Sustainability Can Help Small Businesses Win City Contracts

by Rebecca Smith Hurd on December 16, 2010

Looking to tap into the billions of dollars that municipal governments spend annually on goods and services, from break-room coffee to janitorial help? Being a local, sustainable small business may give you an edge over the competition, especially if you’re in Ohio.

The city of Cleveland this fall enacted what’s believed to be the first law in the United States to give sustainable small businesses an advantage when bidding on city contracts. The legislation, part of a larger effort to lead the emerging green economy, grants certified companies the same benefits (a 4 percent discount) as minority- and women-owned enterprises (which, in turn, receive extra credit for becoming sustainable). In passing “the buy local and sustainable law,” officials aim to provide a model for cities nationwide and an economic incentive for small businesses to embrace so-called “triple” bottom line sustainability.

“Cleveland’s effort to reward companies for their triple bottom line sustainability — good business, environmental, employee and community practices — is groundbreaking,” says Chris Carmody, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Development, which supports the city’s efforts. “In a sustainable economy, ‘green jobs’ won’t only come from clean energy or energy efficiency businesses; they’ll also be created by Main Street businesses becoming more competitive through sustainable practices.”

To qualify for the bid discount, companies must apply for Green Plus certification. The third-party standards, which were developed to help small businesses become more competitive through sustainability, requires a formal assessment of an organization’s environmental, business, and community practices. The process typically costs $550, but the area’s Council of Smaller Enterprises is offering discounted energy audits and scholarships backed by grant funding from the Department of Energy to offset the cost. According to COSE, two Cleveland-area companies have already achieved full certification and nearly a dozen others have applied.

On a related note, the Institute for Sustainable Development is accepting nominees for the 2011 North American Sustainable Enterprise awards through midnight on Dec. 22. Each year, the organization recognizes “smaller” businesses for exceptional sustainability efforts and for setting a good example for other organizations. Any business in any sector with fewer than 500 employees may be nominated for free; the categories include Small Business and Sole Proprietor of the Year.