Douglas Miller is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania pursuing a double major in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) and Environmental Studies. At Penn, he founded Green Acorn Business Certification & Eco-Consulting and serves on the board of several sustainability-related organizations.
Green Acorn Business Certification & Eco-Consulting was founded in August 2009 by Penn undergraduate students Douglas Miller, Lambros Theofanidis, and Ori Kedar. The aim of the program is to encourage local businesses to incorporate sustainability into their business model and provide a resource for promoting more sustainable purchasing habits among Penn students. Partnerships have been established with various groups on campus, including two freshmen Wharton School classes, to strengthen the organization’s efforts.
Green Acorn offers a streamlined certification process for businesses that use sustainable practices. It also offers consulting services to help businesses not only meet but also go above and beyond certification requirements. In addition to the cost savings and market differentiation businesses achieve by adopting the practices found within Green Acorn’s certification checklists, certified businesses are awarded free advertising and other promotions. Green Acorn also has campaigns to inspire students to support certified businesses. Furthermore, window decals are placed on the storefronts of certified businesses as a seal of approval to help students identify these stores from the street.
As more businesses integrate sustainability into their operations, Philadelphia will benefit from lowered energy and water use, reduced waste, increased reuse and recycling of materials, improved air quality, and increased environmental awareness. Likewise, as more Penn students make purchases from certified business, other businesses will be encouraged to go ‘green’ or else be left behind the curve.
Green Acorn designed its certification process to be simple and accessible to any type of business that wishes to reduce its environmental impact and increase profits. The requirements for certification are therefore either cost-free or low-cost. The reason for pursuing this strategy is that Green Acorn believes a sustainable economy can only develop if the everyday small business owner knows how to, and finds value in minimizing the environmental impact of his or her business. By designing certification checklists that are simple and can be potentially achieved by any business, Green Acorn has engaged in a strategy of taking baby-steps towards sustainable business practices. There is a checklist for each of the three business types – restaurant, office/retail, and food truck – eligible for certification. Each checklist addresses waste management, pollution prevention, resource conservation, and environmental awareness. At present, twelve businesses have been certified.
Green Acorn has pursued empirical research to enhance its efforts and increase insight on the environmental impact of the Penn community. In April 2011, survey data was collected regarding Penn student purchasing habits. This data was gathered from a randomized group of students representing about 2% of the Penn student population. Even though it was found that nearly 90% of students find it essential for businesses to adopt sustainable practices, 85% believe sustainability is not a fad, and a majority believes that sustainability effort are not costly, only one in every five Penn students regularly go to sustainable businesses around campus. Students are thus sending inaccurate signals to local businesses regarding sustainability. Nonetheless, 85% of Penn students find the information Green Acorn provides regarding the environmental impact of businesses important. In response to these findings, Green Acorn will soon be helping students address their unfulfilled intentions to support sustainable businesses by launching its Green Card initiative. Thanks to a Penn Green Fund grant, this initiative will offer students – at no cost to them – both (a limited number of) gift cards as well as long-term discount cards for use at certified businesses.
Green Acorn has over the past several months collected survey data from 53 businesses around Penn’s campus with the aim of gaining insight on the environmental impact of the local business community. The results illustrate the opportunity for Green Acorn to vastly improve the environmental impact of the surrounding business community. Many stores do not recycle, use efficient lighting and other appliances, use compostable disposable materials, offer local/organic food, or offer durable tableware. Many local businesses thus produce more waste and use more energy than would occur if they adopted sustainable business practices. The survey results can be found below:
Green Acorn takes an innovative approach to encourage both local businesses and students to adopt sustainable habits. It has been successful in working with numerous stores on campus become more sustainable and increasing student awareness of the environmental impact of purchasing habits. Continued efforts and research will be pursued to enhance the effectiveness of its initiatives and consulting services. Green Acorn will remain persistent towards its ultimate objective for every business in the Penn community to adopt sustainable practices and be certified