Cool Choices inspires workers to make lasting eco-friendly changes
What’s the best way to get everyday citizens across Wisconsin to be greener?
That question led to the creation of Madison-based Cool Choices, a statewide nonprofit founded in 2009 which has been piloting its innovative approaches in the New North.
“Our mission is to inspire individuals, businesses and communities to adopt sustainable practices to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” says Kathy Kuntz, the group’s executive director.
The organization’s initial project is an action-focused card game, also called Cool Choices.
Why a game? “It’s a concept to show people how to improve,” says Raj Shukla, program manager for the organization. “We’re trying to build social support, a reward for sustainability.”
“Sustainability is often a lonely enterprise,” continues Shukla. “Not many people can see you flipping off light switches in your house or changing faucets, so we’re trying to make it a more public thing. We want to have fun and celebrate success around sustainability – earning points and getting high-fives for things like tire pressure or water/energy/waste reduction.”
The first major pilot for the game was with Neenah-based Miron Construction. “Sustainability is one of our key corporate drivers,” says Theresa Lehman, Miron’s director of sustainable services. “We wanted sustainability to be a lifestyle change – not just a temporary diet – so we decided to run the game for six months.”
Here’s how it worked. Employees divided into teams and got points for energy-saving actions they took in the office or at home. Each month they received a new set of action cards focusing on changes around energy use, transportation, water efficiency, recycling, indoor air quality and energy/gas consumption.
For every action they took, they got points – for themselves and for their team. The result? Nearly 70 percent (218 Miron employees) participated, and they reported 18,400 sustainable actions during the campaign, which began on Earth Day in 2011.
These actions resulted in 463,400 kilowatt hours of electricity saved – enough to power 47 homes for a year. Miron employees also saved 4,300 therms of natural gas, 17,500 gallons of gasoline, 133 million pounds of CO2, and 693,000 gallons of water. Overall, the result was an estimated savings of $127,000 through new actions.
Menasha Corporation, also based in Neenah, is also implementing the game.
“One of the three big initiatives we are working on is employee engagement, and one of our four key strategies is sustainability,” says Morgan Wiswall, purchasing initiatives and sustainability manager.
After conversations with Miron and the staff at Cool Choices, Menasha Corporation has taken a slightly different approach. Because they have more than 3,500 employees in multiple locations across the country, they will use an online version of the game, rather than physical cards. Their concept is being piloted by three groups now and is expected to roll out corporate-wide in April.
“We like that it’s a game, that it’s voluntary, that it creates a team and competitive atmosphere, and that, with their online ability, we can play across the whole organization,” says Wiswall.
The Cool Choices game is also applicable for schools. Both the Kaukauna and Menasha school districts launched a pilot in mid-February at several schools, partnering with Kaukauna Utilities, Menasha Utilities, Sustainable Fox Valley and UW-Extension Office in Outagamie County.
“Young people are a really powerful force around this subject,” says Shukla, “and we’re giving kids the opportunity to be a change agent by giving them the cards to take home.”
Cool North Trends
Cool Choices spawned yet another innovative approach: Cool North Trends, a partnership between Cool Choices, New North, Inc. and NEW ERA (Northeast Wisconsin Education Resource Alliance).
“We’re trying to showcase what companies in the New North are doing to be more sustainable, to start to build the dialogue about what others are doing,” says Kuntz.
Some of the technical colleges have helped create videos of corporate sustainability efforts, featured on the New North website.
Joanne Gorski, president of Sustainable Insights, LLC, and former Fox Valley Technical College instructor, volunteered her class to be a pilot group in fall. “It’s a fun way of bringing real life case studies into the classroom,” says Gorski. “We’ve had our students benefit from direct contact with real world business professionals.”
Cool Choices has generated conversation and connected people socially around sustainability. “The game gives us a way for individuals to let the people around them see what they are doing,” says Kuntz. “It creates conversation that causes people to take additional actions.”
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