How to Be a Sustainable Business: A Certification Guide

Submitted by Mary Meade on
Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Originally published on by Bryan Pena | August 30, 2019

Getting certified can help your small business.

There are more than 40 million independent workers in the U.S. today, and that means a competitive market for the attention and eyeballs of your desired clients. Becoming an effective networker, honing your social media presence, and developing a comprehensive marketing strategy are all important aspects to building a business, but they aren't always enough to differentiate you from competitors and larger companies.

Today's customers want more than low prices – they want to know the businesses they engage with align with their own personal values. One way to stand out from the crowd and tap into client values is to pursue a certification. Certifications can help attract clients who want to support a small sustainable business or value the particular focus of your certification.

For instance, more than 8 in 10 Americans say it's very or extremely important that companies implement programs that improve the environment. Being able to point to a specific environmentally focused certification can help you stand apart. Certifications can also give you access to set-aside contracts as well as specialized funding and scholarships. Here are six small business certifications to consider.

1. Green America Certified Business

Green America's Certification for Green Businesses certifies businesses that adopt principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for their customers, employees, communities, and the planet. You're probably familiar with Green Businesses such as organic food and drink company Clif Bar, plant-based product company Seventh Generation, and beverage company Honest Tea.

Once certified, you can add the Green America Certified Business Seal to your products or marketing for your services. This recognizable seal can influence purchasing decisions of environmentally conscious consumers who place a high value on products or businesses that have made the commitment to go green. Certification is a straightforward process that is designed to be affordable and take only 20-40 minutes to complete.

2. Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Women's Business Enterprise (WBE)

Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Women's Business Enterprise (WBE) are two certifications for women-owned businesses that are offered through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

WSOB gives small businesses exclusive access to federal contracts, helping to provide a more level playing field for women who own their own company. To qualify for this certification, a business must be 51% owned and primarily managed by one or more women. WSOB-certified businesses also gain access to networking opportunities, exclusive training and mentorship programs, and leads for bids and proposals.

WBE gives small businesses access to both government and private sector contracts. Similar to the WSOB requirements, a woman must hold the highest position at the company and be active in daily management to qualify for WBE certification. WBE also provides access to new contracts, educational programs and networking opportunities.

3. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification can be a good match for a small business that operates out of a home or office where structural or interior updates can be made. The goal of LEED is to encourage green building to maximize occupant health and productivity, use fewer resources, reduce waste and negative environmental impacts, and decrease life cycle costs.

LEED operates off of a ranking system that assigns points based on the construction, design, operation and maintenance of your building. A building can be awarded a Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum certification based on the number of points it qualifies for. A LEED-certified building enhances your company's profile as a green energy leader.

In addition to demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability, LEED certification can help your business reduce monthly bills by making changes such as installing fixtures that reduce water use or solar panels that increase renewable energy.

4. Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)

If your business is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by minorities, you may be eligible for the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Certification. This certification provides access to private sector and corporate contracts, specialized loans, educational programs, and networking opportunities.

An MBE certification can be a great way to help your business grow. Access to loans can give your business the boost it needs to get started. Attending networking events is a great way to market your business, showcase your services to a new audience and land new contracts. By taking part in educational workshops and mentorship opportunities, you can build a strong system of support as your business evolves.

5. Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB)

Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certifications provide access to prime federal government contracts and subcontracts through set-asides. Set-asides are contracts that the federal government has specifically set aside for small business that meet a certain set of requirements. Each year, federal agencies are required to withhold a percentage of their contracts for veteran-owned small businesses to apply to, helping ensure that these businesses get a fair share of work in the federal market.

The VSOB and SDVOSB certifications can be a bit confusing to navigate, simply because there's not a single part of the government or third party that manages them. To get started, a business must become certified as a veteran-owned business through VetBiz Registry, a veteran business database. After certifying, your business can register with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veteran's First Contracting Program and obtain access to set-aside contracts with the VA. To become eligible for other government contracts, you can also register with the Federal Contractor Registration and the General Services Administration.

6. B corporation

A B corporation is a company that balances purpose with profit. Certified B-corps must meet certain standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. Becoming a B-corp shows that your business is committed to certain social and environmental principles.

Companies must go through a rigorous review process and complete an assessment of their sustainability practices before certification, which offers the chance for companies to ensure their supply chains and business practices are up to par with the program requirements. Companies are reassessed every three years to maintain their B-corp status.

B-corps include many well-known companies, like brewery New Belgium Brewing Co., popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's, and outdoor apparel company Patagonia. B-corp certification can be a great strategy to attract new clients and potential investors, as consumers are willing to pay more to support companies devoted to sustainability. Assessment for becoming a B-corp looks at how the operations and business model of your company impacts your workers, community, environment, and customers.

Bottom line

Committing to obtaining and renewing a certification each year requires a certain amount of work and dedication, but the many benefits you can gain as a small business owner are often worth the effort. After certifying, be sure to update your marketing and promotional materials to advertise your new status, and take full advantage of everything the certification has to offer – apply for open contracts, sign up for a mentoring program, and attend educational events. If you're looking for a way to differentiate your sustainable business or attract a certain subset of clients, a certification may be just the solution you need. 

Are you interested in other business-related certifications? Check out our other guides on and on our sister site, Business News Daily. 

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