Current Sustainable Business Initiatives in NJ

New Jersey’s Four Existing Sustainable Business Initiatives

New Jersey actually has four sustainable business initiatives, three run by the State and one by a non-profit, with a State partner. What do they do and how can they fit into a green economy?

This section draws both from these initiatives’ websites, and years of attendance at their meetings, including the making of a final run in the past year at three of them (in October in Hackensack and in February in Parsippany for SBI, in November in Hamilton for WasteWise, and in September, a webinar for Local Economies) done principally in case an opportunity like this one emerged to write about them. The author of Appendix II has made frequent oral and written suggestions at each over the years, and actually helped start two of them years ago.

NJDEP’s and New Jersey Small Business Development Center’s SBI and Registry

The SBI was briefly mentioned in the earlier Students’ work. This is the major initiative in the state. Its “vision is to raise awareness, educate, and motivate companies to pursue sustainability as a competitive business strategy and a shared community responsibility and account for its performance in terms of the TBL.” One of its goals is “…to enhance economic success, environmental protection, and an improved quality of life” (NJSBDC, n.d.-a).

It provides speakers at its forums for stakeholders, has developed a Sustainable Business Registry (see below), now managed by the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (NJSBDC), and lists resources for businesses on its website.

To be eligible for the State’s Registry, applicants must: (a) take five or more sustainability actions, (b) provide a measurement of the results of one of these, (c) show the economic savings from one (NJSBDC, n.d.-a); and (d) every other year add one additional sustainability practice, and one show one additional measurable result (NJSBDC, n.d.-b).

Actions could include:

  • Establish annual environmental goals, or even “Aspirational” goals
  • Participate in another certification program, such as (and it lists these): Environmental Stewardship (see below), the Clean Marina Program, LEED Green Building; or in the Garden State Green Hotels Project, or Greening Meadowlands Restaurants activities
  • Environmental Restoration
  • “Adopt a cause or project in the community” (NJSBDC, n.d.-b).

The NJSBDC, in turn, allows successful Registry applicants to: “use the NJSBDC logo” on their own website, be listed on NJSBDC’s website with a “promotional profile,” use a “Sustainable Business Seal which can be displayed” at the company’s site (Smarth, n.d.).

The NJSBCD also provides free consulting to small business on sustainability practices (NJSBDC, n.d.-a).

The Registry has contributed to the environmental performance of member companies. For instance, according to their website, in total, companies have saved over 12 million gallons of water, and reduced their waste by almost 17 million pounds, and saved over $6M (NJSBDC, 2017).

NJDEP SBI staff said in Hackensack, and Management confirmed at WasteWise in Hamilton, that the SBI has now “fulfilled its mission.” It has “reached its objectives to develop the Registry and do seminars.” They did not appear to hold the institutional memory that in this initiative’s early days, it was contemplated (if never implemented) to offer businesses regulatory incentives in return for substantial beyond-compliance goal-setting by them.

NJDEP’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative

Unlike the other three, NJDEP’s Environmental Stewardship initiative has not been visited for a while. FDU ISE did give the former Manager of this initiative a “Leadership” Award several years ago.

This initiative sees stewardship as “business voluntarily go[ing] beyond the minimum regulatory requirements…resulting in a positive benefit to the environment.”

The “positive benefits” it sees for companies include “saving costs and adding value, potentially reducing…regulatory responsibilities, improving environmental performance and reducing liability, and providing…a competitive advantage…”

It defines 21 categories of Stewardship for which businesses can select, including water use reduction, renewable energy use, carbon footprint, environmental enhancements (such as “wildlife habitat restoration, rain gardens, invasive weed control, or use of native species”), and an innovative program “not recognized under other stewardship activities, such as being a member of a state sponsored voluntary program…” (NJDEP Compliance & Enforcement, n.d.- a).

It works through the normal enforcement mechanism of NJDEP inspectors visiting the company, discussing this atypical subject, and “observing [the] improvements” (NJDEP Compliance & Enforcement, n.d.-b).

Companies that satisfactorily show evidence of meeting one or more of these categories “receive a letter of recognition and certificate” lasting for one year (NJDEP Compliance & Enforcement, n.d.-c).

One way the department describes this program is as “an opportunity to be ‘caught’ doing something good and to be acknowledged for it” (NJDEP Compliance & Enforcement, n.d.-d).

According to NJDEP, “currently there are 1,505 sites that have received Stewardship recognition from the NJDEP” (Walker, 2018).


The New Jersey WasteWise Business Network, managed by NJDEP, offers forums at which speakers “help businesses and other organizations learn how waste reduction, recycling, and recycled product procurement not only help the environment, but also their bottom line.” In practice though, speakers sometimes do talk about ambitious sustainable business topics. (See below.) Their website also provides lists of resources (NJDEP, n.d.).

Sustainable Jersey’s Local Economies Activities

As municipalities pursue sustainability certification, there are actually two relevant sets of activities for businesses within those towns among SJ’s available actions. These are under the Local Economies category: the Green Business Recognition Program and Green Jobs/Economic Development.

SJ updated the former in February, and seem to be giving more flexibility to applicants on criteria and on what must be provided, increasing their options, while promoting the use of criteria based on what is in the Sustainable Business Registry program (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.- a). To that end, they provide 10 points for the regular Green Business program, or 20 if the municipality uses criteria for business participation which borrows from the Registry, “and includes participation in the… [Registry]” (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.-b).

Some of the criteria applicants may choose from are interesting. They include: (a) “pay a living wage,” (b) “Allow employees on-the-clock participation in community service,” (c) “Compost food scraps and yard waste,” (d) “Recycle grey water, (e) “produce or sell environmentally friendly items” (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.-a).

According to their webinar, SJ will give 20 points instead of 10 for involvement in “sector-specific projects like ‘River-Friendly’ Certification.”

The website also provides resources and summaries of other municipalities’ programs in New Jersey and a few out-of-state (Sustainable Jersey, n,d.-a)

The Green Jobs/Economic Development initiative requires municipal applicants to “Submit a Green Economic Development Plan.” Applicants have to show a “meaningful initiative that drives investment in sustainable economic activities, stimulates demand for green labor, and/or provides green workforce training.” The definition of a green economy used is broader than just renewable energy jobs, but not as broad as in this Paper, saying “general economic development activities that do not specifically target the Green Sector will not count.”

It provides suggestions on how to go about doing the Plan, and some components of it, including bolder-than-usual ideas like: (a) “Use high-profile green business demonstration projects to raise the Municipality’s ‘Green profile,” and (b) “establish financial support for green businesses through tax incentives, abatements, rebates, reduced fees, or streamlined permitting,” in return for “requiring a minimum rate of local resident employment as part of green business incentives” (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.-b).

An accepted initiative gets the municipal applicant 10 points towards certification.

Currently 27 Municipalities in New Jersey are doing Green Business Recognition activities, and 4 are doing Green Jobs/Economic Development activities (Solomon, 2018)

Assessment of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Programs

All of the sustainable business programs in New Jersey are worthy, and have shown improvement over time. Although not that well known, attendance has grown at most of their events over the years. The environmental and academic communities, though, have almost never attended.

However, certain important themes rarely or infrequently come up:

  • The urgency of some environmental issues and potential crises
  • Acknowledgement and making use of the existence of a sustainable business field, which, as noted earlier, shows many new ways some businesses are showing their environmental and social responsibilities
  • The need (and precedents) for taking more than small, incremental steps, including by small businesses
  • Going beyond cost savings as the main motive
  • Green design and biomimicry
  • Politics, rarely policy, and, with some exceptions, not climate change
  • The worth of taking sustainability actions that are not quantifiable
  • And while Sustainable Jersey is taking an admirable step (elsewhere in its Program) to explore and develop Gold-level Certification for Municipalities, by requiring applicants to take unusually bold solid waste or energy measures, it is not also doing the same for its Local Economies set of activities.

There were a few exceptions when bold points did come up: (a) at the WasteWise forum, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Green Association expressed an unusual paradigm— for a business conference (as opposed to an environmental studies class), that “The Earth is alive…and hurting,” actually implying urgency, a speaker from Campbell’s Soup showed a video that discussed the “Need to change the food system,” implying big change, and a third speaker discussed a goal of some companies of “Zero Waste,” something that, at one time, would have been considered ridiculous; and (b) at the last two SBI forums, one speaker discussed her company CEO’s environmental ethic and how that drove the companies’ environmental product lines and activities, and another speaker (a Ramapo College graduate) spoke about basically shaking up his entire sector (hospitals), including by, among other things, questioning conventional wisdoms about what is possible, and doing a deeper dive on the actual costs for actions he wanted to take versus the numbers he was told to use.

Sustainable Jersey’s Green Business Recognition Program, in their February update, appears to have added some noteworthy new statements: (a) “[there is]…significant room for improvement in almost every industry;” (b) “social and environmental issues are pressing,” (c) “Business owners have an essential role in mitigating climate change impacts in their own businesses to help New Jersey become stronger overall; and (d) “Businesses and social enterprises can be change agents for healthy growth and revitalization. They can influence government to remove obstacles, create incentives, and provide support to create an economic environment that is restorative, equitable, and sustainable” (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.).

They also mentioned that Princeton held a “Green Business Great Ideas” forum, which is noteworthy.

While most of these were recent, they are very rare over the years. Still, they still hint at what is possible. Some of the recent trends are in the right direction, although it’s not clear that that’s been recognized as relevant for future planning.

It can be easily argued that these initiatives have been doing the best they can as it’s hard to know the financial and other constraints under which they operate. They are legitimately trying to help the companies which participate, and almost no stakeholders are telling them to “be bolder.”

However, there is a lack of vision about what they could achieve, and no apparent desire for an ambitious one.

We are fortunate to have them. They could be an excellent basis upon which to build a broader, or potentially much broader and ambitious, green economy in New Jersey.

Five Other Related Initiatives

Two other, somewhat similar, forums were also attended over the past year. Showing both similarity and contrast to the above, a meeting of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council (NJSBC) in Neptune discussed their “Values-driven business membership base,” the TBL, and how public policy can help or hurt companies trying to pursue sustainability. This organization exists largely to promote pro-sustainability public policies that both help their members compete and increase societal sustainability. It is involved in both environmental and social issues.

The Rutgers Eco-Complex in Bordentown, which has had tenant entrepreneurs for years, announced at a forum the start of a new Accelerator for Clean Technologies. It offers a 12-week training program, which includes the usual elements of entrepreneurial training. But it did not mention sustainability at either the forum or in describing the Accelerator, and had the same missing elements as the above. They were, though, receptive to hearing this message.

The New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technologies (NJCAT) has always been in a largely different orbit from sustainable business, even when the latter was a larger part of State Government. The NJCAT “identifies, evaluates, and recommends specific technologies for which the regulatory and commercialization process should be facilitated.” It helps developers of environmental technologies address “numerous technical, financial, and regulatory impediments.” As an example of a regulatory obstacle, developers of storm water management technologies are faced with meeting a provision of the New Jersey Storm Water Rules (35 N.J.R. 154) that says “…devices may be used to meet the regulatory requirements provided the pollutant removal rates [it promises] are verified by NJCAT and certified by NJDEP” (Magee, n.d.).

It is not ideal that this function is separate from sustainable business efforts as it is possible we’re missing something from the lack of interplay.

Finally, going back longer than a year, attendance at forums of the Rutgers Food Policy Institute and NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center found little explicit attention to sustainability, greenness, or, in NJIT’s case, social enterprise. It would be incorrect, however, to say they had nothing going on which would qualify, either at the time or in their pasts, no interest, or no faculty at these universities who could conceivably complement their existing entrepreneurial base. The former, in particular, had tenants whose business efforts did involve addressing social problems; and the latter certainly is interested in improving Newark. But it was not front-and-center, and with no promise to make it so. They also did not show awareness that adding sustainability or greenness would have to include more than treating such businesses as just another business, offering the same exact entrepreneurial skills, without the many nuances discussed in this Appendix about which budding sustainable business practitioners could benefit from knowing. They would also have to expose non-green business tenants to sustainability ideas, possibly getting them into the green category.

All-in-all, though, it’s not a bad foundation upon which to pull together these existing initiatives and embolden them with a new and powerful vision.

Special Attention to Farming

While agriculture received disproportionate emphasis in the earlier Student report, it deserves even more, for six reasons: (a) going deeper finds many more-than-expected positive actual and potential interconnections between farming and the environment—which is in contrast to the more usual hostility expressed between farmers, environmentalists, and government; (b) it’s a way to give some attention to the rural parts of the state; (c) it’s yet another way to distinguish New Jersey’s approach to a green economy as others’ initiatives don’t usually include it; (d) there’s something misleading about the dismissive view some have of agriculture as a relic, not worthy of attention when considering glamorous “growth sectors,” and it’s worthwhile for its own stake to see if the old-and-the-new can creatively be combined; (e) if the challenge (mentioned in the “Mindsets” section below) of hostility toward regulation and environmental protection efforts can be reduced here, it would likely provide lessons that could be valuable elsewhere; and (f) it shows the potential value of a deeper dive into a sector, that could be modeled for other sectors.

Appendix III shows 44 ways farming and the environment (and some social areas) have or could come together productively. URLs are given for most of these articles and resources that show that particular positive connection. In a few cases, notes are shown from attendance at forums on that connection, or emails making a relevant point while announcing an event or initiative.

Some of these connections are: (a) crops with untapped market potential; (b) the same, but for non-food use (it’s not just marijuana) and from waste as well; (c) farmer/environmentalist partnerships; (d) farmers or companies in the food business practicing CSR; (e) farmer recognition of the threats from climate change; (f) models of leading edge sustainability thinking and practice on farms, and sustainable farm demos; (g) finding ways to use biomass and bioenergy in environmentally-friendly ways; (h) carbon sequestration on farms; (i) ecosystem services-based businesses (see above); (j) farmer programs to combat food insecurity, train veterans, prisoners, and employ the disabled and refugees; and (l) social entrepreneurship.

Existing State Green Jobs/Internship Programs/Information Sources/Environmental Incubators

What about green jobs training, green internship programs, environmental incubators/accelerators in the state, and information sources on a green economy in New Jersey? The current status of any older New Jersey green job training and other programs is not clear.

The ones that existed in the past were: a) green jobs training programs (i.e. at Bergen Community College, Morris County College, the City of Newark’s GREENCAP Apprenticeship Program, focusing on LEED-certified housing, Isles’ Home Energy Action for Trenton focusing

on energy efficiency and solar power for high school students (Sustainable Jersey, n.d.-b), Transitioning to Green for professional jobs, vocational school training such as Sustainable Design, Construction, & Energy, relevant “crafts” training, Duke Farms’ urban agriculture training; (b) internship programs, like Montclair State University’s summer Green Teams; (c) information sources (e.g. the NJ Department of Labor, New Jersey Next Step, and a relevant blog); (d) jobs for the disabled programs (i.e. in Burlington and Warren Counties); and (e) sustainable technologies and social entrepreneurship incubators/accelerators (at least a few of which did not make it).

Jersey Renews did report that “In 2013, New Jersey ended its state incentive program that offered funding for companies to hire graduates of green jobs training programs.” This program paid “up to 50% of new hires’ wages for six months…” (Jersey Renews, n.d.).


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