Island businesses get green stamp of approval

The Vancouver Island Green Business Certification program launches its full program this week in a bid to do more than just add a touch of colour to the Victoria business landscape.

It’s the full launch of a pilot project that ran for four weeks last winter and involved 18 local businesses that hoped to improve their environmental performance and sought to separate themselves from businesses that may talk a good game but don’t deliver on the green front.

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“The benefits of this program is there is a third-party verification process, so it’s not a case of businesses just telling us they are doing these things,” said program manager Lee Johnson. “We conduct an assessment and make sure they are taking action — in a world of greenwashing, we want people to have the ability to see what is taking place.”

The program certifies businesses in the restaurant, retail and office sectors with one of three designations: green, gold or silver. Green is the highest level.

Businesses are scored on the number of green initiatives undertaken in a variety of categories, including energy use, waste creation and disposal, water use and social impact.

The initiatives the businesses have undertaken are listed on the Vancouver Island Green Business Certification program website, vigbc.ca.

Johnson said it’s the program that suits businesses just learning how to become more environmentally responsible as well as those who have been watching their environmental footprint from the start.

“You can always improve,” said Stephen Whipp, investment adviser at Wolverton Securities, and a staunch advocate for green and socially responsible business practices.

Whipp’s Goldstream Avenue office, which boasts on-site composting and a full recycling program, has been certified gold for 2014.

“This program is about teaching people to go from crawling to walking to running in terms of paying attention to their everyday business systems,” he said. “And from a branding and marketing perspective, there are people out there trying to get beyond all the greenwashing. The hope is this will help the consumer to identify businesses that do walk the talk.”

Calen McNeil, part of the group that opened Big Wheel Burger in Cook Street Village in 2011, said they noticed a bump in business after opening with a commitment to being carbon-neutral.

He said they were carbon-neutral after six months in business, offsetting the 67 tonnes of carbon emissions a year they produced. McNeil noted the average fast food restaurant produces about 400 tonnes a year.

Big Wheel, which is now certified green under the program, managed to drop its emissions further during the pilot project.

“There’s always things you can be doing,” he said, noting they cut their emissions down to 39 tonnes per year, which they offset.

McNeil noted Zambri’s and The Guild, the other restaurants he is involved with, will vie for certification this year. Being part of the program is about sending a message to the rest of the business community, he said.

“It’s one thing to do something in your own controllable environment, but if you are not going to do it with the bigger idea of telling people that it can be done, can still be affordable and you can still make a profit, then I think you’re doing the green movement a disservice,” he said. “Certification like this is good for the green movement and it’s validity for businesses that get involved.”

It can also be a money saver.

Neal Cropper, who owns Langford-based Growlies, a pet food store that specializes in raw food for dogs and cats, said he didn’t think his business could ever be considered green given the high use of refrigeration to store product.

“We wanted to show our constituency that we … wanted to be involved in making the world a better place within our role as a retailer, and this is one of the few affordable measures I could do that actually helped me save money,” he said.

Cropper said an energy audit by B.C. Hydro helped his firm work out a plan to save on energy costs, and when he moves to a new location, the store will make different heating and lighting choices that will save money.

“I didn’t realize the amount of money I could save and still display our products appropriately,” he said.

Cropper expects as the certification program raises its profile, it will become a selling point to the consumer.

“Within southern Vancouver Island, we like to say [the environment] is important so if I, as a retailer, can show that it’s important to me too, even if it’s just a small sticker on my front door, I don’t see why I wouldn’t,” he said.

The certification program now has seven new companies involved.

The cost to go through the process depends on business size.

Companies with 1-25 employees are charged $250 annually, companies with 26-50 employees pay $550 and companies with between 51-99 employees pay $750.

Businesses need to apply annually for certification.

A launch party for the program starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Habit Coffee (552 Pandora Ave.), a green-certified firm.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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