Make it Competitive, They Will Come: Sustainability, the Miron Way

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 by Sustainability

Miron Construction is used to doing big things. They build hospitals and schools and stadiums (Go Packers!)—projects that shape communities. It’s one of the reasons Cool Choices, a Wisconsin non-profit, approached the company to pilot an employee sustainability program. We were looking for a partner committed to sustainability, of course, but also to making a real impact on a very complicated issue. We got that and so much more.

Cool Choices assembled a team of opinion leaders from across the organization—project managers, estimators, site supervisors and executives—to set goals and map out an implementation strategy. Everyone had veto power, so each partner could ensure that the program stayed true to its mission and values. The Action Team, as we called it, poured over current research on how to motivate people to change behavior and dove deeper by looking at the specific opinions and practices of their colleagues. Our unique approach—a card game called iChoose—emerged around three bedrock objectives established by the Action Team:

  1. Over 50% participation. The typical utility-based energy-efficiency program is considered successful if 15% of its target audience participates. The team set a goal that far eclipsed what could reasonably be expected because they felt Miron employees would accept nothing less. To be honest, we were hesitant to go along with it for fear of setting the program up for failure.
  2. Greater awareness and acceptance of sustainability. It was no surprise that a group of people comprised largely of craftspeople, engineers and estimators would want to learn something. Cool Choices conducted a survey of employees to better understand what Miron employees knew and believed about sustainability. One of the survey results in particular caught our attention. Seventy-five percent of employees believe sustainability is important. But only 45% of employees believed sustainability was important to their colleagues. Miron had a well-established corporate commitment to sustainability but employees didn’t know how much their colleagues had taken that to heart in their personal lives. To gain traction, we felt we had to reveal sustainability as a “norm” among employees throughout the organization.
  3. Real results. Miron is made up of people who deal in bricks, mortar and steel. They had neither the time nor inclination to work on a “feel good” project. The Cool Choices team could not have been happier for that!

So how would we get there? Our goals were straightforward but we needed to shape the program to be relevant within Miron’s culture.  After much discussion, the team identified a few defining features that any sustainability program should possess:

  1. Flexible. The Action Team was sensitive to the fact that employees come from different walks of life with different personal dynamics and different challenges. They were committed to the idea that sustainability had to be accessible to all. That meant designing a program that appealed to renters and home-owners alike. People with or without children needed to have options.  And there had to be a path toward sustainability that included no-to-low cost actions as well as actions that required some investment.
  2. Measurable.  Miron wanted to see results and so did employees on a personal level. One of the biggest challenges identified by the Action Team was that people had little sense of what impact a given sustainable action would have for themselves and the environment. Does turning off the lights really matter? How much pollution to do I actually save by slowing down on the highway?  We needed to find a way to give people a deeper sense of control and direction.
  3. Rewarding.  And we aren’t just talking about money or prizes. Sure, people felt that gift cards to local home-improvement stores would help, but the most important thing was that employees felt that they were making progress. They wanted to make sure that the program emphasized and celebrated employee accomplishments.
  4. Social. Miron is a family. Employees care about each other and the communities they serve. The Action Team wanted to encourage interaction among employees and strengthen ties to local causes and organizations that employees care about.

Games are only now becoming thought of as mainstream communication and mobilizing tools. The Miron Action Team was certainly cautious in pursuing this strategy for the company-wide employee sustainability program, but the advantages of a program wrapped in a game quickly became clear.

Games are fun and Miron’s game is inherently social. Players are either competing against or competing with colleagues. Sharing information and strategies is a key to “winning.” Teamwork is decisive.

Games are measurable and iChoose is flexible. iChoose gives players a clear path forward toward sustainability as well as clear cues about progress by assigning points for a variety sustainable actions based on the estimated savings and degree of difficulty of the action. In the end, a person can get some sense of how what they choose to do for their particular household matters to their bank balance and to the environment.

Games are rewarding. Individuals win prizes for all sorts of things in iChoose.  Top scorers receive prizes but anyone is eligible to win a prize just for playing. What we found, however, is the prize that’s most compelling for players is one designed to help the community. The winning iChoose team gets the chance to direct a Miron Sustainability Grant to the people, causes or organizations they choose.

Most importantly, games work. Since we began five months ago, 62% of Miron employees have taken at least one sustainable action and about a third of employees play during any given week of the game. At Miron, employees are enjoying themselves while they play. Says one iChoose participant,”I’m learning a lot and I am anxious to pass that onto my kids, my friends, anybody else who will listen to me.” Another player summed up their experience (and our goal) really well, “The game is important, but the bigger message that I am getting from this is that it’s about my life and how I can be more sustainable…I’m grateful for the game in opening my eyes.”

The real impact of iChoose is becoming apparent. Collectively, Miron employees are on track to reduce electricity use by 18% compared to typical households. That translates into savings of over $100,000 and 1.2 million pounds of greenhouse gas pollution. Those are very real, very big results; fitting for company invested in doing big thing for its employees, clients and community alike.

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