As a new-to-town resident, I have found fewer things more refreshing than the weather. (I came from Fresno, in the Central Valley of California, with averages topping 100 degrees during the summer months.)

That said, it is amazing to find that the issues surrounding environmental sustainability are woven into the framework of this place. A local store owner said it best when he said that Santa Monica is a progressive flagship city in many ways. Sure, I may be biased now to this wonderful beach town, but I have taken notice of the ambitious goals of City Hall when it comes to making business and residential practices more environmentally friendly. The advocacy of it has worked on me; I found out about Sustainable Works when walking into a store called The Green Life on Main Street. Picking up a card that boasted “Sustainable Works: Environmental Education and Action,” I decided to investigate further.

Sustainable Works is a non-profit environmental education organization, a project of Community Partners. They are funded by the City of Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Plan, their program participants, grants and donations and from in-kind services from Santa Monica College.

From programs to workshops, I could go on for days about the organization. Trust me, the long-winded writer in me, along with the eager reporter of all things environmentally-conscious, is even tempted to. The part I want to focus on is the Sustainable Works Green Business Certification program.

What makes this program certifiably of note is the way that City Hall seems to have found a way to entice businesses to volunteer to implement actions that are good for the environment. How does the program do that? It asks agribusinesses to become more sustainability minded in exchange for the chance to help their bottom line through inclusion in media and advertising exposure. One look into a window baring a GBC logo, and you know that City Hall, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and Sustainable Works have certified that business green. Being involved in this program means that businesses have to live up to some very energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly practices.

Great ideas, but as for what all of this means in practice to a business that has not even thought about sustainability, I can see where putting thoughts to action might get intimidating. To see how the task of greening up might feel daunting to a business, let’s take a look at the hard facts: the list of what they must go through. As listed on www.smgbc.org, depending on the office/retail, hotel/motel or retail/grocers list, the requirements vary slightly. Upon first glance, it specifies program criteria for conserving resources, preventing pollution and minimizing waste. But there are several sections requiring many action steps. For example, one section for a retail or office application asks for the selection of five new or existing recycling products your business uses, while another asks that the business enact new measures such as becoming involved in a waste exchange program.

The good news is that the program has “required” and “optional” steps to be flexible as a business adapts to becoming green in practice, and the Web site itself is a great resource. It offers an “FAQ” section answering questions ranging from on-site certification to how long the certification lasts (two years). It also encourages currently proactive businesses with the news that they do give credit for practices that a business is already implementing. The certification comes with benefits, including becoming a part of a large community of businesses already involved. I was surprised when I looked at the list and saw that businesses varying from The Lobster restaurant to Universal Music Group have gone through the process.

As a consumer looking in, I can definitely see how it isn’t easy at all to be green. The good news is that if you meet the requirements of five or more employees, and a minimum 500 feet of commercial retail space, you are eligible to begin the checklist, and look into a program for businesses seeking to become green if you don’t know where to start.

With all of this paperwork promising greener practices, as well as the overuse of the word green itself, it is easy to turn a skeptical set of eyes to the very same practice that seems like a good step toward sustainability. What separates this program from the overwhelming flood of initiatives we’ve heard about? Well, this program looks to really require a business to change their practices considerably in day-to-day production. When I saw that one of the possible items on the office checklist was to change paper to a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer recycled content, I got the bigger picture in my head: that is, effectively, three sheets of original paper material saved per 10 used. The number sounds small until I thought about it this way. If I have a meeting where I am handing out proposals, and I print 500 pages using 30 percent post consumer content paper. I just saved 150 pages worth of new production for packets that may be looked at for only a few minutes. With any luck, business would be better, and they’d keep my proposal in a file. But that kind of information is certified. If you’re a local business, maybe you should be certified, too.

Megan Reilly is a freelance writer, specializing in documenting the lives of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things; as a creative writer, she can’t be stopped, with entries appearing regularly on 1800recycling.com, MeganWriteReilly.wordpress.com, and ChoCoffeeAddictsAnonymous.com. When she’s not writing, she’s probably either singing or trying to make it as the next Kirsten Dunst.

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