Keeping it cool

Program makes game of making sustainable choices

Posted on Nov 14, 2018 :: Back Office Operations
Posted by Guest

It’s a game. It’s a change. It’s a game changer.

It’s also a team builder and transformative behavioral tool designed to get people to embrace more sustainable practices.

The people behind Cool Choices say the nonprofit initiative brings functional fun to the workplace that can transfer to employees’ personal lives. And for once, employees won’t mind taking work home with them.

“Cool Choices aims to encourage individuals, businesses and communities to adopt sustainable practices,” says Kathy Kuntz, the program’s executive director.

Cool Choices is an online game that makes suggestions for ways to save energy and resources. Employees can play from almost any device.

Employees pick “cards” that have suggestions for better resource use and put them into practice. They’re awarded points for various changes. Small changes, like using less paper or turning one’s monitor off, get fewer points, while bigger changes, like sacrificing a second fridge at home, score more.

“One of the things that really struck me at Focus (on Energy) was that businesses had the opportunity to really influence their employees,” says Kuntz, who formerly worked with Focus on Energy. “People are super social creatures, so we take a lot of signals from what we see those around us doing, and if we want people to change what they’re doing, we have to figure out how to remove barriers and make it pleasant for people to do the new things.”

Cool Choices could be said to complement Focus on Energy by helping change behavior alongside technology, Kuntz says.

“Whereas much of what Focus does is get people to install energy-efficient equipment, we’re more in the space of helping people operate equipment and buildings in ways that save energy,” she says. “You can put LED light bulbs in your own house that will use less energy than incandescent bulbs, but you can also decide to leave those bulbs on all the time. Or you can turn them off when you leave the room.”

Cool Choices began seven years ago as an analog card game, with Miron Construction Co. Inc. as its first participant.

“We had wildly great success with it,” says Theresa Lehman, LEED fellow and director of sustainable services at Miron.

This year, Miron is participating again and seeing similar results.

“I think people are enjoying the game,” Lehman says. “It certainly gets people to think about living a sustainable lifestyle and not just a sustainable diet for the time being.”

When Miron employees learned gas mileage increases 1 percent for every 100 pounds removed from a vehicle, many drove up to the paper Dumpster at Miron and unloaded reams of old spec sheets that had been riding around with them.

“If people are taught to turn the lights off, they turn the lights off; if they’re taught to turn the water off while brushing their teeth, they’re not going to leave the water arbitrarily running anywhere,” Lehman says. “It boils down to enabling people to understand how sustainability benefits their personal life.”

While employees are learning ways to save resources at home, the hope is that will carry into the workplace.

Kohler Co. piloted Cool Choices at its operations in Kohler last summer, with 1,100 people in 11 buildings playing.

“People love competition, and it takes only a few minutes every day to play,” says Brigitte Dillman-Cruce, sustainability curriculum manager with Kohler Co. “They’re learning things; they love the team aspect of it.”

At Kohler, teams of up to six people played for six weeks. “There’s team and individual competition and a lot of camaraderie and engagement with others,” Dillman-Cruce says.

Cool Choices especially resonated with employees of Kohler Power Systems, a division of Kohler Co. With a plant seven miles north of Kohler, in Mosel, its 700 workers often miss out on main campus activities.

“This is something they could play with their own people, with their phone or laptop,” Dillman-Cruce says.

Employees loved it so much that after their six weeks ended, they asked when they could play again, she says.

Another large regional employer, Oshkosh Corp., also has its workers involved with Cool Choices.

In its first three weeks with Cool Choices, 250 employees made more than 4,000 sustainability actions —  from replacing 85 percent of their home lighting with LED lights to suggesting ways to recycle more at work.

“We were looking for a creative way to engage our team members in sustainability, and this program was offered through New North,” says Stephanie Peffer, environmental and sustainability specialist with Oshkosh Corp.

Marketing manager Katie Hoxtell says Cool Choices fits her company’s commitment to the environment.

“We put out a sustainability report every year and have communications that go to team members regularly, talking about different kinds of sustainability and environmental topics,” she says. “We hold events for team members where they can recycle TVs and batteries.”

Other events offer LED bulbs for purchase at a discount for team members.

Oshkosh Corp. is just beginning its involvement with Cool Choices, Peffer says, but “we’re hearing the conversations around sustainability, and our hope is to have sustainability become second nature for our team members.”