gain the Green Business advantage. We want more Black-owned businesses to get certified, save money, gain a marketing advantage. We connected with YaVette to see how we could make that happen. 

Businesses are growing better by looking toward sustainability as a guiding principle. 

The key pillars of sustainability are human, social, economic, and environmental.  By taking a close look at some of the external costs to society of doing business  (externalities that generally negate both growth and profit) we can all grow better together. Too often a community’s quality of life falls to the wayside and profit-focused businesses are allowed to pay low wages, generate toxic byproducts and careless waste. When we allow that, we all lose. Certified Green Businesses move their businesses toward sustainability, improving the defense against the external societal costs of doing business. Their employees are happier and their patrons grow more loyal and frequent.

A funny thing happens when an organization whose focus is on sustainability in business operations has to take a deeper look at its own human and social aspects of sustainability. We have to be honest with ourselves and our stakeholders on where we are and what we need to change. That honesty has been liberating and can lead us to pursue necessary change with urgency, but it can also be scary. 

It reminds us of the vulnerability our businesses feel when they first enroll in the program. “I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t think we’re doing any of this. I don’t know that we can do any of it! We’re just so busy staying afloat as a small business.” We hear this often! Our response: “It’s not as hard as you think it might be. We’ll break it down into manageable chunks. We have resources and will help you every step of the way. The advantages of Green Business Certification will help your business grow.”

“I was impressed by how quickly they made the change.  I mean, you had the photo changed out before we finished the call!”  That kind of responsiveness is what’s needed and that’s our commitment to integrity.  Action over posture.

CAGBN and BAOBOB are working together to introduce Black-owned businesses to the strongest benefits of Green Business certification and to be responsive and supportive in the certification process.  What we’re learning in this collaboration will positively impact so many of our community partnerships throughout the state like The Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce’s Fresno Green Business Program,  The Fresno Hispanic Foundation. The San Mateo Green Business Program, El Concilio in East Palo Alto, the Peninsula Chinese Business Association and the Hispanic Committee of the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce. 

It rang clear as a bell, in a recent conversation with YaVette. She said she wanted to lead our campaign with the phrase “Let’s Grow Better”.  Right then I realized that it applies as much to CAGBN and our own programming as it does to the businesses we are committed to serving. This is going to be a great year for growing better.

Ten Ways to Celebrate Earth Day from Home

Updated April 2021

It’s April, and Earth Month! This year is the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Due to the global Coronavirus/COVID-19 challenge, there will likely be fewer in-person events, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Many of the events will be postponed, not canceled, and all of us can still celebrate from home! Below we’ve detailed ten great ways to celebrate Earth Day and Earth Month 2021:

1. Watch Earth Day Live!

Sign-up for details at https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/


2. Do a Solo Beach/Stream/River Clean-up 

EarthDay.org had a HUGE plan to launch thousands of clean-ups globally via the “Great Global Cleanup” but unfortunately, these events are on hold as COVID-19 spreads. This is a great activity to do solo or *with your immediate household* if permitted in your area. Collect trash using gloves and a bucket or bags. Wear your mask, and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or food.


3. Do an Upcycled Art Project

Check out this list of fun projects! 30 Earth Day Crafts and Activities Using Recycled Materials


4. Sign an Environmental Petition via Patagonia Action Works!


5. Donate to an Environmental Non-Profit

Find a non-profit near you that is helping our planet and give them a contribution to support their efforts and help them through this uncertain period. Consider supporting a certified Green Business non-profit, a few that work statewide (or globally!) are listed below. More can be found in our business directory.

Certified Green Business Environmental Non-Profits

Organization Focus Donation/Learn More
Algalita Work to shift the behaviors of people on land to reduce the plastics in the oceans. Donate to Algalita
Center for Environmental Health Protects the environment and population from dangerous chemicals through education and advocacy. Donate to CEH
Climate Action Reserve Encourage action to reduce GHG emissions by promoting the environmental impact and financial benefit of emissions reduction projects. Donate to Climate Action Reserve
Coalition For Clean Air (CCA) Working on air quality issues statewide. Goal: Protect public health, improve air quality, and prevent climate change. Donate to Coalition for Clean Air
Ecology Action Help reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency programs, reduce water use, and run transportation programs. Donate to Ecology Action
Food Forward Fight hunger and food waste by rescuing surplus produce and connecting it to those in need. Donate to Food Forward
Matter of Trust Facilitate programs that link surplus with needs, promote naturally abundant renewable resources, and create inspirational ecological sites. Donate to Matter of Trust
Natural Resources Defense Council Help safeguard the Earth through policy, advocacy, regulation, and a large community of supporters. Donate to NRDC
Pollinator Partnership Initiatives to protect the well-being of nature’s pollinators at the government and industry level, as well as public education programs. Donate to Pollinator Partnership
Sierra Club Work towards climate solutions and conservation, utilizing philanthropic and grassroots advocacy. Donate to Sierra Club
Surfrider Foundation Dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network. Donate to Surfrider Foundation
The Pachamama Alliance Fight for indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest to protect and conserve their lands. Global community working for a sustainable future. Donate to The Pachamama Alliance



6. Support Green Businesses

Why: Certified Green Businesses save water, energy, and waste and have been certified by your local Green Business Program. By supporting them, you’re shopping your values and keeping the Green Economy going!

How: It’s easy to find Green Businesses near you that are doing their part to reduce their impact and help make their communities more sustainable.

Two Easy Ways to Find a Green Business Near You

  1. Search our Green Business Directory.
  2. Download the Shop Green App (new iOS version!) here or Android version here.


7. Start a Covid-19 Victory Garden

Why: Now is a great time to start your very own Covid-19 Victory Garden to help keep your family a bit more resilient and have some hyper-local produce this summer. 

How: Plant a Victory Garden to combat coronavirus fears and isolation


8. Get Solar Quotes

Why: Reduce your energy bills and produce clean power for your home and the grid. We regularly saw 4-7 year payback times on solar systems in 2020. Most companies can provide a quote virtually making this a great stay-at-home activity! 

How: We recommend getting quotes from one of our trusted Green Business solar installers, check the directory here. If there aren’t any near you, check out EnergySage to get multiple quotes at once, energysage.com.


9. Sign-up for a Local Organic CSA

Why: Support local jobs, cut out the middleman, boost organic agriculture, and this is a minimal contact way to get fresh produce!

How: Search the Local Harvest directory, talk to vendors at your local farmer’s market, ask friends! Google CSA near me and you’ll find even more options.


10. Make the Switch! Up Your Energy Savings in 2021

Saving energy at home is much easier than most people think. Here’s where the opportunity exists in a typical US household according to the EIA:

Save on Water Heating

Tweak Your Temp

Turning down your water heater’s temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit saves 3 to 5 percent on your energy cost!

Wash with Cold

75% of the energy used for a load of laundry comes from heating the water (source)! Using cold water also helps clothing last longer (lowering its impact). Set the washer to the “bright colors” or cold water setting and use a healthy detergent option that works well with cold water (we recommend GreenSeal, EPA Safer Choice, or UL Ecologo certified options).

Shorten Your Showers

Save energy AND water! Use an efficient shower head that flows at 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM), this swap alone may save 30%-50%. Try to keep your shower time to 5-10 minutes maximum and you’ll be on your way to savings!

Save on Lighting

Switch to LEDs

Save ~50% by switching CFLs or fluorescent bulbs to LEDs.

Save ~90% by switching incandescent bulbs to LEDs.

Search for replacement bulbs at your local hardware store (see if there’s a Green Business option near you here) or online, make sure the profile and color temperature of the bulbs fit your needs. Note: Prioritize switching bulbs that are used for the most hours each day, then slowly switch less frequently used bulbs.


Save on Space Heating and Cooling


Keeping your heating and cooling ducts inside the conditioned space of your home will reduce energy loss.

Seal It Up

Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping or caulk. Look to see if a free energy audit is available in your area once this health crisis passes.

Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats help you monitor your system from your phone anywhere. Make sure heating/cooling aren’t left on and follow these recommendations: Heat your home to 68° or cooler, let it drop to 60° or lower at night. Cool your home to 78° or warmer. 

Find more ideas at www.energyupgradeca.org



The California Green Business Network is ready and willing to help your local businesses improve their triple bottom line *virtually* during this Coronavirus crisis. Refer a business to us by reaching out to your local Program Director here or get your business started on its Green Business certification journey, here.


The California Green Business Network helps local businesses conserve energy, water, minimize waste, prevent pollution, and shrink their carbon footprints through a voluntary certification available statewide. This important work takes place thanks to the generous support of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and many legislative champions from across the State.

4,500+ certified California Green Businesses combined to achieve some impressive environmental outcomes in 2020:

Learn about the California Green Business Network, how to become a Green Business, or where you can support Green Businesses near you at greenbusinessca.org.

How Small Businesses Can Temporarily Adapt

Fire and Small Business Resources

Photo: Dagmar Dolatschko

The most recent updates are added at the top. (Last Updated: 8/26/20)

California Fire Resources:

Local, State, and Federal Guidance to Businesses:


COVID-19 Resources:

Other Resources:

Have a resource to add? Email it to sorgelolson@environmentalin.com


How Small Businesses Can Temporarily Adapt

Author: Josephine Fleming, Executive Director of the California Green Business Network

As the president of a small business in Santa Cruz, and the Executive Director of a nonprofit serving small and medium-sized businesses across California, I have a deep appreciation of the dilemmas and decisions business owners face today. We are making decisions with many uncertainties, knowing they directly impact our employees, customers, and our own bottom line. 

Given our focus on costs and profit, and knowing that in the midst of this crisis we’re unlikely to increase revenue, we may well choose to cut staff. And frankly, for some that may be the only path. For other businesses, it may be time for a deep breath and to rethink options to stay afloat until more information is available. 

I propose that, instead of preemptively cutting staff expenses, business owners consider using this downtime to complete important, cost-saving projects that in busier times often get overshadowed by urgent tasks. 

I encourage business owners to use this time to consider how they can broaden their calculation of the bottom line to include people and planet — the so-called triple bottom line. If you’re a business owner that can keep staff even a few more days, why not: 

  • Use this time to educate staff on clean and green practices and demonstrate your commitment to a green future.
  • Research and purchase cleaning products that are hygienic without being toxic. 
  • Schedule consultations with solar companies to start saving now on energy bills.
  • Sign up for the myriad of online tools that help reduce your energy bills.
  • Set up online billing and other paper-saving systems to save money and reduce waste.
  • Research long-term cost-cutting as well as revenue-generating projects.
  • Engage green experts at no cost to help you overcome the heightened public health needs of today without creating public and environmental health hazards tomorrow.

Our team continues to work to assist businesses to become Certified Green Businesses during this time, providing remote assistance through phone and web video. If interested, enroll here. For currently certified businesses, many of our Green Business Programs can offer remote review for your upcoming recertifications.

The latest research and trends in countries that first had cases of COVID-19 suggest that within the next couple of weeks, the scale of its reach will be more clear. That knowledge will help us all plan better. Meanwhile, let’s be creative. Let’s use what resources we have to create and invest in long term benefits for our people, planet and profit.

Green Business Cleaning and Disinfecting During COVID-19

Colorful Spray Bottles COVID-19 Coronavirus

One thing is clear: We are entering a public health crisis and it is time to do our part to minimize the risk to the most vulnerable in society. Cleaning and disinfecting are part of the toolkit that is required to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak. Frequently touched surfaces throughout our houses and places of work are a great place to introduce best practices. There are ways to manage proper cleaning and disinfection without compromising our health and Green Business Practices by using safer, less toxic products. Many of our Certified Green Businesses asked for guidance on this and the California Green Business Network is happy to share it broadly.

Now might be the perfect time to get Certified as a Green Business with the California Green Business Network. We can do the work with your business virtually. Find out how at www.greenbusinessca.org. The California Green Business Network is a non-profit that helps local businesses conserve energy, water, minimize waste, prevent pollution, and shrink their carbon footprints. Your donation will help us serve small businesses, in diverse communities, throughout the state. Donate Here

1. Cleaning

Start by cleaning high touch surfaces with soap and water. Wear reusable gloves while cleaning and make sure they are only used for cleaning against COVID-19. After cleaning with gloves, wash your hands with soap and water immediately. See the full guidance from the CDC here. The California Green Business Network (CAGBN) always recommends that our businesses use cleaning chemicals (including soap) that are GreenSeal, EPA Safer Choice, or EWG ‘B’ rated or higher to make sure they’re the best for human health.

2. Disinfecting

Let’s clear the air on sanitizers: CAGBN regularly recommends using the least toxic disinfectants possible for the job. We are pleased that many of the products we regularly recommend are on the “EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus…” list, and want to share those with you as well. Our friends at Green Seal also put out a guide to disinfection and so did the Environmental Working Group.

Hydrogen Peroxide-based Cleaners

    • Peroxide Multi-Surface Cleaner and Disinfectant
    • Peroxide Disinfectant and Glass Cleaner RTU
    • Clorox Commercial Solutions® Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner Disinfectant – Spray
    • Clorox Commercial Solutions® Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner Disinfectant – Wipes
    • Oxivir Wipes
    • Oxy-Team Disinfectant Cleaner
    • Oxivir Tb
    • Oxivir 1
    • Oxivir 1 Wipes

Ethyl Alcohol-based Cleaners

    • URTH PRO
    • Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes
    • Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant

Thymol-Based Cleaners

    • Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray Eucalyptus, Spearmint & Thyme
    • Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray, Fresh Citrus & Thyme
    • Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray, Lavender Vanilla & Thyme
    • Seventh Generation Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner, Lemongrass Citrus Scent Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner

The List of Better Active Ingredients (if it’s not on here, it’s probably best to avoid)

    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)
    • Citric acid
    • L-lactic acid
    • Caprylic acid (octanoic acid)
    • Thymol

3. How to Make a DIY Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner, from Consumer Reports:

According to the CDC, household (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide is effective in deactivating rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, within 6 to 8 minutes of exposure. Rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy than coronaviruses, so hydrogen peroxide should be able to break down coronavirus in less time. Pour it undiluted into a spray bottle and spray it on the surface to be cleaned, but let it sit on the surface for several minutes.” Note it may discolor fabrics.

IMPORTANT: Good surface cleaning and sanitizers won’t be enough to slow the pandemic. Make sure to follow the CDC’s full set of recommendations to prevent COVID-19 illness:

    • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water, count to 20 and get the backs of hands, between fingers, etc.!o If no water around is hand sanitizers with 60+ alcohol
    • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • Work from home (if possible) and offer this option to your employees. This helps slow the spread and has proven to reduce air pollution which is helpful when dealing with respiratory illnesses.
    • Expand paid sick leave.
    • Cancel in-person meetings and events.
    • Keep your distance from others (six feet+), COVID-19 can be spread through the air just by breathing.

If you’re at all sick:

    • Stay home and avoid contact with others – review CDC isolation recommendations.
    • Cover your cough, sneeze into a tissue then throw away and wash your hands immediately.
    • Wear a face mask when you’re around anyone else.
    • Contact a medical professional if your symptoms match those of COVID-19, and ask for instructions on what to do next.

Managing Energy Use with Demand-Side Management

Demand-side management (DSM) strategies can help Green Businesses achieve their certification but sorting through the various DSM options can be overwhelming. Through its AutoDR workforce development project, the Center for Sustainable Energy is here to offer free technical support!

What is DSM?

DSM refers to reducing your current energy use through manual or automated means. Utilities typically offer programs and incentives for demand response (DR) and automated demand response (AutoDR) which are aimed at reducing energy consumption when demand is high. DR activities can be as simple as turning down excess lighting during a DR event. An AutoDR system can do this automatically when utilities request.

Benefits of DSM

Implementing DSM strategies can provide multiple benefits to customers and the grid including

  • Lower utility bills
  • Reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Financial incentives
  • Reduced dependence on polluting peaker plants 
  • Increased grid reliability

DSM programs and incentives

Programs like Peak Day Pricing, Capacity Bidding Programs and Time of Use reward customers for using clean power when it is most plentiful and fro reducing their use during peak periods. PG&E and SCE customers may also be eligible for DR/AutoDR incentives to cover technology installation costs. These incentive programs include:

DSM for small businesses

DR?AutoDR technology may not be feasible for small and micro-businesses. However, there are low-cost DSM strategies that don’t involve installing technology such as 

  • Unplugging appliances when not in use 
  • Turning off unnecessary interior/exterior lighting, signage and equipment
  • Shifting energy usage to different times of the day where possible

Free support from the Center of Sustainability (CSE)

Through CSE’s AutoDR workforce development project, CSE and its partners provide support to small and medium businesses interested in participating in DSM programs by helping select the DSM strategy best suited to its size, energy demand, and operations.

Businesses: For businesses well-suited for AutoDR, CSE can work with the business to determine which program and incentives are best, connect the business to qualifies electrical contractors and provide assistance to the contractor during installation.

California Green Business Network (CAGBN): CSE also supports CAGBN coordinators and can help prepare for a DSM conversation, identify technical assistance opportunities and answer questions about DR and DSM strategies. 

Further resources and support  

CSE recently partnered with CAGBN to host a webinar that covers DR, AutoDR, and how these strategies can help green businesses achieve their Green Business certification from CAGBN. View webinar recording on YouTube 

For further questions and support contact Kelsey Albers Zitos (Senior Coordinator, CSE): kelsy.albers@energycenter.org