Games Empower Coworkers to Coach Each Other

bikerideAre you comfortable providing direction to your peers?

According to a recent study, most of us are not—the lack of hierarchy makes it awkward for us to nudge a colleague when they are not following protocols.

This is a big deal. We know people are deeply influenced by the behaviors of others and this study tells us that it’s typically uncomfortable to influence peer behaviors. That means there’s enormous opportunity for unsustainable practices to spread across our organizations.

Envision a scenario where Joe leaves equipment running even though the office policy is to shut off equipment at the end of the day. Bill is unlikely to correct Joe because, well Bill’s not Joe’s boss so, really, it’s none of his business. And besides, Joe brings in home-made muffins sometimes and Bill likes muffins. So the equipment stays on, which ultimately affects Amy and Mike’s behaviors too; they see that others leave the equipment on so they do the same. The office policy is largely irrelevant in the face of increasingly pervasive social norms.

Cool Choices game shakes up this dynamic. Games give people permission to coach other players (especially team mates). Within the context of a game Bill will likely tell Joe to shut off the printer—because leaving it on is killing their team standing. And, instead of withholding muffins, Joe will probably laugh at Mike’s team spirit but he’ll also turn off the equipment. And the interaction might prompt Joe to coach Amy “hey, you’d better shut off the copier; Mike’s determined that we’re winning this game.”

We see this all the time. Playing a game gives people permission to coach, to talk to colleagues about their practices. And, because the conversations are within a game setting, the interactions feel appropriate to all parties. Ultimately Cool Choices inspires people to talk to each other—directly—about sustainable practices within their community. And those conversations lead to amazing results.


Comparisons Matter

2000px-Energy_Star_logo.svgWe talk a lot about the importance of social norms—that people are influenced by the actions of their peers. The power of norms isn’t limited to individuals—businesses also strive to look good compared to their competition. That is why businesses tout the awards they win for quality, customer service and, yes, even energy efficiency.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager facilitates business comparisons of energy use in buildings. Offered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the free software enables property managers and owners to see how their properties stack up against similar types of buildings. Stakeholders can also use the software to earn ENERGY STAR certification for the most efficient buildings.

Because we know comparisons matter, Cool Choices was pleased to partner with the Great Plains Institute (GPI) and the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC) on a report characterizing ENERGY STAR certified buildings in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin ENERGY STAR report, “Leaders in Efficiency: ENERGY STAR Buildings in Wisconsin,” details the types of ENERGY STAR buildings certified (schools dominate), the cities with the most buildings and other fun facts—including a photo of one ENERGY STAR certified building in Wisconsin that was built in 1857.

Buildings that earn the ENERGY STAR certification are more energy efficient than 75 percent of similar buildings around the country and use, on average, 35 percent less energy. Buildings that get recertified annually are on average even more efficient.

ENERGY STAR certified buildings in Wisconsin represent nearly 72 million square feet of floor space in the state. Publicizing Wisconsin successes and showcasing leaders in ENERGY STAR certification—can inspire other building owners and managers to use ENERGY STAR portfolio manager to benchmark their buildings. More benchmarking leads to more ENERGY STAR certifications, reducing energy costs and increasing resource efficiency—which is a win for everyone.


West Liberty Foods: A Community of Sustainability

Cool Choices’ success is built on the simple idea that sustainability is driven by communities; that people who share a common goal to reduce waste and help the environment will work together to achieve great things. Our friends at West Liberty Foods have together already made 700 Cool Choices this week–the first week of their Cool Choices game. Participation across the facility has already surpassed previous employee engagement programs by 50%!

Troy and Liza (pictured below) started things off making a few Cool crafts together to invite co-workers across their three facilities to play. This, friends, is what community looks like.



Green & Healthy Schools Cool Choices Launch

green-healthy-schoolsIn 2013 Wisconsin Green & Healthy Schools (GHS) and Cool Choices partnered to create a Cool Choices-GHS game – and more than 30 Wisconsin schools began using the online sustainability game in early 2014! The game—which is free to GHS participating schools—provides a fun, social and easy path to reduced resource usage, improved health and wellness, and increased environmental literacy in Wisconsin’s PK-12 public and private schools.

Cool Choices customized its game platform for GHS, which is a partnership between the Department of Public Instruction, the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education. The Cool Choices game will help participating schools engage their students, faculty and staff, while providing a streamlined approach to tracking sustainable actions in schools.

Cool Choices is delighted to support this innovative statewide effort that includes schools from urban to rural Wisconsin. Ultimately the program could reach all 3,000+ Wisconsin PK-12 schools.


Recognition is Very Cool!

Recognition is Very Cool – and Inspires Us to be Cooler!
By Kathy Kuntz, Executive Director

We’ve had a lot to celebrate lately!

In early October Menasha Corporation won an Innovation Award from the Campbell Institute and the Stewardship Action Council for their employee engagement efforts with Cool Choices and then, a few weeks later, In Business Magazine honored Cool Choices as its Eco Service of the Year!

Recognition is an interesting thing. It feels great to get that pat on the back for your past efforts but recognition is not just about the past. Recognition also prompts us to try harder going forward – to prove that the recognition was deserved and to gain more recognition.

The power of recognition to inspire additional positive efforts is one of the principles we use at Cool Choices. We partner with companies and public entities to engage employees around sustainability – to make sustainable practices the norm in workplace communities. And in our work we show companies how recognizing and celebrating the good stuff – even when it’s small – can inspire employees to do more.

As sustainability professionals we spend a great deal of time thinking about what’s not working – the number of employees who forgot to turn off their computers, the still-imperfect ratios of waste to recycling, those single-sided copies… Cool Choices’ programs demonstrate the power of positive reinforcement – when you celebrate what some employees are doing right it can motivate others to change their practices so that they get kudos too.

Yes, the recognition is much appreciated. We also appreciate that it will inspire us to continue to rock the expectations of our partners going forward.


Eco-Service of the Year Winner!

Cool Choices Wins In Business Eco-Service of the Year Award

Madison, WI – October 23, 2013 – In Business Magazine has awarded Cool Choices its 2013 Eco-Service Business Sustainability Award. The award recognizes a new service that helps solve an environmental problem, demonstrates a superior environmentally conscious design and/or helps an individual better manage his or her environmental footprint. Cool Choices promotes individual and corporate-level environmentally sustainable practices through an employee engagement game, partnering with businesses and public entities to implement the game.

“We are delighted to receive the In Business Eco-Service of the Year Award for our innovative efforts,” said Kathy Kuntz, Executive Director of Cool Choices. “Our partners seek to reduce waste and increase efficiency through sustainable practices, and Cool Choices helps them inspire and engage their employees, so that smart and sustainable practices are the ‘new normal’ in their organizations.”

Since 2010 Cool Choices has inspired employees to embrace sustainability through an innovative game model. Wisconsin businesses in sectors as diverse as commercial construction, health care, manufacturing, local government and law, have game participants that collectively have saved over $400,000 and avoided 4.7 million pounds of CO2 annually because of sustainable choices made in Cool Choices games.


Cool Choices
Established in 2009, Cool Choices inspires and assists individuals, communities and businesses to take actions reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. A Madison-based nonprofit, Cool Choices seeks to make sustainable choices the norm by making them fun, social and easy. For more information visit


Cool Choices & Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Announce Strategic Partnership

CC-and-WSBXCool Choices and Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Announce Strategic Partnership

Madison, WI – July 22, 2013 – Cool Choices and the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, two leaders in promoting sustainable business practices, have established a formal partnership to streamline operations, leverage expertise and increase stakeholder value. Cool Choices, a nonprofit promoting environmentally sustainable practices, has previously partnered with the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council on the Council’s annual business-to-business sustainability conference and their annual state sustainability report. The Council, an organization serving Wisconsin businesses, was established in 2008 and runs the Green Masters Program in addition to the annual conference.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council,” said Kathy Kuntz, Executive Director of Cool Choices. “The Council has done a terrific job of recognizing and celebrating Wisconsin businesses that are leading on sustainability. As a state leader in employee engagement around sustainability, Cool Choices sees the partnership as a great way of linking our expertise to the Council’s existing successes so that Wisconsin businesses can maintain a competitive and sustainable advantage going forward.”

“Businesses recognize the economic, social and environmental benefits to adopting sustainable initiatives – and through our Green Masters Program and annual conference they learn, develop and implement effective strategies to move them toward sustainability,” said Tom Eggert, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council. “Our partnership with Cool Choices shines a light on the great opportunity state businesses have to leverage a successful and innovative employee engagement program to meet their sustainability goals.”


Cool Choices
Established in 2009, Cool Choices inspires and assists individuals, communities and businesses to adopt practices reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. A Madison-based nonprofit, Cool Choices seeks to make smart practices the norm by making sustainable actions fun, social and easy. For more information visit

Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council
Established in 2008, the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council works with businesses in the state interested in becoming leaders in sustainability. It serves businesses at all stages of development by educating, facilitating information exchange, and providing recognition and support. The Council, which hosts an annual business conference and issues an annual State of the State Sustainability Report, seeks to promote Wisconsin as a gathering place for innovative and sustainable business. For more information visit


Talk About Results! CSR & Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

How much do people save just by changing their behavior? Do savings persist after the game?

Whenever we talk about our employee engagement efforts people ask about outcomes. That’s great! Cool Choices believes changing practices helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions – so we have a responsibility to prove it.

The Energy Center of Wisconsin recently evaluated Cool Choices’ work at Miron Construction showing our approach is effective. In the study Center staff analyzed player utility bills before, during and after the Miron game. Then Center staff compared actual changes in usage to actions players reported in the game. Finally, the Center conducted interviews with a sample of players to understand differences between actual savings and reported savings. In those interviews, conducted more than a year after the end of the game, the Center also explored whether participants continued sustainable practices adopted during the game.

What were the results?

The Energy Center of Wisconsin:

  • Verified that Cool Choices players reduced their electric usage in the game (the median reduction for participants was 6% of household electricity – which is substantial).
  • Documented that former Cool Choices players continued sustainable practices. Some one-time practices like programming thermostats to save energy remained a year later in 100% of households interviewed – and repeated practices like turning off game consoles was relatively high with respondents reporting that they maintained the Cool Choices’ sustainable practices 60-79% of the time.

Really great results – but we’re getting even better!

The Energy Center of Wisconsin’s analysis also helped Cool Choices by increasing the accuracy of our savings estimates and clarifying players’ sustainable practices (e.g. we learned that some of the refrigerators players unplugged in the game were not full-size). We have adjusted our estimates to allow for a refrigerator mix including smaller units, and are incorporating other recommended improvements to make things even better.

To learn more about the Center’s findings click for the full report (pdf).


The Convincers | Student Sustainability Initiatives

“I convinced my family to carpool.”

“I got my dad to start recycling.”

Cool Choices is in the midst of an amazing partnership with some marvelous teachers at Waunakee High School. The teachers—along with students on their green team—are leading an effort to change commuting habits at the high school. And, along the way, they are also changing practices in households throughout the community.

The effort began last year when two WHS teachers applied for a small grant Cool Choices offered through the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP). The teachers used the grant to implement a multi-year effort to analyze and affect commuting habits at their school. When classes started in September they launched a competition where students and staff get points for reporting how they got to school each day, with extra points for the greener options. Organized into teams based on school clubs, students can win prizes throughout the 9-week competition.

Students and staff can also get ‘extra credit’ points for other environmentally sustainable actions like using re-usable lunch containers, doing a sustainable project in the community or by convincing their family members to be more sustainable.

We’re finding the student efforts at home to be quite inspiring. Almost 300 students and staff are participating in the competition (in a school population of 1,200) and thus far about 1 in 5 players have reported at least one effort to increase their family’s sustainable practices. Required to share details about their efforts, participants tell us …

  • “I got all of my sisters to bring reusable containers for their lunches today instead of paper bags!”
  • “I convinced my family to turn off lights before they leave rooms.”
  • “Instead of using the plastic bags at the grocery store, I convinced my mom to buy 5 of the reusable cloth bags.”
  • “I convinced my family to turn down the heat, because I mean COME ON people, it’s still technically summer, and why would we buy warm clothes if we weren’t going to wear them?”
  • “Instead of buying all these plastic water bottles, I got them to change to using cups or re-usable water bottles, which also saves money!”
  • “We switched to more energy efficient light bulbs!”
  • “I had my mom take a re-usable bag for lunch today and we’re eating more vegetables and fruit at dinner.”
  • “We take shorter showers”
  • “I convinced my parents to carpool to work.”
  • “My brother took a re-usable water bottle to football practice.”
  • “I asked my parents to turn down the water heater!”
  • “I was waiting in the car while my dad went into Sam’s Club and instead of keeping the car on and listening to the radio, I suggested that I turn it off and listen to my iPod.”

These stories demonstrate that students are really engaged and that they are doing a good job engaging their parents and siblings. This shared engagement is critical; it is easier for us to maintain habits when those habits are shared. More, just talking about one opportunity can lead to other opportunities.

The Waunakee project demonstrates the power of young people as the spokespeople for sustainability. A fun competition is inspiring teenagers to advocate for shorter showers, to convince their parents and siblings to adopt greener practices.

We are excited to watch these young people emerge as sustainability advocates in their homes and in their community. From our vantage point, the future looks just a little bit brighter when we look toward Waunakee these days.


An Easy Bike Ride

A mantra here at Cool Choices is that change works best when it is fun, social and easy and we work hard to make sure our initiatives meet all three criteria.

Lately there have been a number of stories about efforts to encourage biking that reinforce the importance of ‘easy’.

Change is easy when there are not big barriers looming in the distance. When it comes to biking, folks have traditionally identified multiple barriers:

  • Nowhere to store my bike at work
  • No showers at work, which means if I get to work sweaty I will stay that way
  • Biking looks dangerous—have you seen those guys in traffic?
  • My commute is too long to consider biking

Over the last few years there have been tremendous effort to address these barriers.

Communities are tackling the last issue, for example, by accommodating bikes on public transit systems—so that people can overcome longer distances with a combination of biking and transit.  By 2008, 71% of public transit buses in the US had bike racks.

And thanks, perhaps, to the emphasis on transportation in the LEED® rating system. Because of LEED, more and more buildings feature showers and bike parking. After all, employers see multiple advantages to encouraging employees to bike to work since biking reduces both pressure on automobile parking lots and the company’s overall carbon footprint while contributing favorably to employee wellness.

Increasingly, then, the barriers to biking come down to the issue of biker safety. In some areas—both urban and rural—biking feels pretty dangerous, especially to the inexperienced biker. Many of us cannot imagine zipping in and out of traffic the way bike messengers do in the movies. Which is why we were so excited to see a number of cities implement measures that make biking safer for the rest of us. 

Chicago, Washington, D.C., Memphis, Austin, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, have implemented a Green Lane Project that creates special bicycle lanes—separated from automobile traffic by physical barriers. Observers say the programs are working. The lanes are drawing a diverse set of bikers, many of whom might have been previously nervous about biking these urban streets. Similar efforts in London have led to a 70% increase in bike traffic.

Many cities are finding that more bikers also means fewer bike-related accidents. Experts explain that when automobile drivers expect to share the road with bikers their car driving habits change and there are fewer car-bike accidents. So biking doesn’t just feel safer, it really is safer.

Change happens most readily when it is fun, social and easy. And relative to biking, the changes are getting easier all the time.