Green Businesses connect, network, and teach at Montgomery County GreenFest!

Green Businesses connect, network, and teach at Montgomery County GreenFest!
On Saturday May 5th, 2018, Montgomery County GreenFest took place in Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring. The largest GreenFest to date, it drew more than 1,000 attendees and 90 exhibitors, all of whom created an atmosphere of enthusiastic learning and fun!

GreenFest is the County’s signature environmental festival, hosted each spring. Attendance is on the rise and eight Certified Green Businesses across the County decided to use the opportunity to connect with hundreds of residents. Washington Gardener Magazine, All Eco Center, Bethesda Green, Clean Choice Energy, EcoBeco, Neighborhood Sun, Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm, and the Montgomery College Silver Spring/Takoma Park Facilities Team all showed up to exhibit and promote their businesses to event attendees throughout the day.

“The values of GreenFest and the festival goers align well with Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm,” said its Founder, Mark Mills. As the name of his farm suggests, Mark is also a chef and chocolatier and graciously agreed to teach a “quick pickling” workshop where festival goers enjoyed the opportunity to taste the pickles.

“As a certified USDA Organic farm, we are very conscious of the environmental impacts of farming and work intentionally to incorporate sustainable practices in everything we do. There is a lot of love and attention in our produce and it’s important for us to connect directly with consumers who appreciate and understand that effort.”

Click through this album to see Mark’s workshop in action, and other certified Green Businesses making the most of GreenFest.

All Eco Center decided to booth at GreenFest for similar reasons. “Taking steps to live a greener life by focusing on real change each of us can make when renovating a kitchen or bathroom is what we’re all about,” said its Owner, Dave Taghipour. “That’s why I decided to set up a booth as it allows me to establish a relationship with customers and create resonance. It’s definitely worth my while and we plan to back next year.” Click through this album to see all the certified Green Businesses making the most of GreenFest.

And save the date – GreenFest 2019 will be on Sunday, April 28th at Brookside Gardens. More details to come!

Green Business Certification: Developer and caterer on common ground

Green Business Certification: Developer and caterer on common ground
A look at how two fundamentally different companies — Green Plate Catering, which specializes in vegan and vegetarian fare and uses sustainably produced local, seasonal and organic ingredients, and The Maven Group, a real estate and investment services firm that works to develop and redevelop contaminated or “stigmatized” properties – work to minimize their carbon footprint for the good of both the planet and their businesses.

This is the third of a three-part series (read part 1 and part 2 here).

When Green Plate Catering started as a brown bag vegetarian lunch service in 1983, the idea of sustainability wasn’t quite the same as it is today. Still, owner Kit Wood understood the importance of maintaining certain ideals.

“We liked to buy local and from farmers and producers who utilize sustainable practices and avoid using pesticides,” she said. “By supporting farmers in our communities that use those practices, it means fewer contaminants in the ground water.”

S.Schooler on Solar Panel Roof

S.Schooler on Solar Panel Roof

When The Maven Group began in 1995, Stuart Schooler, managing member, said environmental concerns were made a priority from the beginning. For example, they rerouted residential geothermal loops to avoid adversely effecting aquatic life in a nearby creek.

“These are the tradeoffs you run into in doing, and being committed to, renewable energy work,” Stuart said.


Walking (and Biking!) the Walk

At both organizations, carbon footprint reduction becomes a way of life for everyone associated with the companies – including how they work and how they get to work.

Butternut Squash Bisque that Green Plate Catering made and donated at a Shepherds Table Event

Butternut Squash Bisque that Green Plate Catering made and donated at a Shepherds Table Event

Most at Green Plate Catering live nearby and walk to work. They also carpool to events and have pow wows on how they can do things for the business that are better and greener.

In addition to regular employee training on things like composting, the company uses green cleaning products, separates all event recyclables from trash, and even reaches into garbage bins after events to claim things that are compostable or can be recycled.

In encouraging an environmentally friendly atmosphere, The Maven Group uses a comprehensive Employee Orientation Reference Manual that includes a big focus on sustainability.

For example, the company encourages its employees to use electric and hybrid vehicles. They also subsidize employee Metro SmarTrip passes and buy bicycles for employees who move closer to the office to enable them to peddle to work. Stuart often dons a bike helmet, too, leaving his plug-in hybrid car at home to bike the 5.5 miles to work whenever he can.


Sound Practices

To help eliminate as much waste as possible, Green Plate Catering uses actual silverware and real linen table cloths and napkins for events, and also offers reusable plates and glassware rentals to clients as an environmentally beneficial option.

Although it’s important for Green Plate to cater to its vegan and vegetarian clients, its menu has expanded over the years to include meat and poultry, and Kit has developed relationships with merchants who contract with area farms whose livestock and poultry eat a species-appropriate diet and live in pastured environments. They also consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines to select seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean.

Focusing on environmental sustainability also means pursuing efficiencies. Seeking to find ways to use space that would otherwise go to waste, The Maven Group, with their affiliate Rockville Solar Group, decided on a very significant energy saving initiative. Originally intending to put a wind turbine on the site of its Rockville Ice Rink before discovering it was prohibited by land-use restrictions, they instead conceived the idea to install an 865,000 kWh photovoltaic solar panel energy system for the facility – the second-largest solar panel installation in the state.

Rockville Ice Arena

Rockville Ice Arena with solar panels

  Their embrace of sustainability includes a commitment not to cut down mature trees or build on wetlands when developing land.

“There’re enough industrial properties in need of redevelopment so there’s no need to be cutting down trees,” Stuart said.


The Benefits of Certification

“The certification process is thorough and can definitely help businesses looking to green their operations and reduce their environmental impact,” Stuart said.

Having been a Montgomery County Certified Green Business for about two years, Kit said she would encourage other businesses to get the process going because it’s worth the effort in order to begin a solid and sustainable path.

“Why are we here? It’s not just to make money,” she said. “It’s to benefit each other and to leave the earth in good or better shape.”

Article by Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges

Green Business Certification Program expands to include farms implementing comprehensive sustainability practices

Green Business Certification Program expands to include farms implementing comprehensive sustainability practices
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has announced the expansion of the Green Business Certification Program to recognize farm operations certified through the USDA Organic and/or Certified Naturally Grown programs. Certified farms will now be included in the County’s Green Business Directory along with approximately 80 other businesses.

Green Business Certification Program LogoThe Green Business Certification Program is a voluntary recognition program managed by the County’s Department of Environmental Protection in partnership with the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) and Montgomery College. It helps County businesses green their operations and prosper in the new green economy by encouraging local consumers and other businesses to consider Certified Green Businesses when making purchasing decisions.

“Sustainable and local farming are vital to our green economy,” said Leggett. “Our County has an enduring farming heritage and we must all do our part to build a more sustainable community for future generations.”


About the Farm Certifications

Both the USDA Organic and Certified Naturally Grown standards require a full commitment to organic practices – no synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or genetically engineered seeds – and include a focus on building and conserving soil nutrients through compost, cover crops, crop rotation and other practices.

USDA Organic Logo“With Montgomery County’s program there is potential for an exciting multiplier effect,” said Alice Varon, executive director of Certified Naturally Grown.  “I am not aware of other jurisdictions using third-party certification standards to recognize sustainable farming practices, but it offers an easy, ‘off-the-shelf’ program.”

Certified Naturally Grown Logo

Gigi Godwin, president and CEO of MCCC, echoed this sentiment.  “This program’s unique ‘umbrella’ structure facilitates recognition of businesses certified through 10 different third-party standards across multiple business sectors ranging from offices, to restaurants to cleaning companies and now, I’m happy to say, farms are included, too!  I hope it catches on everywhere.”

Chocolate and Tomatoes Farm

Chocolate and Tomatoes Farm

Meet the 6 Inaugural Certified Farms

At an event on Thursday, March 8th, Leggett presented certificates to six farmers who achieved certification through one or both standards.

A few other farmers were recognized for submitting their applications for certification.  The County intends to raise awareness of these environmentally responsible farms to help local consumers easily identify them and spur other farmers to embrace sustainable practices.

The following certified Farms are now included in the County’s Green Business Directory:
  1. Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm (USDA Organic and Certified Naturally Grown)
  2. From the Earth Foods (USDA Organic)
  3. Potomac Valley Organics (USDA Organic)
  4. Red Wiggler Community Farm (USDA Organic)
  5. The Farm at Our House (USDA Organic)
  6. Your Chef’s Table Farm (Certified Naturally Grown)

Green Business Certification: In sync with company philosophies

Green Business Certification: In sync with company philosophies
A look at how two companies – Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc., a leading provider of consumer, business-to-business, and industrial digital imaging solutions, and Raffa P.C., a 30-year-old accounting firm (employees pictured above) – work to reduce their carbon footprints for the good of the planet as well as their businesses.

This is the second of a three-part series (read part 1 here).

  Doing the right thing for the environment goes beyond efforts to become more responsible corporate citizens; it’s part of Canon and Raffa’s company philosophies.

“For Canon, establishing good relationships with customers, communities, governments, and the environment is a core principle that flows from our corporate philosophy, Kyosei”, says Deb Teems, Manager of General Affairs for Canon U.S. Life Sciences. Translated, Kyosei means “all people, regardless of race, religion or culture, harmoniously living and working together into the future,” which fosters the company goal of contributing to global prosperity and protecting our world. Learn more about Canon’s Environmental Charter here.

Similarly, Raffa views every client as an invitation and opportunity to make the world a better place. Most of Raffa’s clients have social and environmental missions, and Raffa takes great pride in going well beyond the provision of administrative and accounting support. Their goal is to enable clients to fully focus on achieving their missions, and, to use Raffa’s tag-line, “Do More.”

This heartfelt ethic permeates Raffa’s culture and helps the company attract employees who are passionate about helping their clients achieve mission-driven impact. Environmental sustainability, at the corporate and employee levels, emanates from this culture. “From the very, very beginning, we focused on things that made environmental sense to the corporation as a whole,” said Raffa, “but it has also been important that our individual employees think like that, too.”

High Standards

For the last nine years, Canon U.S. Life Sciences has maintained a certified Environmental Management System (EMS) that conforms with ISO 14001, a robust, internationally recognized standard. The EMS, which is certified by a third party every three years, provides the company with a framework to reduce its negative environmental impacts.

Teems said the EMS requirements include strict documentation and employee, contractor and consultant awareness training sessions to ensure that everyone understands the elements of the EMS. “We work together to meet all the ISO standard requirements, one of which is to continually improve our environmental performance.”

Raffa is a certified B Corporation, which means it has met a rigorous, independent, and transparent social and environmental performance standard. As part of this year’s recertification process, the company enlisted the support of sustainability experts to help develop sound environmental policies and measure its high level impact, particularly as it relates to its carbon footprint.

The company, which is virtually paperless, offers bicycle storage for employees who ride to work, has a liberal remote office policy, donates used computer systems to nonprofit organizations, and has an environmentally preferred purchasing policy. It has consolidated its three offices into two, one of which is based in a LEED Silver certified building.

“While our environmental efforts enhance our profitability, that’s not what guides us. We believe our primary responsibility is to be a better corporate citizen,” Raffa said.


Tom Raffa inspiring other business leaders to embrace corporate citizenship at a recent Mix and Mingle sponsored by the firm.

The Certification Connection

For both Canon and Raffa respectively, the ISO 14001 and B Lab standards helped them focus on their company philosophies and find better ways to put their principles into action.

“The certification process actually showed us things we could do better – like vetting vendors by asking them about sustainability practices,” Raffa said. “We don’t own our current buildings, but we’ve wielded influence on the landlord to make energy efficiency improvements.”

Employee-centered initiatives were also put in place – including the “Ask Tom” program – an intranet system that lets employees ask their CEO questions anonymously like, “Can we eliminate all paper cups?” Raffa says he encourages employees to answer their own questions and determine the most environmentally sound solution. The program empowers the individual asking the question to establish a small committee to evaluate energy and resource use under various scenarios (e.g., paper cups versus reusables and dishwasher use).

Having a certified EMS, said Teems, is a good example of Kyosei in action, as it’s led to a number of environmental initiatives that, along with many other improvements, include replacing the Styrofoam used for outgoing shipments with recycled content packaging materials, sponsoring match-up meetings to help increase the number of carpooling employees, starting an employee book exchange and actively promoting employee participation in their annual Clean Earth Event in which volunteers clean up trash, plant trees and mulch/weed flower gardens in County parks.


Canon staff volunteering at their annual Clean Earth Event.


“We’re always striving to do more and do better,” said Teems, and we’re generally able to do so because we’ve got both a clear corporate philosophy as well as an EMS that prioritizes our actions and measures our progress. That’s really the secret sauce.”


  Article by Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges.  

Green Business Certification: The right thing to do for business and society

Green Business Certification: The right thing to do for business and society
In the first of a three-part series featuring six Montgomery County Certified Green Businesses we’ll look at companies both big and small reducing their ecological footprint and examine how their efforts help not just Mother Earth, but their businesses as well.

  This article focuses on AECOM, a Fortune 500 engineering firm with a global presence, and ecobeco, a 25-person County-based business specializing in residential energy efficiency, remodeling, new home construction, and indoor air quality improvement.

What could these two companies possibly have in common?

As it turns out, they are both seizing business opportunities associated with addressing environmental challenges. Their customers are demanding environmental services and their employees are demanding corporate environmental responsibility. Doing right by the environment, in other words, complements their business operations and strategic objectives.


Client Demand

For ecobeco, environmentalism is foundational to their business model. Their DNA is based on “whole home” people- and planet-friendly residential improvements. One of the energy efficiency services offered by ecobeco is the Quick Home Energy Checkup, helping residents reduce energy consumption. Their company provides clients with LED light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and advice on other energy-saving measures, all of which reduce power usage. In short, ecobeco’s business model is premised on helping residents do their part to protect the environment while also reducing their home energy bills. As environmental awareness increases, so does the company’s bottom line.

AECOM – a global network of experts working with clients, communities and colleagues to develop and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most complex challenges – have over 500 employees working in its Montgomery County office. Ranked as the #1 green design company in the United States by Engineering News-Record and with decades of experience designing and implementing clean water, renewable energy and environmental restoration projects, AECOM has seen a marked increase in demand for energy efficiency and sustainability services. “We don’t make trinkets – we solve our customers’ problems. Our customers are demanding  an increased focus on sustainability.” says Ida Namur, an AECOM manager focused on power, energy and sustainability in the DC Metro area.


Ernesto Rivera of ecobeco conducts a Quick Home Energy Checkup. Photo credit: ecobeco.

Internal Pull: Employees Expect More, Too

Offering environmental and energy efficient solutions to clients is one thing. But, both companies say that it’s essential to practice what they preach. Making their own businesses more sustainable is the right thing to do, but it’s also what their employees increasingly expect.

Studies indicate that aligning employee values with business operations enhances employee morale, productivity and retention. Millennials, who account for the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce, value purpose in their jobs. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, 86% believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance. In addition, employees empowered to positively impact their workplace and society show greater company loyalty.

Brian Toll, President of ecobeco, echoes these findings. His staff were the ones who sought Green Business Certification. “[They] realized we were close to meeting the requirements and someone else wanted to take it to the next level,” he says.

AECOM also recognized that Millennial employees expect companies to be more responsible to the environment and the community in which they are based.

“In order to attract the best talent, we have to respond to what they are asking us to do,” Namur says, adding that employee engagement around sustainability helps them stay true to their values. At AECOM, these initiatives are extensive and fun. They have an in-house committee that focuses on green office initiatives, such as a “mug shot” campaign to encourage workers to bring in weird or ugly mugs so fewer office paper cups are used and asking colleagues to bring in old home electronics for recycling.

One of their most successful initiatives was the Earth Day Scavenger Hunt that was put together for Earth Day to help illustrate how the company greens its day-to-day operations, so employees can see the sustainability projects the company uses for clients and in their building. The hunt featured a nine-station “to-find” list, filled with things employees see and experience every day but might not know are energy-saving measures – like bathroom low-flow faucets, recycled ceiling tiles, a scrap paper and ink cartridge recycling system and the building’s landscape irrigation system.


An AECOM employee participates in the scavenger hunt. Photo credit: AECOM.

  The office green team also wanted to engage AECOM employees so that they could shape and be active participants in the company’s sustainability efforts. Namur and her team surveyed employees around sustainability attitudes at work and elicited suggestions for improvement. The findings, which were shared with staff on Earth Day, set a baseline for future surveys and helped prioritize next steps and guide implementation teams. “The survey responses demonstrated our colleagues’ commitment to sustainability and also showed us where we have room for improvement,” Namur says.

“Our business is built on a foundational belief that we’re going in the right direction and helping the residents of the communities we serve do the same,” says ecobeco’s Marketing Director, Carol Schreitmueller. “There are thousands of County-located businesses that I believe would uncover significant hidden benefits from doing the work required to earn the Montgomery County Green Business Certification.”

Interested in learning more about the certification process? Visit mcgreenbiz.org , or contact Douglas Weisburger, at douglas.weisburger@montgomerycountymd.gov.
Article by Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges 

Congrats Poolesville! The town is now certified by Sustainable Maryland

Congrats Poolesville!  The town is now certified by Sustainable Maryland
The Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland announced that The Town of Poolesville was one of twelve Maryland municipalities honored at the Sustainable Maryland Awards Ceremony at the Maryland Municipal League’s annual Fall Conference held in Cambridge this week. Highlights of Poolesvilles’s accomplishments include:
  • Home to three Maryland Green Schools
  • Installed a 1.1 megawatt solar photovoltaic system at the wastewater treatment plant, providing clean, renewable energy and a savings are approximately $30,000/year
  • Installed LED streetlights in two of the Town’s most prominent parks
  • Created a Sustainability Resource Center at Town Hall, with a virtual version on the municipal website
  • Maintains a Community Garden in partnership with local non-profit Poolesville Green
  • Adopted a Green Purchasing Policy for procurement of municipal goods and services
  • Developed an inventory of residential septic systems within the Town limits
  • Retrofitted Town Hall parking lot with pervious concrete, providing improved stormwater management.
  “Poolesville is not only going green, but we are making every effort to save money and sustain the quality of life of our town,” said Poolesville Commissioner Valaree Dickerson.  
Poolesville Community Garden

Poolesville Community Garden

  “Poolesville has a very clear direction on what actions we plan to take, and how we are going to measure our progress and enhance livability for our families. We are so excited about becoming certified for our endeavors. As a Poolesville Commissioner and one of the initiators of this certification process, I am very proud of everyone involved. We started with a 4,400 panel solar farm and quickly moved to LED streetlights, permeable concrete, community garden, farmers market, and health and wellness programs for residents, and expect many more amazing projects yet to come.”  
Poolesville Solar Array

Poolesville Solar Array

  “We are excited to welcome more municipalities to the growing Sustainable Maryland community,” said Dan Nees, director of the Environmental Finance Center. “This program is a hallmark of our work at the Environmental Finance Center, guiding communities towards healthier, more sustainable futures. Each certification award represents the commitment of local elected officials, municipal staff and Green Team volunteers in these towns and cities to create a stronger, more resilient Maryland.” The attached photo shows Poolesville Commissioner Jerry Klobukowski with the Sustainable Maryland Certified award at the Maryland Municipal League conference this week. For detailed information about Poolesville’s sustainability initiatives, please contact Town Manager Wade Yost at 301-428-8927 or wyost@comcast.net

Sustainable Maryland Certification

To achieve certification, municipalities are required to form a Green Team comprised of local residents, community leaders, municipal staff and officials; complete a variety sustainability-related Actions worth a total of at least 150 points (including two mandatory actions and two of six priority actions), and submit the appropriate documentation as evidence that the Sustainable Maryland Certified requirements have been satisfied. View the Sustainable Maryland Action Menu.  
Sustainable Maryland Certified Awards 2015 Group Photo

Sustainable Maryland Certified Awards 2015 Group Photo

  The complete list of 2015 newly certified and re-certified (denoted by *) communities includes:
  • Town of Berlin* (Worcester County; the very first municipality to be certified in the program in 2012, re-certified in 2015)
  • City of Brunswick (Frederick County)
  • City of Cambridge (first municipality certified in Dorchester County)
  • Town of Centreville (first municipality certified in Queen Anne’s County)
  • Town of Chestertown* (Kent County; first certified in 2012, re-certified in 2015)
  • Town of Easton (first municipality certified in Talbot County)
  • Town of Emmitsburg (Frederick County)
  • City of Hagerstown (Washington County)
  • City of Laurel (Prince George’s County)
  • City of Mount Rainer* (Prince George’s County; first certified in 2012, re-certified in 2015)
  • Town of Poolesville (Montgomery County)
  • City of Rockville* (Montgomery County; first certified in 2012, re-certified in 2015)
According to Mike Hunninghake, Program Manager for Sustainable Maryland, “The annual Sustainable Maryland Certified awards are a testament to the passion and dedication of volunteers, municipal staff and elected officials on our Green Teams, and the innovative projects and plans they have completed towards improving the quality of life in their communities and reducing our collective footprint on the planet. This year, we are especially pleased by the successful re-certification of the first four Sustainable Maryland Certified municipalities from 2012, which speaks volumes about both the value communities place on our certification designation, and the sustainability of the municipal Green Team/Action Plan framework we have created here in Maryland.” Poolesville Sustainable Maryland Logo   Sustainable Maryland Certified Municipalities as of 2015 (4th full year of the program):
  • Number of Municipalities Sustainable Maryland Certified: 30 (19% of Maryland’s municipalities)
  • Number of Municipalities Sustainable Maryland Registered: 58 (37% of Maryland’s municipalities)

About Sustainable Maryland:

Sustainable Maryland is an initiative of the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland that is designed to support Maryland’s 157 municipalities as they look for cost-effective and strategic ways to protect their natural assets and revitalize their communities. Using best practices in resource areas like water, energy, planning, health, food, and economy, a municipality can earn points toward sustainability certification. Sustainable Maryland offers a customizable menu of concrete actions, allowing communities to select initiatives that best fit their specific needs. This free and voluntary program, with the support of the Maryland Municipal League, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Town Creek Foundation, helps communities choose a direction for their greening efforts; complete their chosen actions with help from program tools, trainings, expert guidance, and other resources; and be recognized statewide for their accomplishments.