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California Green Business Program Takes on Growth and Funding Challenges in a March 2013 Action Planning Retreat

By Kirsten Liske

The California Green Business Program (CAGBP) is a legislatively legitimized (AB 913, 2011) voluntary program offered by local government agencies that validates sustainable business activities, establishes a green marketplace, and tracks and promotes measurable economic and environmental outcomes from practices changes implemented by business participants.

In the program, local public agencies provide free or low cost expert technical assistance in air quality, solid waste, water supply, wastewater, storm water, hazardous waste and materials, and energy. Businesses who achieve a minimum level of compliance and sustainability practices become Certified Green Businesses and receive free marketing. The CAGBP is one of the few governmental environmental assistance programs that also result in economic development and beneficial governmental relations.

Launched in 1996, the program is now available in 21 California jurisdictions representing almost 40% of the state. More than 2,700 small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are certified statewide.  In 2012 those certified businesses achieved the following environmental protection and cost saving outcomes:

GHG Emissions Reduction

343,353,462 tons

Energy Saved

38,254,747 kWh

Solid Waste Diverted from Landfill

212,616,001 tons

Water Saved

30,362,771 gallons

Haz Waste Reduced

6,245 gallons

The programs work together as part of the statewide California Green Business Network. In 2012, in addition to local program funding challenges, the Network was informed that some critical state funding that supports the statewide database would not be available past the next fiscal year. This reduction in resources came at a time of unprecedented program expansion with agencies from Humboldt to Los Angeles beginning to launch programs and needing support. With the opportunity to really engage and support a robust statewide program, combined with resourcing challenges, the Network hosted a two-day “Charting the Path to Sustainability” retreat March 20-21, 2013 that led to a prioritized nine step action plan and working groups signed up to move those forward.

Eighteen of the twenty-one programs were represented, and the retreat attracted the participation of Cal EPA agencies (CalRecycle, DTCS, and CARB) as well as the Governors “Go Biz” program.  Small and medium certified businesses and the program auditing and certification partner agencies also participated for a total of almost 60 attendees. The retreat was designed and facilitated by nonprofit Institute of the Commons, who also helped with the formation of the California Product Stewardship Council as an extended statewide organization.

The group started with identifying key timeline activities and appreciations of the people and successes we’ve had along the way.  They then did scenario and trend identification for things that affect green businesses and the programs.  Individual work and breakout groups were then formed to identify and prioritize key areas for action to help the CAGBP move forward to sustainability in the face of all of those trends.  Participants were amazed that, at the end of a day and half retreat, we were leaving with action plans and commitments to further them!  The key areas where committees formed to take action are listed below,

The California Green Business Program:

  • Is driven by accurate and current performance data
  • Leverages technology
  • Practices collaborative governance
  • Attracts sustainable, reliable funding
  • Maintains high and consistent performance standards
  • Develops and implements effective marketing and branding for certified green businesses
  • Fosters sustainability education in schools
  • Promotes green workforce development
  • Continually expands our program impact and reach.

The transcriptions of the retreat with specific action plan steps are currently being approved by participants and, once complete, will be available to the public.  Please contact Jo Fleming at if you would like a copy or to find out how to participate in one of our action planning groups!

About the Author:

klKirsten Liske is one of the California Green Business Program’s biggest fans.  As Vice President of P2 and Zero Waste at Ecology Action she helped the Monterey Bay Area GBP launch and has leveraged her nonprofit’s mission and resources to help the statewide Network develop the database and its organization. Ecology Action facilitated the Network’s Strategy and Policy Committee through the retreat planning process.

Ecology Action, a California based non profit, has been a leading provider of innovative marketing and engagement programs that overcome barriers to reducing energy use and achieving environmental sustainability. Learn more at