Our Criteria

Chinook Book Merchant Criteria

What makes a good business? As a company that focuses on connecting good people with good businesses, this is something we ask ourselves every day. Defining what we mean by a “good” business in the first place is challenging, and then measuring their “goodness” can be equally challenging. So working in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Commission of the City of Portland and Multnomah County, we developed a criteria framework and a product-by-product matrix to help us and to be transparent to our readers.

We start with the premise that good businesses do business in a connected way. They treat their employees and suppliers well, they minimize their environmental impact, and they support the community that supports them. We look for ways to measure these qualities, and then we add in a dose of humility and good judgment.


1. Independent third-party certification
First we look for Independent Third-Party Certification of the business or product, including:

We also recognize certification from Bay Area Green Business Program, Biodynamic (Demeter), Bird-Friendly: Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (shade-grown coffee), Certified Humane, Cradle-to-Cradle, EcoBiz, Envirostars, EPEAT, Food Alliance, Food Justice Certified, Leaping Bunny: Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, LEED, LIVE, Marine Stewardship Council, Non-GMO Project, Rainforest Alliance, and Worker-Owned.

This option covers approximately 35% of the products and services we cover.

2. Self-Certification
We also consider self-certification on specific claims a business is making about aspects of its operations, including percentage of recycled materials used, low- or no-VOC content in paints, rBst/rBGH-free dairy products, hormone-free animal products, antibiotic-free animal products, grass-fed animals, cage-free chickens, non-toxic practices, cooperative or small farm sustainable coffee, and co-op businesses.

This option covers approximately 1% of the products and services we cover.

3. Chinook Book Surveys
For dining establishments and hotels, we require them to complete our own survey regarding their sourcing of produce, dairy, meat and seafood products.

This option covers approximately 10% of the products and services we cover.

4. Significant Substitution Advantage
For products and services that don’t fall into specific certification categories, we look at substitution advantage. This is where using one type of product or service is better than another in terms of their impact. We apply this option to the following categories:

  • Transportation: bikes, skateboards, carsharing services, biofuels, hybrid and electric vehicles, bus and transit
  • Gardening: native plants, low-water plants, compost, water-saving devices
  • Used: anything used or salvaged, including clothing, building materials, books and music
  • Energy: energy-conserving devices or materials, including insulation and weatherization supplies, ceiling fans, compact fluorescent light bulbs, clotheslines; clean energy products, including solar panels
  • Water: water-conserving devices
  • Experiences: local experiences, including theater, museums, gardens
  • Fitness and outdoor recreation: products and services that promote non-motorized outdoor recreation and fitness, including camping, biking, hiking, paddling, running, climbing, dance, yoga and Pilates
  • Education: books and classes that provide education on a wide variety of practices that promote less-impactful living, including classes on organic gardening, cooking with local foods
  • Crafts: certain crafts and hobbies, including knitting and music
  • Locally manufactured goods: jewelry, clothing, art, note cards/books/paper products, toys, fashion and gift-related items.
  • Climate change advocates: In order to highlight and support business leaders who are trying to make change on the legal level, we now support select businesses who are advocates in the fight against climate change. Actions of advocacy could include signing the Oregon Business Climate Declaration, joining the BICEP Coalition, among many others.

This option covers approximately 54% of the products and services we cover.

Applying the Criteria

Below is a complete list of product, service and business categories and which criteria option covers the category.

Grocery & Dining

ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Packaged Food1Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance
Grocery Stores1 & 4Substantial presence of certified organic products required (even though coupons not always limited to those items)
Fresh Produce1 & 4Must be organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, or locally grown (the latter for CSA delivery services, not produce at a grocery store)
Seafood1 Marine Stewardship Council certified, or "yellow" or "green" on Seafood Watch
Meats, Dairy, Eggs1 & 2Organic, or rBst/rBGH-free sources
Pet Food1Organic
Restaurants3Must complete our restaurant survey
Restaurants (vegetarian)4Must complete our restaurant survey
Beer & Wine1 & 4Organic, Salmon Safe, LIVE, or biodynamic certified
Coffee Shops1 Certified organic or Fair Trade coffee or tea
Catering3 Must complete our restaurant survey

Entertainment & Family

ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Museums & Cultural Attractions4
Theater, Dance, Music, Cultural Performance4
Sporting Events & Indoor Sporting Activities4
Movies & Cinema4
Zoos & Aquariums4Must have a significant conservation and education mission
Musical Instruments4
Music & Video for Purchase4Used CDs, DVDs, LPs and cassettes only
Books, Magazines, Posters, Educational Materials4 Used; Promote healthy, environmental, sustainable living

Note on entertainment and cultural events: Cultural events and institutions support a vibrant community, and the arts in general challenge and encourage us to think, question and take actions that make the world a better place. Plus, giving tickets to attend local cultural events – gifts of experience, rather than more stuff – supports waste reduction. While the overall environmental benefits of these organizations may be difficult to measure, we feel they are significant contributors to quality of life, a vibrant local economy and a healthy environment.

Wellness, Fashion & Gifts

ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Yoga, Pilates, Reiki, Massage4Promote health and well-being
Athletic Clubs4Promote health and well-being
Apparel1, 2 & 4Certified organic fiber; recycled or recyclable synthetic fibers; vintage or resale items; some specific natural fibers (bamboo, soy, Tencel, limestone)
Knitting1 & 2Same as apparel
Crafts/DIY (Ceramics, Jewelry, etc.)1, 2 & 4
Gifts, Accessories1 & 4Made from certified or recycled materials, or made from locally found materials, or maker/organization is a member of the Fair Trade Federation
Spa Services, Salon & Personal Care Products1Certified organic ingredients in the products used (Note: We follow Whole Foods Market's "Whole Body Quality Standards" available here)
Dietary Supplements1Certified organic ingredients
Health-Related Classes or Insurance4Must have a significant prevention, health and/or well-being focus
Cloth Diaper Service4
Pet Products2 & 4Bedding, toys, etc. made from recycled and/or organic materials
Photographic Services4Digital only
Financial Services4Community banks and credit unions meet the criteria. Specific products offered by other financial institutions, including socially responsible investments and energy-efficient mortgages, also qualify.
Computers1Certified EPEAT Gold or higher


ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Paints, Finishes1 & 2Green Seal certified or low-VOC and non-toxic
Cleaning Services, Supplies1 & 2Green Seal certified or non-toxic
Paper Products2Process chlorine-free
Building Supplies1, 2 & 4Surplus, or FSC-certified wood, or recycled content
Furniture1 & 2Organic fabrics, or FSC wood, or recycled content
Hardware Stores1 & 4Substantial presence of individual items meeting the criteria
Linens1Same as apparel
Appliances1Energy Star certified
Repair Services4Upholstery services, furniture repair
Fixtures, Lighting4Energy Star fixtures/light bulbs or used
Home Heating4Biodiesel
Realtors*4Green real estate services
Energy Saving Materials4Insulation, weather-stripping, etc.

*Note on realtors: we are in a trial phase with including realtors in the Chinook Book Criteria. We are still defining our Criteria for realtors and welcome suggestions.

Travel & Recreation

ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Fuel1 & 4E85 ethanol or biodiesel
Bikes, Supplies4Anything bike-related
Outdoor Gear/Apparel4 All gear for camping, paddling, snow Apparel sports, etc. for non-motorized recreation
Angling4Lead-free sinkers
Outdoor Recreation Rentals/Service4Rentals, classes or trips for non-motorized recreation
Snow Skiing1Ski Area Citizens grade of B or better
Rock Climbing4Indoor rock climbing walls/gym
Auto repair, Oil changes1 & 4EcoLogical Business Program, Bay Area Green Business Program or Envirostars certified
Lodging3Must complete our lodging survey on practices
Cars1All vehicles having a class ranking of "Superior" or a "Best in Class" ranking in the subcompact (manual or automatic), compact (manual or automatic), midsize (automatic only), small wagon, midsize wagon, or compact SUV category (automatic only) of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE)'s Green Book.
Car Washes4Must use recycled water

Yard & Garden

ProductCriteriaCriteria Comments
Plants1Native, organic or drought resistant plants
Flowers (cut)1Organic or Rainforest Alliance
Fertilizers1 & 4Compost, organic or yard debris services
Landscaping/Tree Care1 & 4EcoLogical business certified or significant commitment to using native plants, or organic lawn care
Seeds1 & 4Certified organic or heirloom
Pesticides1 & 4Certified organic or bio-control
Pest Control Services4Company must only use products rated with the "caution" label by EPA. Products containing the "warning" or "danger" label are not permitted.
Lawn Mowers4Reel or electric and sharpening services
Tools4Hand tools for use instead of gas-powered
Compost Bins4
Bird Feeders4
Outdoor Furniture1 & 4FSC-certified or bamboo
Gardening Classes4For organic gardening, naturescaping

Chinook Book Criteria Application: A Few Additional Notes

Coupons: To enable the easy and efficient use of the coupon mechanism, we have allowed certain retailers to offer storewide coupons as long as they have a significant presence of products in their stores that meet the Chinook Book criteria, even if not all of their products do. The two main merchant categories where this occurs are grocery stores and hardware stores. In these cases, we require merchants to include on their coupons at least a partial list of specific products meeting the criteria.

Big Box Stores: While the Chinook Book Criteria applies primarily to products and services, we cannot deny the environmental and social impact so-called big box retailers have on communities. These impacts include negative effects on land use and transportation. We recognize that quantifying these impacts is very difficult. In addition, we recognize that certain major big box retailers sell hundreds of products that, individually, meet the Chinook Book Criteria. For the present time we are evaluating "big box" stores on a case-by-case basis. We do currently exclude the majority of big box retailers.


We believe the Chinook Book Criteria is the most comprehensive, credible and practical criteria used by any publication in the U.S. We also know it is not perfect and welcome comments and suggestions for improvement. Please email editor@chinookbook.net if you'd like to share your comments. We update the criteria annually.