From the onset, the team at Cool Choices has been obsessed with results. Perhaps it’s to be expected: we’re a nonprofit, with a mission of inspiring voluntary actions that reduce emissions associated with climate change. More, the scale of the challenge we faced—inspiring behaviors (which is always difficult, even at the personal level) to address climate change (an issue that can feel insurmountable)—was both hard and important, not leaving a lot of room for error.
From the beginning, then, we’ve invested in third-party evaluations and partnered with university researchers to vet our results. These research efforts have been enormously helpful as we have evolved our program model and scaled our efforts.
Often the lessons are surprising. Ethnographic research helped us understand how our programs—framed as a simple game—empowered people to have important conversations about sustainability with their colleagues, conversations they had avoided for years. Various statistical analyses showed—again and again—that attitudes cannot predict behaviors and that our model is successful in shifting the behaviors of people who are not all that interested in environmental issues. (That one surprises a lot of folks.)
Much of our research has focused on verifying the energy savings associated with participant actions. That’s probably no surprise—I spent two decades in energy efficiency and that means there’s often a chorus of energy evaluators in my head, questioning the savings data.
Achieving Long-term Sustainability Results
Increasingly, though, I believe our most important outcomes might not be the short-term savings we deliver. Yes, it’s great that participants reduce their overall carbon emissions by half a metric ton annually via the actions they adopt during the program but something else also happens—something much more important:
Participants’ perceptions of themselves and others change:
In our programs we ask participants—before the program begins and again at the end—about how important sustainability is to them personally as well as how important it is to family, friends and colleagues.
The specifics vary with different locations but the overall trends are significant. Across our 2016 employee engagement programs, participants had a 10% increase in their agreement with the statement “Sustainability is important to me.” More, the participants who identified as being less concerned about environmental issues at the onset saw a 20% increase. Research by one of our university partners using earlier Cool Choices data found similar patterns.
Building Cultures Around Sustainability
Not only are we influencing the actions participants take today, we are helping them to think of themselves as someone who prioritizes sustainability and we’re doing that in a public way that persists even after the program ends.
The data also shows that we’re influencing participants’ perceptions of others. Again, we saw increases of more than 10% across peer categories in 2016 when asked the “Sustainability is Important” question.
In the energy efficiency world experts talk about ‘market transformation,’ which is the idea that programs can create a lasting influence in a market, changing the way particular goods are sold or installed so that it’s no longer necessary to intervene. At Cool Choices we like to tell a story we heard from executives at Miron Construction—about how, after their first round of Cool Choices ended, they witnessed a staff person intervening with a new employee “Don’t leave that light on,” he said, “that’s not what we do at Miron.” That’s market transformation. And we’re delighted to report that we’re seeing more and more evidence of transformation in our programs.
Short term savings are great but transformed cultures—places where sustainable practices are the norm—well, that’s generating results at scale.
Look for us at Sustainable Brand’s New Metrics 2017 to learn more about our results.
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