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It’s been nearly a year and a half since the city of Orlando started certifying local businesses as “green,” yet only five have done so. Either the city’s standards are meaningless, or businesses just aren’t interested. Or maybe it’s a little of both.

One problem is that the city’s narrow focus on only three business sectors – landscape and lawn maintenance, restaurants, and vehicle maintenance and repair companies – excludes innumerable businesses. But more than that, the bare-bones requirements leave people questioning whether becoming a member is even worthwhile.

The only requirements to become a member of Orlando Green Business are a brief audit, during which the city makes sure pollutants are not being dumped down the storm drain, and staff “training,” which involves managers either holding a staff meeting to review policies, or passing out an info packet to employees. Businesses that comply get a sticker and a certificate signed by the mayor.

“It’s not truly green,” says Julie Norris, co-owner of Dandelion Communitea Cafe. “I’m compliant; I just need to do staff training, but I’m almost hesitant to do it because my reputation is important to me. I’d rather them implement additional steps before I agree to have my name behind the program.”

In addition to Dandelion, four other businesses are in the process of joining the program.

Norris says additional steps could be as simple as ensuring that businesses recycle and compost, utilize recycled products and refrain from using Styrofoam.

“I think that right now Orange County and the city don’t know anything about being green,” Norris says. “I think it takes a long time to implement something new or change old habits. Locally, a lot of businesses are headed in that direction.”

Karin Taveira, owner of On the Grill, a restaurant that became a member during the summer of 2006, thinks recycling should be included as a key component of the program. Taveira, a native of conservation-happy San Francisco, says she contacted the city about recycling when she opened, but got little response.

“The city comes out for every other thing when you’re opening a business. The dumpster people were here right away. It’s just not encouraged,” she says. “Who uses more bottles? I’m a restaurant. [Requiring green businesses to recycle] would be a step in the right direction.”

Other green business programs have considerably higher standards, and more members. California’s Bay Area Green Business Program, for example, has more than 1,000 members. In order to become part of that program, businesses must not only prove that they are preventing pollution, they’ve also got to demonstrate they are conserving resources and reducing waste. Incandescent lighting is largely prohibited; energy-efficient “exit” signs are required; businesses must participate in curbside recycling and composting, and are required to conserve water. What’s more, businesses must also adopt an environmentally friendly purchasing plan, buy paper that contains at least 35 percent post-consumer content, and buy other recycled supplies.

The state of Hawaii has a green business program that requires participants to conserve water, save energy and reduce solid waste. Boston’s program outlines efforts to lower energy use, protect the stormwater system and procure environmentally friendly supplies made out of recycled materials.

Orlando’s program, by comparison, seems pretty lenient. It requires restaurants to make sure mop water and grease are poured down the utility sink, and clean up spills via dry methods, like kitty litter, instead of hosing them into storm drains. Lawn companies are asked to blow grass back onto a yard or bag the waste, use low-phosphorous fertilizers and nontoxic pesticides when possible, and check for equipment leaks. Vehicle maintenance companies need to wash cars in designated areas, use a spout and funnel on waste containers to prevent spills, and keep trash bins clean and covered.

“We are aware there are many more ways to go green,” says Green Business Program coordinator Katie Kulbaba. “We would like to expand to include more components; we’re not even close to catching them all. We’re just trying to make green more approachable.”

Kulbaba says the city would like to expand the program’s requirements and the types of industries that can participate, but there are no plans to do it soon due to lack of funding.

Emily Ruff, owner of the Florida School of Holistic Living, says the bar isn’t high enough. Though her school did not fall into any of the three available categories, she was made an honorary member of the program.

“Other metro areas are making businesses make greater steps to call themselves green,” she says. “It’s making a major impact. I think it’s a positive step that it’s moving in that direction, but there are lots of other ways to look at how businesses affect the environment.”

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