Go Green: Developing A Clean and Green Cooperative
While we believe there are opportunities for worker cooperatives in almost any type of work, this section focuses on environmentally friendly contracting and cleaning work on homes and businesses, because we believe this is an industry especially suited to worker cooperatives in the Bay Area. We refer to this type of work as Clean and Green.
Clean And Green
Clean and Green refers to work in and around homes and businesses that is environmentally friendly, such as home cleaning that uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, and contracting work that utilizes environmentally friendly products and practices.
The green movement is large and continues to grow, presenting a great opportunity for businesses that are environmentally friendly. Worker cooperatives are uniquely suited to being green, and therefore are positioned to benefit greatly from the green movement. The customer’s focus is no longer just on the financial bottom line. Customers and governments want to purchase green products and hire companies that use environmentally friendly business practices. Businesses that protect the health of their communities, their workers, and their customers are being favored over businesses that do not. Because cooperatives are controlled by their workers and invested in their communities, these businesses are especially sensitive to, and invested in, practices that ensure healthy workplaces and healthy communities, and these are the traits that consumers are increasingly looking for as the green movement grows.
Worker Cooperatives As Green Businesses
Worker-owned businesses are naturally suited to being green because workers are making the decisions. Traditional corporations are owned by shareholders who do not spend every day working at the business, and do not live in the community where the business is located. Corporate shareholders are thus usually less concerned with maintaining healthy workplaces and making sure the business does not harm its community.
By contrast, worker-owners tend to care about the community’s environment because they live and work in that community. Worker-owners also tend to care about the environmental sustainability of their business, rather than only making as much money as possible. Because they have increased job security as owners of the business, they can plan for the long-term and invest in the continued health of their business and their community.
Opportunities for worker cooperatives in green contracting and home cleaning work include the following:
Green Home Cleaning
A study conducted by Green Seal Inc. found that 58% of consumers are buying green cleaning products. Customers buying cleaning products or hiring home cleaners want to make sure that their home remains a safe place for their families. Worker-owners of a home cleaning business want to make sure that the products they are exposed to in the workplace are safe. Thus, both the end consumer and the workers benefit from ensuring that the products are nontoxic and environmentally friendly.
Homeowners are becoming increasingly aware of environmentally friendly remodeling, and the ways in which they can save both money and the environment by making different choices concerning their home. One way to do this is to save on energy costs by creating more energy efficient homes. Contractors can use green building materials such as durable flooring, can encourage clients to leave in building fixtures when doing a remodel, and can make energy efficiency a goal of all areas of their work. Utility companies such as PG&E offer rebates for energy efficiency when remodeling. Energy Upgrade California is a state program that offers incentives to homeowners who make energy-saving improvements. Contra Costa County offers additional rebates to homeowners who improve the energy efficiency of their home. These incentives are expanding the market for green retrofitting and increasing the opportunities for worker cooperatives in this field.
Consumers are looking into landscaping practices that conserve water and money. Water shortage is an increasingly discussed environmental issue in California, and people are looking for every opportunity to save water. Landscapers can use hydro-zoning (placing plants that require the same amounts of water in the same places) to limit water use as much as possible. Landscapers can also reduce chemical use by choosing fertilizers with fewer chemicals and using less fertilizer, can recycle green waste on site by reusing it, and can prevent storm water run-off.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District is offering rebates to homeowners that conserve water, such as a $500 dollar rebate for converting a lawn to a sustainable landscape. Worker cooperatives should explore business opportunities in this field.
Licensing May Be Required
Some of these clean and green work opportunities may require a contractor’s license. All house-cleaning work, and any contracting job for less than $500, does not require a contractor’s license, but any contracting work for more than $500 (including labor and supplies) requires a license. California offers a general contractors license and 41 specialty licenses for jobs such as landscaping, painting, plumbing, and roofing.
General building contractors usually oversee projects and coordinate the specific licensed subcontractors for a job. Specialty or subcontractors are usually hired to perform a single job. If your cooperative works on homes and your work involves anything other than home cleaning, and the job is for more than $500 dollars, your cooperative probably requires at minimum a general contractors license.
Individuals, cooperative corporations, traditional corporations, and LLCs are all eligible for contracting licenses. A qualifying individual from the business must have four years of experience in the type of work of the license you are applying for, the qualifying person must fill out an application and, if the application is approved, the qualifying person must take a test. If the test is passed, there are additional financial requirements necessary to be eligible for a license.
In previous sections youlearned that there are different entity choices possible for worker cooperatives. A worker cooperative should consider whether it will need a contractor’s license before making its entity choice. It is less expensive for a cooperative corporation to get licensed than it is for an LLC. A sole proprietorship or partnership is also inexpensive, but does not provide a liability shield, meaning you will be personally liable if your company is found liable.
We recommend forming a cooperative corporation if a cooperative’s work requires a contractor’s license, and forming an LLC if a cooperative is doing housecleaning work or contracting work for less than $500.
Other Benefits Of Being Green
In addition to the business opportunities mentioned above, an environmentally friendly business can receive other benefits. A green business can be certified as a Bay Area Green Business, which entitles it to a marketing toolkit and assures potential customers that its business is state certified as environmentally friendly.
In addition, some cities favor green businesses in the procurement process. For example, the City of Richmond purchase policy specifies that the city must take into account whether a company is environmentally friendly before hiring the company or buying goods from it.
Existing Clean And Green Worker Cooperatives
There are current success stories in the Clean and Green worker cooperative field.
The Eco-Friendly Cleaning Co-op Network, incubated by WAGES, includes five green cleaning cooperatives in the Bay Area. Their businesses have won awards, serve more than fifty cities, and create healthy, dignified jobs. Teamworks, a nonprofit project in San Jose, incubates two worker cooperatives including a home cleaning cooperative and a sustainable landscape maintenance cooperative.