Bay Area Sees High Concentration of Green-Certified Businesses

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Josh Shaeffer spent four months last year making his restaurant more sustainable, adapting water and electricity usage habits to comply with green standards.

But even after installing energy-efficient light bulbs and receiving green certification in December, Shaeffer, managing partner for Maoz Vegetarian on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, said the designation has not had quite the pull he had expected.

"To be honest with you, nobody has really pointed it out to us," he said. "I was hoping it would definitely resonate a bit more."

Shaeffer was looking for Maoz - an international chain restaurant, decorated with trendy lights and bright abstract wall patterns, that already markets fresh food - to stand out in a city that is proud of being green. After all, on a busy street like Telegraph, dozens of shops crowd each side, all trying to draw in the clinking pockets of passersby.

As a result, business owners like Shaeffer are looking to carve out a niche that matches the city's reputation of sustainability through green certification.

Just over 150 Berkeley businesses have been certified by the Bay Area Green Business program, ensuring that they meet a long list of environmentally friendly standards, and although it is universally encouraged, the designation has had mixed effects on companies' sales.

"Being green is really important to a lot of people that live here," said Fred Fassett, chief executive officer of printing company Minuteman Press, which became officially green certified last month. "Everything else being equal, I think you're going to tend to go with the green company - I think it gives us kind of an edge."

He, and many others, said the process is as beneficial as the results. Installing low-flow faucets, eliminating individual water bottles and Styrofoam, using low-toxic cleaning products - all on the checklist for certification - will save the company money in the long run by lowering utility usage.

"It's good for the environment, it's good for us, it's good for the company," said Waleska Herrera, marketing director for Autumn Press, a Berkeley printing company that acquired its green certification late last year.

The city boasts the highest concentration of green businesses in the East Bay, according to a 2009 report from the Center for Community Innovation, part of UC Berkeley's Institute of Urban and Regional Development that conducts research regarding local economics and housing. This boom is attributed to the city's proximity to the campus and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, both of which focus on green-related research.

And while Berkeley outranks many nearby cities - there are only 16 in Albany and 23 in Emeryville, according to Pamela Evans, green business coordinator for Alameda County - the Bay Area outranks the rest of California and has even necessitated its own Green Chamber of Commerce, based in San Francisco, which supports the development of sustainable business practices and serves about 400 green businesses.

Acting as the green business capital, the Bay Area is home to 2,600 of the roughly 3,000 green-certified businesses in the state.

"It's because we've had a base of technology and innovation here, and entrepreneurship - it's kind of this perfect storm," said Janet Pomeroy, the board president of the chamber. "We've had a very forward-thinking culture here and green is the future."

And throughout the nation, green businesses are multiplying despite economic downturn, according to the State of Green Business 2011 report, a yearly publication released this month by the GreenBiz group examining sustainable business practices.

The trends predicted for 2011 include a movement toward zero waste, more sustainable food and agriculture and water conservation, all of which are promoted by the Bay Area Green Business program standards.

Yet with 5,000 businesses total in Berkeley and fewer than 200 green-certified, the city has its foot in the door, but still has a long way to go.

"All the companies who are doing business should, certification or not, practice green practices," said Sinan Sabuncuoglu, owner of Berkeley Design Center, which provides sustainable building products and received its green certification late last year.

The numbers of green business are growing, with 465 in Alameda County alone, and although Sabuncuoglu said he has not seen an increase in sales, he thinks Berkeley is leading a movement that will eventually become widespread.

"Down the road in years to come, it will probably become a requirement to be a green business, that you will have to have a certification," he said. "It seems like this is the way things start."

Tags: ALAMEDA COUNTY, SAN FRANCISCO, TELEGRAPH AVENUE, ALBANY, UC BERKELEY, EMERYVILLE, MAOZ VEGETARIAN, BAY AREA GREEN BUSINESS PROGRAM, MINUTEMAN PRESS, AUTUMN PRESS, INSTITUTE OF URBAN AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT, GREEN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, GREEN BIZ, BERKELEY DESIGN CENTER


Soumya Karlamangla is the lead environment reporter. Contact her at [email protected]



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