When the Santa Rosa Share Exchange filed an application this summer to become green-certified through the Sonoma Green Business Program, Rebecca Valentine was surprised to find there was nobody to process it. "Our county prides itself on its sustainability goals," says the business' outreach coordinator. "To have this missing-in-action piece feels like the county is not partnering with businesses who are waiting to be part of it."
Sonoma County has one of the lowest number of green-certified businesses in the North Bay at 52, compared to Napa County's 93 and Marin County's whopping 432. This might be due in part to a six-month lull this year when the position of program coordinator went unfilled in Sonoma County.
At print time, a new coordinator from San Francisco has been hired and starts this month. "We're prepared to move forward expeditiously once the new guy is on board," says Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "Our goal is to be the most active program in the Bay Area."
In the interim, there have been about 20 businesses hoping to get green-certified. "We will have sort of a pipeline of people interested in moving forward," says Stone. Some smaller businesses, home offices included, are "pretty much self-certified" in less than a day, he adds, but to get larger businesses and manufacturers to join in takes more work. "It could take months," says Stone, "simply because we have to work with other agencies and get them out there."
Different types of businesses receive different checklists for certification. An auto shop has a different set of standards and regulations than an office building, for example. Larger operations warrant on-site checks by PG&E, the Sonoma County Water Agency, Sonoma County Waste Management and the Department of Emergency Services.
The advantages, in Stone's eyes, are mostly economical. "It helps [businesses] become more efficient," he says. "It helps them get prepared for increasing [environmental] regulations that may be coming." And there's the added benefit of using the official green-certified marketing materials, which attracts customers. Stone says despite the lack of coordinator, interest has been growing in the program. "I think companies see there's economic benefit."
The Bay Area Green Business Program has certified more than 2,300 businesses and public agencies since 1996. The Sonoma Green Business Program is funded by the Sonoma County Water Agency to the tune of $50,000 annually, paid by water-conservation fees.
After a meeting last week, Economic Development Board program manager Al Lerma said his department is looking forward to a "working partnership" with the Santa Rosa Share Exchange. Valentine said it was a step toward trying to establish connection and rapport with the EDB, and hopes to be a "downtown hub" for businesses to learn about the program from one that's been through the process. "We want to have some kind of debriefing for small business," says Valentine.