Go Green practices in Madison

Cool Choices, an online card game from Green Madison, helps encourage environmentally sustainable practices.

Image By: Graphic by Kaitlyn Veto

Employees at over 45 companies receive the words, “You made cool choices yesterday. Here are some new choices that you can make today,” in their e-mail inboxes.

Cool Choices, a newly introduced online card game, promotes sustainability in workspaces. Participating employees take sustainable action according to cards, getting points and beating their colleagues.

The game was created by an environmental organization to assist Madison in becoming more sustainable. Cool Choices is a part of Green Madison, a citywide effort to win the $5,000,000 Georgetown University Energy Prize.

“We found that social experience is an effective way to help people change behaviors,” said director of Programs at Cool Choices, Raj Shukla. “They meet and talk to people who [are] struggling in the same issue so that they feel supported when working it out. That’s why we start the environmental game by forming a team and do this together.”

The Cool Choices game lasted for eight weeks in late 2015 and will start another round this spring.

The environmental action cards are categorized in four areas: energy, transportation, water and wellness. Cool choices releases new action cards every day to engage people in adopting sustainable practices in their personal lives.

Shukla said most of the actions are easy to practice, like biking instead of driving or watching less television in a given day. He said he believes Cool Choices involves citizens in practical sustainability.

“The point of each action indicates what action is going to save the environment the most so that people get a clear sense about what to do next,” Shukla said.

Cool Choices also shares messages with other environmental organizations to help people take deeper action after the game.

Elevate Energy, an organization based in Chicago, works with the Madison Metropolitan School District on energy efficiency in its buildings, as well as homeowners of moderate-income to weatherize their homes.

The Brendle Group also cooperates with municipal governments in improving operational efficiencies.

The sustainability knowledge gap is a common problem that most Madison environmental organizations face. Some individuals and businesses who intend to practice sustainably have no ideas about what they should do.

Each year, dozens of businesses participate in a full-year project that includes a monthly training seminar and five customized business projects. Participating organizations range from manufacturers, to restaurants, churches and governments, according to Sustainable Business Initiative of Sustain Dane, Stacie Reece.

Sustain Dane, a nonprofit environmental organization, serves as a hub for sustainability information and resources.

Sustain Dane MPower Business was launched seven years ago to help businesses identify and solve problems.

“For instance, a company can get a rebate from recommended local resources if it wants to conserve water by purchasing low-flow toilets,” Reece said.

According to Reece, most organizations start from no-cost or low-cost projects, such as putting sticker signs next to faucets to remind employees to turn them off.

"Organizations who have a little bit of money might install faucet aerators which control water [to make it] slowly come out,” Reece said. “The highest cost for water conservation is purchasing faucet sensors which turn off the faucet when people walk away.”

Many organizations start with small behavior changes and slowly continue to larger projects.

For example, Union Cab purchased one Prius vehicle as a sustainable experiment when it was an MPower Business Champion in 2010. It tracked a 6 percent reduction in energy consumption in the latter part of the year.

The initial Prius conversion has led to a complete conversion of all Union Cab sedans in 2012, with a 26 percent fuel improvement.

“The idea of sustainability was limited to whether people could afford it in past years, but we want to make a broader movement,” said Lauren Beriont of the Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative.

Jeanne Hoffman, strategic initiative coordinator of City of Madison Sustainability, added behavior plays an important role in sustainable actions, though noted most choose to act irresponsibly rather than change behavior.

Beyond individual behavior changes, sustainability also requires support from managers in businesses and cooperation among environmental organizations.

“We ourselves are very small organizations,” Reece said. “We can’t do it all. We do lean on the whole community by reaching out to other organizations.”

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