Picking the Right Sustainability Path


Green Business, B Corp, Sustainable Development Goals Or ISO;


Picking the Right Sustainability Framework for your Company


Authored by: CAGBN Executive Director Jo Fleming

Operating sustainably can save businesses money and help them gain and retain top talent. More importantly, it sets them apart from their competition. Businesses are increasingly seeking a sustainability framework and third party certifications to communicate their achievements in a meaningful way. Climate Pledges and pay to play self-certifications are meaningless. However, verified and measured actions are something a business can broadcast. It’s hard to know what sustainability framework to pick at first. In this article, CAGBN Executive Director Jo Fleming dives into the differences to help you decide what path is best for your business.

California Green Business Network:

This certification, based in California, has sister programs all over the country. This certification is free in most of California. You get a free sustainability consultant that connects you with all the rebates and services available in your specific municipality. While the program is geared to small and medium sized businesses, many large businesses have used it as a framework for their sustainability program. The best part? Included in the process are environmental outcome metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions saved, kWh saved, water saved, etc. so tracking and touting success is easy.

The certification in California is broken down into 3 tiers: Entry-level, Certified, and Innovator. The entry level tier is a short 12-14-item checklist that includes the big items that often involve utility savings and rebates. It is a no-brainer to do this tier, but you don’t really get much out of it other than cost savings and rebates. The Certified tier is where you get all the bragging rights and free public recognition. It is a longer checklist of ~50+ measures, depending on your industry. The measures are mainly environmental in nature. After a business is certified, they are added to a directory and promoted throughout the region and State. The Innovator tier includes more community and worker well-being measures and yields significantly more bragging rights and more free publicity through the Green Business Network. The Innovator Tier points businesses toward B Corp certification.

B Corp

This growing worldwide certification is gaining traction and for good reason. There are currently over 3500 certified B Corps in 150 different industries in over 71 countries. The B Corp Certification considers people, planet, profit and equity. You’ll need to have your ducks in a row. You’ll need your company’s finance person on hand to supply significant financial data, your HR person for employee data and you’ll need to have significant environmental data. But the process alone gives a roadmap for what is possible. A minimum score of 85 is required to pass but it doesn’t mean your company needs to stop there. You can use the online assessment tool to guide your company’s assent to sustainability. Expect a few follow up questions and calls from the B Corp assessor and use them to guide you in how you might move the sustainability needle.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. They were adopted by 193 Countries in 2015 during the Paris Climate Treaty. There are 17 of them and they can absolutely be guiding principles for your company’s corporate social responsibility.

ISO 140001 Environmental Management System

ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an environmental management system. It helps organizations improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantage and the trust of stakeholders. ISO is not a certifying organization. Third party consultants/auditors will need to be hired to gain certification, making this one of the more pricey and extensive certifications. The once popular gold standard of the nineties and the early 2000s now seems more geared toward Environmental Health and Safety than Sustainability. However, many of the steps that you take in your EMS will give you the data you need for parts of other frameworks. If you have a separate EH&S department, this could be their framework. Alternatively, it could be used to gather data and come up with standard operating procedures that lead to less waste and more efficient use of resources. Be careful not to fall into the SOP quagmire. All too often, professionals spend too much time developing SOPs instead of actually driving beneficial and profitable change.

Size plays a factor in which framework is right for your business. Small and medium sized businesses are better suited for the California Green Business Network Certification. Larger businesses may wish to examine the SDGs or ISO. B corp certification, while extensive and expensive, can fit both small and large businesses although their framework seems mostly geared toward larger businesses.

If you are uncertain, start on the simplest sustainability journey. Get Certified as a Green Business. That certification will help you along the way with the rest.


Healthy Nail Salon gets Certified!


The First Healthy Nail Salon in San Francisco
achieves Green Business Certification

The Upper Hand Nail Spa in Noe Valley recently made history by becoming the first California Green Business Network (CAGBN) certified Nail Salon in California. They are a trailblazing nail salon offering a healthier nail experience, and we are proud to celebrate their commitment to environmental responsibility and safer practices.

Certifying nail salons poses unique challenges due to chemical exposure risks. However, the San Francisco Environment Department administers The Healthy Nail Salons Program, which supports San Francisco’s nail salon workers and customers to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals and improve indoor air quality. With this guidance, The Upper Hand Nail Spa was able to attain full Tier 2 Green Business Certification with the California Green Business Network. The Upper Hand Nail Spa and SF Environment have paved the way for other nail salons to attain certification through most of the 50 Green Business Programs that are part of the California Green Business Network.

Owner Ann Nguyen is committed to going green. She shared with CAGBN, “I want to use products that don’t have toxic chemicals that are harmful to my workers, customers, and myself. I want to leave a healthy environment for my children and for future generations.” In an interview with KQED, the salon was praised for having all the comforts of traditional nail salons without the ever-present chemical smell. 

Are you a business that’s interested in the Green Business Program? 

Green Business Certification can also help your business save money by reducing water, energy, and waste expenses. “The San Francisco Green Business and Healthy Nail Salons programs support the resiliency of small businesses while helping the City reach its sustainability and equity goals,” said Katy Tang, Director of the Office of Small Business. Learn more about certifying your business.

Want to support other Green Businesses? Search for one in your area.


Employee Retention via Wellness

Employee Wellness

Employee health and well-being should be a top priority for running a successful business, especially if you are concerned about retaining your valued employees. According to a survey conducted by Flexjobs, 49% of employees leave due to a lack of healthy work-life boundaries, and many businesses are starting to list employee wellness as a benefit when recruiting. Meeting company targets while maintaining good employee wellness can be a hard balancing act however, especially when running a business in a fast-paced industry. CAGBN has some suggestions for improving employee well-being in the workplace that are simple to implement, but will keep your employees happy, productive, and committed to their job.

  • Encourage work-life balance. Now more than ever, the workforce is learning to prioritize their mental health and cultivate their lives outside of work. Support this! When your team is encouraged to fill their own metaphorical cups outside of the workplace, they contribute to a more productive, healthy, and happy environment. As this interesting piece by the BBC suggests, work-life balance is a moving target and not a simple formula, and therefore may look different for each individual. Get feedback from your team on what they need. Allow for personal time off when possible, and don’t forget how big of an impact the little things can have– like mid-day walks outside. 

  • Be flexible when possible. In the post-pandemic world, many companies now have experience with the work-from-home setup. If it is possible for your business model, consider having hybrid options for your employees. Not only does this reduce the GHG impacts of commuting, it also offers your employees more freedom. Additionally, consider offering flexibility with their schedules. For businesses that don’t have hard start times, consider allowing your employees to develop their own work schedules. 

  • Appreciate varying workstyles. Everyone thrives in different situations. Some people love frequent check-ins to maintain a pulse on a project, while others loathe micromanaging. Figure out how your team works best! You can support them by offering flexibility, and suggesting different management tools that may help. There are tons of online applications available to help your business track projects and maximize productivity, allowing you to know exactly where a project stands without having to disrupt your employee’s workflow.

  • Have an open door policy. Allowing feedback makes it possible for growth and improvement to happen. You can also remove some of the anxiety and welcome more candid constructive criticism if you offer the opportunity for anonymous feedback with a suggestion box or anonymous Google Form.

  • Don’t forget to have fun! Facilitating opportunities for bonding outside of work can be a great way to encourage employee well-being. Consider happy hours, potlucks, or maybe some friendly competition with a game night! In the workplace, also consider having monthly meetings where personal highlights and happy life events can be shared. Fostering personal bonds by sharing your life outside of work increases employee morale and loyalty.
  • Have mission-driven work. Even if your business does not do mission-driven work, you can find ways to bring your employees together for common causes. This could take the form of group excursions to volunteer events at cleanups or shelters. You can also tie meaning to everyday work. Being or working towards being a Certified Green Business has meaning and impact, and can give your employees a sense of pride in where they work. Click here to find out more about the benefits of Green Business Certification!

Sustainable Holiday Tips

Sustainable Holiday Tips

Holiday shopping can not only hurt the wallet, but the over-consumption of goods that tends to happen during the gift-giving season can also harm the environment. This is especially challenging if your business hosts a gift exchange for the holidays as employees may not know what to give someone, and end up gifting unwanted items. Fortunately, there are ways to limit your impact by creating unconventional gift exchanges, selecting eco-friendly products, or gifting an experience. Here are some tips to help keep your festivities sustainable:

  • Charitable gifts: One great way to have a sustainable holiday is to skip the physical gifts altogether and donate to a charity the recipient cares about in their name. If you plan on hosting a gift exchange, ask employees to list their favorite charities instead and facilitate ways to donate to them. You may also want to consider setting up an Employee Match Program where employees can donate to their favorite charity year-round and donations are matched by the employer. 

  • Homemade Gifts: Consider homemade gifts this year, like baked goods or a knitted scarf. Presents with a homemade touch are more sustainable, especially if you repurpose items that would normally be thrown away. But what if you are not the crafty or cooking type of person? Fortunately, online tutorials for ideas are endless with items that are easy to make with step-by-step instructions. You can search the internet for DIY sustainable gift tutorials, or try browsing the Sustainable Cook’s list of homemade items for some inspiration! 

  • Gift Experiences: Sometimes those hardest to shop for would love to create a memory over receiving something they might not want or even use. Gift a cooking class membership, tickets to a museum, or if they are adventurous, perhaps a gift certificate for bungee jumping or sky diving is more their speed. The options are endless and will be sure to be remembered. Need some inspiration? Check out this article!

  • Eco-friendly gifts: Many stores offer eco-friendly gifts that are either made from reused or recycled materials, and help you live more sustainably. Gifts can include things like upcycled jewelry or clothing, reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, and cutlery sets, or solar powered devices and chargers. There are tons of options available. Here’s a short list of options to help give you some ideas. 

  • Shop local (and green): We all know that shopping local helps keep small businesses in business. It is also the sustainable way to shop as it helps to reduce your carbon footprint, especially if you use alternative transportation and patronize Green Businesses. This year, why not support other Green Businesses in your community, and be sure to let them know you are also a Green Business! Find a Green Business

  • Wrap sustainably: If you do choose to give gifts, save money and the environment by taking the zero waste approach to wrapping them. Utilize old newspapers and paper bags as wrapping paper, styling with twine or plants for added flair. Another option is the ancient Japanese practice of Furoshiki, a way of wrapping gifts with cloth. This is an easy way to customize your gift using material that is likely already around the house, as well as keeping material out of the landfill.  Check out this article on how to utilize household items for zero waste gift wrapping. 

Happy Holidays! 


COVID Ventilation & Cleaning

Covid Cleaning

As we move into our third year of COVID-19, we have learned a lot about the virus and how to best protect ourselves. As researchers have confirmed, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is much higher for airborne transmission than in surface transmission. In fact, a professor at Michigan Public Health estimates that surface transmission is 1,000 times lower. While this alleviates some fear, cleaning and disinfecting properly are still important in curbing the spread of illnesses, especially on high-touch surfaces such as door knobs and handles. Since 2020, more resources and studies have become available that alleviate some of the uncertainty we experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. Read our updated cleaning recommendations, based off of CDC guidelines, that will help you safely disinfect your business without needing to compromise your health and environmental impact.

Safer Cleaning Products Work
It is a common misconception that “green cleaning” products do not work as well as “conventional” ones. We are here to reassure you, if you are using products with the correct active ingredients as directed, they are just as effective as conventional products. They are also safer for you, your employees, and your customers to be around. Selecting CAGBN permitted cleaning products also allows you to use less harmful chemicals that can leach into the environment. 

Clean before disinfecting
The CDC recommends always cleaning with soap and water prior to using disinfectants. This ensures that there is less debris interfering with the disinfectant’s efficacy. For more information on how to properly clean different types of surfaces within your business or facility, check out the CDC’s guidelines here. One of CAGBN’s core Green Business Practices is to use cleaning products (including anything from hand soap to all-purpose cleaner) that are either GreenSeal, EPA Safer Choice, or EWG rated ‘B’ or higher.  This ensures less environmental and health implications than traditional products. 

CAGBN recommends businesses to use the least harmful products in the lowest quantity possible in order to disinfect facilities. While we require our Certified Green Businesses to use hydrogen peroxide-based products rather than those that contain bleach, other safer cleaning products are available with active ingredients such as citric acid, lactic acid, ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol or just alcohol), isopropyl alcohol, peroxyacetic acid, or hypochlorous acid. *Note: Green Seal reminds us that “The combination of hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid is a designated AOEC asthmagen, so avoid products that contain both.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came out with the List N Tool database of products that meets their criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Although this comprehensive database can be helpful, especially if you are looking for more specialized disinfectants, it can be a bit overwhelming for some to navigate. If you find this to be the case for you, we recommend checking out the abbreviated list of less environmentally harmful products from Green Seal, all of which are also included in the EPA database. And a reminder: always use products as directed by the manufacturer printed on the label. 

Keep your business well ventilated 
Now that we know more about COVID-19 transmission, we know that it can be transmitted through direct contact as well as via airborne transmission. No matter how much you disinfect your business, it will not help to stop airborne transmission. Businesses can keep employees safer by ensuring your facility is well ventilated and your HVAC system is properly maintained. Below are some suggestions provided by the CDC (find their full list of recommendations here): 

  • Encourage outdoor air in your facility: Open windows and doors, as weather allows, to allow for natural air flow. 
  • Circulate indoor air with fans: In combination with open windows, add fans in strategically placed locations to increase ventilation. FAQs on this here 
  • Optimize central air filtration: Make sure your HVAC filters are regularly changed (at least twice per year) 
  • Use portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to enhance air cleaning  

Go Above and Beyond Cleaning 
Cleaning and disinfecting your business can help protect you and your employees from COVID-19, but cannot prevent it altogether. That being said, there are things you can do to help prevent the spread of any illness. Here are some additional suggestions to help keep your employees healthy: 

  • Although mask mandates and social distancing restrictions have been lifted, many people will still choose to wear a mask to protect themselves or an immunocompromised loved one. Provide surgical masks for employees and customers, and communicate to your employees that those who choose to wear a mask will be supported by your company. 
  • Continue to encourage standard health precautions. Hang signs in your bathrooms to remind people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, and to cover their coughs and sneezes. 
  • Expand sick leave for your employees and encourage them to stay home if feeling ill. Invest in equipment that allows employees to work from home if possible.
  • Provide vaccination clinics for your employees at your place of business. Many people can’t take time off to get a flu or Covid vaccine. Hosting a vaccine clinic at your place of business makes it easy for your employees to get vaccinated, and will save your company money in the long run by ensuring employees stay healthy. Contact your health care representative to see if this is an option for your business.
  • Keep up to date with the CDC’s current health and prevention guidelines and recommendations.