Certification, Education, Networking & Recognition for Sustainable Small & Medium Sized Businesses.

Green Plus is a business improvement program that works on the philosophy of triple bottom line sustainability - meaning we help small and medium-sized businesses improve their bottom line through environmental, social, and economic practices - what we like to call the Planet, People, and Performance aspects of a business. Green Plus is about empowering your business through knowledge and targeted feedback to create and implement sustainable practices. Green Plus is a university-backed, nationally recognized third-party green business certification that emphasizes improvement through education, networking, and recognition.

We educate, motivate, and recognize smaller enterprises for their efforts toward becoming more sustainable.
We're here to offer tangible, practical tips and expertise to improving the sustainability of your business.

Our mission is to:

  • Democratize triple bottom line sustainability by making it accessible to smaller employers and their communities
  • Foster a new generation of sustainability leaders
  • Develop a common understanding of sustainability principles across cultures

Here's a breakdown of what we do:

Education: We work to educate our member businesses on the triple bottom line by providing them with all the information and tools they might need to make good environmentally, socially and economically conscious decisions about their own business. Part of the Green Plus membership includes access to all of our online educational materials and free one-on-one coaching with our expert sustainability coaches.

Networking: All of our member businesses have their own personal profile page on our Green Plus National Directory. We connect businesses region to region, and arrange opportunities for businesses to meet face-to-face, whether that's at our annual awards and recognition ceremony, or through a casual Friday night happy hour at a local bar.

Assessment: Our online Diagnostic Survey is designed to assess how your business's social, environmental, and operational practices measure up. The survey is applicable to businesses from any sector, from restaurants to accounting firms to manufacturers. There is no such thing as a bad score on the Diagnostic Survey -- it is designed to help the Green Plus team determine the best and most feasible course of action to improve the sustainability of your business.

Certification: Depending on the score achieved on the Diagnostic Survey, businesses may qualify for Green Plus Certification, a nationally recognized green business certification. Green Plus Certification proves that a business has gone above and beyond in its efforts in improving its sustainability practices, by not only being environmentally responsible, but socially and economically responsible, as well -- what wee call the triple bottom line.
Green Plus Certified businesses often use their Certified status to market themselves to new customers and brand themselves as a sustainable business in their communities.

Fostering a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders: The Institute runs a multi-university Fellowship program – bringing together mainly graduate students from different disciplines, and giving them an opportunity to work closely with Green Plus member businesses and helping develop the Green Plus program. Alumni of the Fellowship program have come from such areas of study as business, environmental science, journalism, social work, and law, to name just a few. Fellows work with the Institute full time over the summer and part time over the following academic year. Fellows often author individual and group research projects based on their field work.

Research Products and Studies: With its academic and chamber partners, the Institute has undertaken a number of products, case studies, research projects and how-to guides, including:

  • A small business energy efficiency guide in conjunction with COSE
  • A national undergraduate sustainable case study in conjunction with the AICPA
  • A survey of employers on their attitudes about sustainability and stakeholder engagement in partnership with BrownFlynn
  • Guides for rural entrepreneurs and businesses seeking to participate in the green economy

Economic Development and Public Policy Initiatives: The Institute is translating empirical and qualitative lessons from working with businesses and nonprofits into economic development and public policy models. In Cleveland, the Institute is working to connect purchasing incentives to sustainable practices. In North Carolina, the Institute is connecting sustainable efforts to capital (micro-loans).

Our History:

Why did a group of thinkers decide to make sustainability for smaller employers a priority? And how did that initiative develop into Green Plus, a nonprofit with a network spanning across 12 states and with over 250 enterprises doing green better?

The seed was planted in 2004.

Back then, magazines from Fortune to Newsweek plastered "new leaders in business" on their covers. These executives saw sustainability as a way to make money, and the best way to make money was to make big organizational changes. Buildings got energy audits and upgrades, experts began looking more closely at the "life cycles" of products, and the public started asking critical questions about where and how the things they buy are made.

Production shifted. Big businesses started making things more efficiently, sourcing from people who took care of their employees responsibly, and even let employees drive innovation.

Results were too compelling to ignore: saving dollars, revolutionizing business models, breeding goodwill, lowering risk. Business prospered as a direct result of doing green better.

At about that time, an observant leader, Tony Waldrop, at the University of North Carolina looked around the small town in which he lived and wondered how this opportunity would make its way to the small businesses and nonprofits he frequented.

As he spoke with more business owners, he discovered a disconnect. The networks, trainings, and conferences driving change in big business were simply not geared toward smaller enterprises. They were impractical. Simply out of reach.

Although UNC excelled in teaching sustainability, there was not a ready conduit for connecting that expertise with local communities. Tony saw a gap.

And made it a personal goal to seal it.

To better understand smaller employers in his community, Tony asked his local chamber of commerce, the group working closest with these businesses, what they thought of this goal. He quickly found them to be a ready and enthusiastic partner.

Joining forces and finishing its due diligence, the team approached UNC's business school.

They asked UNC to write a business plan to help smaller employers earn more money, and do better work for their people and the planet by taking smart steps to be more sustainable.

UNC finished this plan in 2007. The seed now beginning to sprout, all that was needed was some investment capital and someone to make it happen.

The group soon found more partners: departments at Duke University, other local chambers of commerce, and philanthropists. In 2008, a social entrepreneur, Chris Carmody, with a history of getting community initiatives off the ground, was hired to pilot and launch the program. After partnering with small businesses in the area and several iterations of the business plan later, the program, now known as Green Plus, launched in early 2009.

Since its inception, Green Plus has expanded beyond North Carolina to more than 12 states, attracting over 250 smaller employers to participate. The program maintains its early ties with a regular group of graduate students from UNC and Duke supporting it through internships, and enjoys board support from a mix of academic (NC State and Elon University included), business, and sustainability movers and shakers.

People who work with Green Plus today are the heroes of green for small enterprise.

Green Plus continues to bridge the divide between being small and doing green.

Our Impact

We know it's important to take a critical look at impact, and we're taking steps to do so. In the Spring of 2011, the Institute was fortunate to have a Masters student from the school of the environment at Duke University survey Green Plus businesses about the impacts the program had on their businesses.

31 businesses participated in the survey and in-depth interviews. Key findings included:

  • 87% of businesses claim that sustainability has become more integrated into their organization since joining Green Plus
  • 90% report that Green Plus altered their course with regard to sustainability
  • 52% believed that Green Plus helped them generate new business
  • For more than 50%, Green Plus was the first sustainability certification their business had pursued
  • Other findings told us more about the characteristics of organizations involved in the program, such as:

  • 66% have a "green team"
  • 87% have an employee they would identify as a sustainability champion
  • 65% claim that they have over 80% employee participation in sustainability efforts
  • 77% partner with nonprofits through volunteering, donations, or in-kind support
  • And more generally, the results found that in pursuing Green Plus Certification, a variety of new practices were launched, particularly in the areas of management practices, energy and water conservation, waste reduction and alternative transportation.

We are grateful to Catherine Noyes, the Class of 2011 Nicholas School student, for her efforts in compiling these findings and invite you to review her presentation here. In the future, we plan to continue measuring the impact of Green Plus and hope to increase the sample size of those included in the survey.