Illustration by Bela Messex.

The city of Santa Cruz has become synonymous with environmental activism and being at the forefront of the green movement. And as of this past week, the city is taking one more step toward balancing environmental responsibility with economic vitality.

City council members voted on Tuesday to pass a Green Business Measurement and Tracking Tool, which will help Santa Cruz manage the number of green businesses throughout California, as well as the effectiveness of certain green practices. The city will collaborate with Ecology Action Inc., described on the organization’s website as “a nonprofit environmental consultancy.” Funding is provided by a small grant awarded by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (CDTSC).

The program, which aims to create an online network of green businesses, will document the progress of these environmentally conscious business tactics. The state is encouraging such environmentally friendly practices by garnering attention for certified green businesses through the creation of an accessible database. With access to a listing of green businesses, individuals are given the opportunity to be more responsible consumers.

“The [CDTSC] has given [a grant] to continue the program and promote the measurement tool to track savings achieved through participation in the green business program,” said Cathlin Atchison, who works with the City Public Works Department and serves as the green business manager.

Atchison explained that the database will also allow consumers to ask themselves, “Where would be the best place to go if I want to support a green business?”

Erica Penney, manager at L’Atelier Salon, a certified green business in Santa Cruz, said that although green efforts can be difficult to maintain for businesses like a salon, consumers in the area have an “awareness” of green practices and make a conscious decision to seek out environmentally friendly businesses.

“We have clientele that specifically come [here] because we are a green business,” Penney said. “As someone who works with a green business, it’s important to create a network.”

In addition, through the tracking of green businesses, the program hopes to calculate not only ecological profit but fiscal benefits as well.

“[With the database] we’ll be able to determine how much savings are achieved,” Atchison said. “It’s really helpful in measuring the steps the community and businesses are taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Green Business Measurement and Tracking Tool program will help businesses become certified as green to ensure that they comply with environmental standards in the areas of energy and water savings, solid waste, climate action and pollution prevention.

Atchison said that the ways businesses can cut monetary costs as well as eliminate some pollution can be as simple as organizing a carpool for employees. The overall goal, she said, is to “reduce businesses’ carbon footprint.”

Santa Cruz certified its first green business in 2006, and since then the county has certified a total of 15 businesses, including the UC Santa Cruz dining halls, Atchison said. She added that the increase in the number of local green businesses shows “businesses [are] now seeing the value” in adopting green practices.

Like Atchison, Mayor Ryan Coonerty hopes that the program will benefit the Santa Cruz community.

“We need the city and individuals to adopt good practices,” he said.

Coonerty also expressed excitement over the “collaboration between the city, Ecology Action as a non-profit, and the business community.”

Jo Fleming, who manages the green business program for Scotts Valley and Watsonville and has had approximately 18 years of experience in environmental work, believes that the program’s documentation of green business benefits will be highly useful in promoting environmentally sound practices.

“If you can collect that [information] in one tracking system, it just is a powerful force,” Fleming said. “Green business has definitely instituted the most change [environmentally].”

Fleming said that Santa Cruz holds a “commitment to environmental leadership” and that it is this atmosphere of environmental consciousness that has allowed the city to step up to the plate as managers of this project.

“I think it’s great that Santa Cruz has taken on a leadership [role] in this statewide collaborative effort,” Fleming said.

Coonerty also said that there resides a certain commitment to environmentally responsible behavior in the city of Santa Cruz, and explains that the city is “pushed by community to enact more cutting edge environmental policy.”

The benefits garnered through green business practices can be invaluable, Atchison said.

“Most businesses think it’s really worth the effort. There is really an opportunity to save while doing the right thing,” she said. “[It’s] good for the planet and good for the business.”