Tag: Business


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 www.coolchoices.com

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 www.wisconsinsustainability.com


Gamification: A How To

Sustainability is hard to define and understanding what it might mean is complicated, often lonely, and not always fun. It is no wonder that many sustainability programs fail to inspire widespread changes. It is tedious to conduct an energy audit. It is hard to sort through nontoxic cleaning items.  And very few people ever want to talk insulation. The Cool Choices way is different. We make sustainability easy, popular and fun.

Cool Choices is conducting a live pilot of an online sustainability game with employees at Miron Construction. So far, it is working. Seventy-five percent of the company signed up to play and more than half have taken at least one action to increase efficiency and conserve resources.

The magic in our game is the social rewards for real-life actions. When you play our game, you earn credit at work by sharing the sustainable choices made within your household. You make progress when you turn off the light and earn even more points when you make a video about it. The points you tally demonstrate your progress. And you work with teammates to create a path to success.  You are recognized for being smart enough to spend less money and live more comfortably. And you earn some fabulous prizes in the process.

Mironites have taken to it. Construction industry professionals from Neenah to Cedar Rapids are eagerly sending in smiling pictures of themselves screwing in light bulbs. They are submitting videos where they talk about the romance of sustainability—turning off the TV might mean catching a sunset with your sweetie after all. They are writing stories about an added sense of relaxation by simply slowing down on the freeway. People’s lives are changing and the game is a part of the equation.

So how does it work? I do not really know, completely. But that will not stop me from offering a few kernels on what it took to succeed to date:

  • Understand your players. Our pilots have been designed with players. They have asked for an experience and we deliver.
  • Serve your players. Our goal is to leave no question unanswered and no dispute unresolved. And no frowns. Ever.
  • Embrace imperfection. Absolute purity is not our goal. Progress is our goal. So we do not expect everyone to become sustainability junkies immediately. And we do not expect our games to be mind-blowing every time – just most of the time.
  • Become a contortionist. You have to anticipate and react to situations with grace, flexibility, and imagination.
  • Looks matter. Great creative buys you time and helps establish credibility.
  • Substance matters too. Our goal is to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. We are pretty serious about it.



Want People Seriously Engaged in Sustainability? Make It a Game.

The following was originally posted on Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series.

At Cool Choices we take games very seriously. We’ve seen how games can make sustainability fun, popular and easy.

In May, Cool Choices launched a real-world game for employees at a Wisconsin-based commercial construction firm, Miron Construction. Of Miron’s 330 staff, 240 signed up to play and more than 70% of those employees are still playing three months later. In the game employees earn points when they do specific sustainable actions associated with household energy and water usage, transportation, indoor environmental quality, waste management and food. Employees compete individually and on teams for prizes and status.

So what kinds of things are they doing? As part of the game participants …

  • Monitor their electric usage, taking steps to reduce phantom loads and eliminate inefficient appliances
  • Slow down on the highway and practice eco-driving trips every time they get behind the wheel
  • Pursue opportunities to carpool
  • Turn off their televisions and game consoles to spend more time reading, interacting with other family members and playing outside
  • Install rain barrels and develop innovative ways to re-use water
  • Engage their families in discussions about how their household might be more environmentally sustainable

More, these same participants are sharing stories and photos with us about their efforts. They brag about the energy hogs they’ve found and unplugged and they show us how they’re using the game cards as prompts at home and in their cars. They say they are curious to find out what opportunities they can tackle next.  And they share how the game is changing their lives. Yes, there’s lots of talk about dollar savings but some employees are also telling us that their quality of life is improving—they find eco-driving to be less stressful than their old driving habits, they spend more time with their family now that they’ve turned off the television, and the game itself is an opportunity for the family to bond.

While we’re still in a pilot stage, we are already accumulating lessons learned:

  • Points resonate. Our game refers to “points”, not kWh or BTUs or pounds of carbon, in part because everybody understands points. We share cumulative savings results with players periodically (in terms of dollars and environmental benefits) but we find that point values motivate action better than incremental savings information. Earning 25 points is more compelling than saving $2/month.
  • Games engage. Games are, by nature, social. Playing generates conversation at work and beyond work. Players tell us that the game cards facilitate family involvement. Our cards are colorful and lean on text; participants report that their kids “own” the cards and help decide which cards the family will play next.
  • Competition is compelling. A commercial construction firm, Miron thrives on competition. Our weekly leaderboards and team standings give players opportunities to trash talk with other teams, to nudge team members who are lagging behind and to show off their own successes.  For a company like Miron that’s committed to a triple bottom line, it’s terrific to have employees razzing each other about sustainable practices at the water cooler. 
  • Having fun trumps reams of data. The game format helps control our (well-intentioned) urge to provide too much information. While we have on-line opportunities for participants to learn more about the actions they are taking, players are not required to study up on a topic in order to earn points.  If you want to know exactly how much electricity that old refrigerator is using our tools will help you calculate the usage; if you simply want to unplug it and collect your points, well that is fine too. Our aim is to make everyone feel good about the changes they are making so that they keep playing, not to create hundreds of subject-matter experts.

Gamification provides a fun framework for facilitating vitally important environmental actions. The game gives us a way to celebrate each individual accomplishment and to create a nudge for additional actions.

Games can make the world a better place. That’s why we take making sustainability fun very seriously.


It Is Not About Sacrifice, It’s About Living More

As a veteran of almost two decades of energy efficiency efforts, I’ve had hundreds of people start conversations with me by saying “You know, I tried [insert efficiency product or practice here] and…”

Over time I learned to brace myself, to force a fixed smile as I listened—because as often as not, what followed the “and” was negative.

“And I didn’t see any savings.”

“And my wife hated the way the light looked.”

“And it didn’t work as well as our old model.”

“And the contractor left a huge mess.”

Now I’m watching Cool Choices’ first corporate partnership unfold and once again I’m listening to stories. Participants in the pilot are encouraged to share stories, photos or videos about what they are doing and how it’s going.

Some participants tell us that because they are watching less TV, they are spending more time outside, spending more time interacting with other family members, going for walks, and reading more.

Others tell us that avoiding jackrabbit starts and stops while driving was a challenge at first but now they find driving more relaxing. They arrive at their destination on time and feeling better about the other people on the road.

Multiple participants tell us about how they’ve involved their children, saying that Cool Choices has prompted broader and deeper conversations about sustainability.

The stories make clear that lots of participants are very proud (and justifiably so) about how they are taking control of their energy usage.

Up front we talked to these people about the financial benefits they could see via the game but now it’s clear that they are seeing benefits beyond the financial. Participants are experiencing:

  • Mental health benefits associated with more social interactions, less road rage and feelings of greater control of their own lives.
  • Physical health benefits associated with more opportunities for exercise, more time outside and less stress This is, I think, the magic pixie dust that’s needed to make change happen.

When people feel (yes, feel—in their guts) that being more sustainable actually improves the quality of their life, then we’re on the right track. Suddenly the benefits outweigh the hassles and sustainability isn’t about doing less—it’s about living more.

I can’t wait to read next week’s stories.


Believing in People

Do we believe we have the will to do what’s necessary to slow global warming?

The latest Yale University survey suggests that Americans are increasingly doubtful about our collective will. The percentage of Americans who assert that it’s possible to slow warming “but people aren’t willing to change their behavior so we aren’t going to” has risen four percentage points while those who believe “it’s unclear at this point whether we will do what’s needed” dropped six points. Other categories—including those who deny there’s any warming and who are sure humans will fix everything—stayed relatively constant.

I read those results as a drop in confidence in each other.

The lack of confidence is striking because Cool Choices is in the midst of a pilot at Miron Construction that gives me great cause for optimism. At Miron, more than half of the company’s employees are regularly taking actions to reduce their emissions, having fun and becoming part of the solution.

As I watch what’s happening at Miron a couple of things are clear to me.

First, people want to do the right things—to save money (which enables them to have funds for other priorities), to preserve local resources (so that their kids and grandkids have access to those same resources), and to lead by example.

Second, knowing you are doing the right things feels good. The employees at Miron are sharing their successes with us and their colleagues because they are proud, because these are successes.

And, finally, doing the right things can be contagious. One successful change can lead to another and your successes can prompt a co-worker to make a change as well. The process is slow and far from linear, but ultimately the hundreds of small successes (and people who are glowing with pride at what they’ve accomplished) are how we can build whole communities that are part of the solution.

The climate challenges ahead of us are enormous, but I’m not ready to give up on humans just yet.


Workplace Communities vs Neighborhoods

I’ve been involved—as an observer, a participant or a catalyst—in a variety of community-based energy efficiency programs over the last two decades. All of those efforts aimed to leverage a geographic or political community identity (neighborhoods, towns, etc.) to encourage individuals to implement energy efficient products or conservation practices in their own homes. Utilities and local governments target geo-political communities because it’s operationally handy—the communities align with utility territories or local government jurisdictions. So it’s easy to know who’s in and who’s out.

Community efforts, though, are most effective in a community with:

  • a lot of informal interaction (so successes with one member can influence other members);
  • strong established communication networks that reach all community members; and
  • clear and compelling leadership to champion the effort.

Given those criteria, I’d argue that the ideal communities are corporate, not geo-political.

Think about your town or neighborhood vs. your workplace community.

  • Whereas I wave at a neighbor while pulling into my garage, I chat daily with my co-workers and know more about their lives.
  • While my city council person tries to reach me via snail mail and community forums that I rarely attend, everyone in my company has my email address and can interact with me at regularly scheduled meetings that I’m paid to attend.
  • And while I might disagree with both at times, my CEO’s commitment to an issue is usually more straightforward than my mayor’s, often because the hierarchy is clearer.

Hence Cool Choices’ current focus on corporate communities. Our approach is to partner with companies that are already leaders in corporate sustainability efforts. We work with these companies to facilitate a cultural transformation where employees embrace sustainability in their personal lives, just as their employer has embraced it on the business side. We believe workplace efforts that promote personal sustainability are a big win for both the corporation and the employees.

For example, these efforts:

  • Broaden and deepen employee engagement in corporate sustainability efforts, reinvigorating corporate efforts;
  • Provide employees with the tools and opportunities to save money in their personal lives;
  • Make sustainability a fun community effort; and
  • Enable corporations to differentiate themselves in terms of candidate recruitment, community relations and other arenas.

Ultimately I think these efforts will affect neighborhoods and whole towns. But that might well happen via one employer at a time.