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.

An Unprecedented Year in Review

An Unprecedented Year in Review

The past year brought with it an onslaught of challenges for businesses and individuals alike. As we emerge from 2020, we want to look back on what we were still able to achieve together.  Above are the metrics for our Network’s collective environmental impact in 2020. 

We also made strides towards becoming a more inclusive network. Our new Equity Committee has been working hard to assess our organization. In 2020 they surveyed our existing certified Green Businesses to better understand the demographics of the network and what we can do to reach underserved businesses and areas of the State. Our biannual statewide conference included reviewing the continuum on multicultural organizations, and allowed member cities and counties to have deep discussions regarding diversity within our organization and the businesses we serve, the issue of green gentrification, and more. We will continue to have these important and difficult conversations as we move forward into the coming year. 

Be Energy Efficient in 2021!

Be Energy Efficient in 2021!

As we enter the new year and the colder months, it is the perfect time to start implementing sustainability resolutions. Ensure that your homes and businesses are operating as efficiently as possible–for the sake of the planet AND your utility bills! Here are a few high impact methods to save energy and, in most cases, money too

  • Make sure that your heater is cleaned out and filters are replaced every year. If you also have A/C, make that twice a year! You’ll use less energy, have cleaner air, and give your equipment a longer lifespan.
  • Upgrade your lighting! Install all LED bulbs. LEDs have come a long way in their lighting quality and price. The savings should be apparent in your energy bills and it’s worth making the switch right away, even if existing bulbs aren’t burned out yet. The operating cost of incandescent bulbs is on average five times higher than the operating costs of LEDs.
  • Furthermore, It’s time to switch out non-LED T8s! Although T8s have been the preferred alternative to the less efficient T12s in the world of linear fluorescent lights (LFLs), it is important that we keep making progress and phase out of LFLs altogether. Fluorescent lighting contains mercury (harmful to the planet and ourselves), while LEDs do not. LED T8s are 30-50% more efficient than their fluorescent counterparts — making them well worth the investment. 
  • Another way to kickstart your sustainability resolution is to learn more about your local options for 100% renewable energy. Follow the links below to learn more about the options from your provider. 
  • Make 2021 the year of electrification! Take the leap and install electric heat pumps for space heating, space cooling, and water heating. Check out Sierra Club’s analysis here to read about how this transition can help slow climate change while saving you money in the long run.

Again, even the smallest substitutions add up to help the Earth and your wallet!

What are your favorite ways to save energy?

Interested in technical assistance with your energy efficiency upgrades? Learn more about getting certified as a Green Business here.


‘Tis the Season for Sustainable Gift Giving!

‘Tis the Season for Sustainable Gift Giving!


The holiday season is in full force all around us. As you and your family prepare for a jolly (albeit nuanced and socially distanced!) holiday, don’t forget to add an eco-friendly touch when gifting.  Here are some green tips to keep in mind: 

  • Think green giving: Be kind to the Earth and the people on your Christmas list. Eco-friendly gifts include things like upcycled jewelry, reusable cutlery sets, aesthetic mason jars for storage, or reusable water bottles. 
  • The gift of experience: Giving an experience can be a great alternative for the holidays.         Although some activities may be difficult to do while social distancing, there are still many options that will lead to great memories! Know someone who is diving into the world of cooking during this lockdown? Try virtual cooking classes. Here is a list of potential options at various price points. 
  • Get crafty: Bestow presents with a homemade touch. The online tutorials for such ideas are endless– bottle cap art, homemade body scrub and bath products, baked goods, or even aromatherapy rice heating pads. Try browsing Sustainable Cook’s list of homemade items for some inspiration! 
  • Give with purpose. Living in a time with access to the instant gratification of online shopping, we often find our homes brimming with “stuff”. Rather than purchasing your loved one a generic trinket with no use, think utility. Does Grandma love to garden? Get her personalized gardening gloves with her name on them! Not only does this avoid creating waste, butit also is more personalized and thoughtful. Every time they use the item, they will appreciate it even more. 
  • Wrap it up: Rather than breaking the bank to purchase expensive wrapping paper that is meant to be torn and tossed, opt for a sustainable alternative. Got some brown paper bags from when you forgot to bring along your reusable tote to the grocery store? Utilize your stash of shame by slicing it up and wrapping your gifts with it! Add some twine for a sleek and earth-friendly look. Old newspapers work too. 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. Furoshiki cloth can be reused by the recipient for many purposes such as wrapping gifts for the next occasion, wearing as a bandana, or using it as a reusable cloth napkin. Learn more.

Remember to shop local to support small businesses (and Green Businesses) in your community!

Find all the Green Businesses near you here: Find a Green Business

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.