Leah Oblinger had managed the San Francisco office of Barkley Court Reporters for two years when, in 2006, she decided to turn it green.
Oblinger convinced her bosses to switch to recycled paper for the 10 million sheets they use each year. When the landlord wouldn't pay for new, low-flow toilets, she had the company buy them. She arranged for the firm's computers to be put on timers, so they turn off automatically at 7 p.m.
"Once I found out we had environmental alternatives, everyone got so excited by it," Oblinger said.
Barkley Court Reporters - with eight employees and 200 court reporters on contract through its San Francisco office - is among a growing number of small businesses that are trying to become greener and more environmentally sensitive. These aren't just classic eco-focused businesses like organic food producers or solar power companies. They include everything from neighborhood delis and hardware stores to auto mechanics, law firms, bookkeepers and dentists.
The Bay Area is at the forefront of this trend, thanks in part to a green business certification program coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments. One of the few such programs in the country, it has enrolled more than 1,300 small- and midsize businesses since its start in 1996.
In San Francisco alone, applications rose from 136 businesses in 2006 to 312 in 2007. Other counties are seeing double-digit increases in applications, and cities such as Oakland and Berkeley now have long waiting lists of businesses seeking green certification.
The green certification program helps companies figure out what steps to take, and how to do so affordably.
But the initial impetus always comes from within the business - from owners or employees who made it their mission to find greener ways of doing things.