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Cleveland: Sustainable small businesses will have bidding advantage

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New law will benefit companies that carry the Green Plus certification for triple bottom line best practices.

Today, minority- and female-owned enterprises, especially smaller companies, have the upper hand when competing for certain government contracts. All other things being equal, of course. Should you gain a similar bidding advantage for government contracts simply by being sustainable? The city of Cleveland says, "Yes."

Under a new law passed by the local council, businesses that are certified as "Green Plus" will receive a 4 percent discount when going after city contracts. Cleveland says it buys upwards of $1 billion annually in goods and services.) This particular certification is one that was developed by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a number of chambers of commerce. The certification is managed by the Institute for Sustainable Development. It requires an investment of $550 for the courses and requires a business to meet certain metrics for good business practices, environmental activities, and employee and community practices.

Here's a comment from Chris Carmody, the institute's executive director:

"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. The City of Cleveland is providing a crystal clear economic incentive for regional businesses to improve not only their bottom line, but their triple bottom line."

The new law fits as part of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative. Two Cleveland-area companies have already earned the Green Plus nod, the Taylor Companies (a furniture manufacturer) and Lubestop (an automotive services company). There are least a dozen others working toward their certification. For those who complain the price of entry is too steep, a group called the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) has won a grant to help provide Green Plus scholarships. If you're a member of COSE, you can get a $200 discount. The organization is also working with the Ohio Department of Energy to help area small businesses earn energy audit discounts (which also help with the Green Plus process). Incidentally, if you are already classified as a minority- or female-owned business, the sustainability certification layers on top of that status.

OK, this is just one city. At least that I know. But it stands to reason that other local and state governments could take similar action. Definitely a trend to watch, and potential incentive for smaller businesses to take the plunge into corporate sustainability.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure