Chicago’s Green Business Ordinance Sparks Controversy among Green Business Advocates

By: Jon Sedey

Green Business owners are seeing controversy over a new business certification passed Wednesday by the Chicago City Council. Established by the Department of Environment, this ordinance is intended to certify companies that meet certain green and environmentally friendly standards. Companies that meet and exceed these standards will be able to place a decal on the front of their shop.

Despite active participation by green-business groups in this ordinance, many were upset by the version that was approved.

“I was disappointed to see the green business certification ordinance pass,” said Peter Nicholson, director at Foresight Sustainable Business Alliance. “I am afraid that this opens doors for greenwashing, by allowing a business to get certified based on criteria that may not be relevant to their core product or service.”

This ordinance will let non-green based businesses get a certification and become raised to the same status as green businesses working to be environmentally friendly.

Suzanne Keers, executive director and co-founder of Local First Chicago, says that this ordinance is flawed because it does not place value on the companies’ complete environmental or social impact. “A business owner could encourage employees to ride their bike to work, but they might also be creating a product full of pollutants that’s harming our community and still be certified under this ordinance,” she said.

To obtain a Chicago Green Business title, the ordinance stipulates businesses must adopt a handful of practices across varying criteria. For instance, businesses must prove that they are reducing carbon emissions by following four steps among a list of fourteen, including encouraging bike usage, riding trains, carpooling or working via telecommute. Another category is energy reduction where businesses can get steps (often referred to as points) by monitoring and recording energy use, switching to compact fluorescent lights and planting vegetation.

Alderman Margaret Laruino (39th) co-sponsored this ordinance and expects the program to alter over time. “It’s only a first step and completely voluntary. We fully expect municipal code to evolve as environmental technologies and business practices change with the times.”

Dan Rosenthal, chairman of the Green Restaurant Co-op and owner of Sopraffina restaurants believes this will mislead and confuse business owners. “Under this ordinance, all a business has to do is fill out a form, sign an affidavit, send in a hundred bucks to the city and poof! It’s now a certified Chicago Green Business. It’s the very definition of greenwashing, no third party audit is involved.”

With no audit, proponents of this ordinance fear that there will not be any oversight and there will be no way to know whether or not the business is keeping the standards that its decal claims. This contrasts the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op, whereby restaurants are required to be audited and have their sustainability claims verified.

Green Business Chicago goes into effect in January.

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