How to get real green from your green certifications

Comprehensive programs link businesses with rebates for lighting and water fixture upgrades, verify environmental compliance with government agencies, and audit a facility with checklist in hand, ensuring that the business has both understood and implemented the measures. These programs provide on-site technical assistance to bridge the knowledge gap for industries that don't typically employ sustainability professionals on their staff.

A good example is the California Green Business Program, which is funded and run by local governments that work collectively through a state-funded program. The program is a one-stop shop for all of the rebates and technical assistance for small- to medium-sized businesses. There are more programs sprouting up across the U.S. modeled after this program, helping consumers have confidence that they are indeed "voting with their dollar" for the environment when they frequent a certified green hotel, restaurant, plumber or office-supply store.

What if you are a business that has paid for a third-party certification and you want to know if it's a good one? What if you're a third-party certification program that would like to move toward a more comprehensive offering? The table below shows which third-party green certification programs follow more trustworthy guidelines than others.

While being a green consumer in the marketplace is getting easier — and becoming a greener business to meet the demand from these consumers is also getting easier — doing your homework is important for all parties to avoid that feeling of green buyer's remorse.