A Game-Changer: Construction company builds sustainability in their workplace

On Friday, I had a wonderful conversation with Kathy Kuntz from Cool Choices in Madison, WI, in which I learned about the success they have found with an energy efficiency game in a construction corporation.

Kathy and I connected a year ago after both attending the Fostering and Sustainable Behavior Workshop in Milwaukee, WI.  Since then, we have both been working on applying concepts of behavior change around energy.  Below are a few reflections on our conversation, some helpful findings, and valuable thoughts!

Miron Energy Game

Earlier in the spring, Cool Choices launched a pilot at Miron Construction called iChoose—a real-world game where employees earn points by taking and reporting environmentally sustainable actions related to energy, water, indoor air quality, waste management and food. Employees can turn in cards related to a behavior, habit, purchase, or upgrade related to the sustainability focus for the month.  These cards earn them and their team points.

Cool Choices maintains a website where Miron participants can report their actions, check their standing on the leaderboard and see stories and photos from their coworkers.  The website also provides fact sheets and other learning opportunities related to the actions.

Some things worth mentioning:

  • Miron employees and everyday leaders were part of the planning and development of their game, offering important input on the game design and rules.  The upfront participation on rule-making has translated into a strong adherence to game principles and buy-in by the company.
  • The game is providing leadership and organizing opportunities for employees who are not necessarily in leadership or authority positions.
  • The game is played with real physical game cards but reported on the website.  This has been observed to work in a smaller company (Miron is ~350 employees).  This website features the month’s toolkit and theme of sustainability, as well as leader boards with teams and top performing individuals and their team affiliations.
  • Cool Choices has a regular spot on meeting agendas at the company and is helping Miron meet their sustainability goals.  Miron’s previous demonstrated commitment to sustainability was a major criterion in them being chosen for the pilot.

Leadership Opportunity in Social Marketing Initiatives
One aspect I’m particular interested in is how these initiatives can open up leadership development opportunities for organizations and communities.  Kathy and I discussed how fun it is to focus on something outside of your field, and how it gives you a clean slate.  If you don’t manage your office, you can manage a game for your colleagues.

For example, in an office of nurses, there’s a lot of pressure to do well in an office nutrition program because if you don’t do well, it seems like a reflection of your nursing ability.  And the pressure may be too much to make a game or program effective.  But when the game is about something non-related, then you and your co-workers are on the same playing field and there’s no added pressure.  If you fail at the energy efficiency game, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad nurse or construction worker.  I think it can also work the other way — if the pressure is just right then the program or game might be just what’s necessary to make invisible good actions visible.

CBSM Amendments and Strengths
Since I’m also looking for ways practitioners are adopting and adapting CBSM strategies, I also asked Kathy about her impressions so far.

A few conclusions included:

  • Don’t have the luxury to spend so much time choosing an initiative.  I think this is a common finding amongst practitioners.  It’s an aspect of CBSM’s process that is a bit more research-oriented.
  • CBSM is focused a lot on the barriers, but not enough on the benefits.  Sometimes it’s the hidden benefit that’s preventing people from getting on board.  Kathy used the example of ENERGY STAR washing machines and dryers.  A driving benefit was that they have similar time cycles, so you can do laundry with fewer trips to the laundry room, and complete it faster.
  • We also agreed that behavior change programs can build off themselves due to the sense of empowerment we feel when we carry out a change.  We feel in control of our lives and empowered and capable to make a change.

The People-side of Energy: Bring in the Anthropologists!

Susan Mazur-Stommen, anthro-power behind energy efficient human behavior

We chatted about how the American Council of an Energy Efficient Economy just hired Susan Mazur-Stommen, an anthropologist, to direct their Behavior & Human Dimension work.  (So cool!)  Psychologists have made their way into the energy efficiency field, but the perspective of human behavior has also opened doors to anthropologists.  If saving energy comes down to our culture, our behaviors, and lifestyles…who better to look to than a field that studies how we create and evolve our cultures, behaviors, and lifestyles?  Kathy referred me to an ethnography on home energy use, which I look forward to reading.

The inclusion of anthropology in the task of energy efficiency prompts many questions — Who are we as a nation, as a state, as a community, a neighborhood, a neighbor, a household, an individual?  *And how does it affect our energy use?  What type of culture do we rely on and take our signals from about who we are and who we ought to be?  What messages are shaping our culture and attitudes around energy and sustainability?  What barriers and opportunities does this pose to energy efficiency?

Time to Change the Message
Lastly, Kathy noted that in the realm of energy efficiency, we spend so much time saying “Everyone is wasting energy!” that the message we’re getting is that wasting energy is the norm.  If everyone is wasting energy, then why should I worry about it?  Everyone else looks like they’re doing OK?

Rather, let’s change the message to: Everyone is doing more to save energy.  Let’s put words to all the activity we see and I see happening across Minnesota, the midwest, and the nation.  We’re all doing more, constantly more, to save energy.

Special thanks to Kathy for taking time to chat with me!  Cool Choices is a non-profit that inspires and assists individuals, communities, and businesses to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through voluntary action.  To learn more, visit: http://www.coolchoicesnetwork.org/

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7 thoughts on “A Game-Changer: Construction company builds sustainability in their workplace

  1. Michelle –

    It was great talking with you too last week! I’m excited to learn more about your ongoing efforts with communities as well as your strategies for applying CBSM.

    Thanks for helping to build a network of practitioners through this blog!

    Kathy Kuntz
    Cool Choices

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