Ideas to fuel a sustainable built environment

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Green Incentives Reboot: Creating True Incentives to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Mar 16, 2022 10:15:00 AM


Nearly ten years ago, in June of 2012, Cx Associates launched our Green Incentives program. Initially aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of employee commuting and work-related travel, the program provided free bus passes to any employee who wanted one, a free personal CarShare Vermont membership, and provided “incentives” (rewards? More on this in a bit) for employees who walked or cycled to work. At the same time, we stopped offering free parking to employees.

In 2014, Cx Associates was awarded the 2014 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for our Green Incentives program. By most measures, the program was a success! We had achieved nearly 100% employee participation year over year, had reduced miles driven, and caused employees to walk and bike to work more frequently.

Or so we thought.

matthew-henry-IisDI6liZEM-unsplashAs we sat on our laurels for the next few (ahem, 7?) years, it began to become clear that we could do more. And in fact, the more we considered the “incentives” we were offering, the less they seemed like actual incentives, and began to look more like rewards. They were not really changing behavior. Many of our employees live close enough to the office that they would happily walk or cycle to work even if we offered free valet parking. Others were already committed public transit users and wouldn’t drive to work if we wanted them to. Our “award-winning green incentives program” sure sounded nice on paper and in our marketing materials, but there were no teeth behind it. We had failed to walk our talk.

More Bang for the Buck

Even if the old program was changing behavior to some extent, we wondered if there were more impactful ways we could reduce our firm’s – or our employees’ – carbon footprints. Add to that a global pandemic that forced the closure of our office for months and months, almost negating the need for commuting incentives, and we decided we needed to go back to the drawing board.

We reassembled our mini working group and I happily handed over the working group “champion” duties to our senior engineer Tate Colbert and looped in our Operations & Marketing Coordinator Lauren Hagen – both of whom brought in great new ideas and fresh enthusiasm for the project. We surveyed our staff and asked two main questions:
  1. What is your definition of a successful green incentives program?
  2. Where is Cx Associates’ largest opportunity to reduce its operating carbon footprint?

The top two ranked answers to the first question above really helped to steer us towards new ideas that would change the program drastically. Employees wrote that, to be successful, the program:

  • Actually incentivizes -- not just rewards -- greener behavior. Incentives are meaningful and will reduce carbon emissions
  • Helps people achieve lifestyle changes that would be unobtainable on their own

We held a company-wide brainstorming session to generate incentive ideas. With a fresh set of ideas, we then asked everyone to allocate a “budget” – they were allowed to have three amounts (large, medium, and small, all adding up to a total) and they had to put their dollars towards their favorite ideas. If you loved one idea, you could put all your dollars behind it, or spread the wealth to several worthy ones. The ideas with the most dollars behind them bubbled up to the top of the list.

A Green Lottery

The newest, and most exciting addition to the program, which was also voted for with the most dollars, goes big in order to achieve both of those measures of success: the Annual Carbon Reduction Incentive Lottery.

The way it works: once a year, at the company holiday party, all full time staff are eligible to participate in a drawing to win the lottery and apply the award toward a home or lifestyle carbon reduction effort.

house-6935453_640Here's the “go big” part: the award that the winner receives is a lump sum of $3800 to use toward investment in a substantial carbon reduction project or purchase of their choosing from a list of options, including things like installing a PV array for their home, the purchase of an electric vehicle + Level-2 charger, an E-bike or regular bike, home weatherization, a cold-climate heat pump, rental or down payment assistance to move closer to the office or to more efficient housing, or a lump sum to renters for a green investment account – among others. (We recognize that people who rent their homes are at a disadvantage to directly improve the sustainability of their living conditions, therefore renters can take advantage of any combination of the incentive list, while homeowners are limited to selecting one incentive.)

We decided we didn’t care how or who reduces their carbon footprint – any reduction is meaningful. And we felt that the amount of the award was large enough to actually be an incentive rather than just a reward for doing the right thing anyway.

markus-spiske-vyHo3nnk8G8-unsplashWe kept the free bus passes because it really is simply the right thing to do, and we kept the rewards for cycling and walking in the program but recognized them for what they are – rewards. The other two changes we made were to add an incentive to purchase food via a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and we upped our carpooling incentive to encourage employees to carpool to work or to a jobsite. Lastly, we are still business members of CarShare Vermont, and use them frequently for work travel; they changed their program to provide free personal CSVT memberships to business members’ employees. All of the aspects of the rebooted program are based upon the ideas that were highly ranked with the dollars employees used to vote.

And the Winner Is…

chuttersnap-xJLsHl0hIik-unsplashRight before the Omicron wave began to hit Vermont in late December of 2021, we were lucky enough to gather for our annual holiday party (we and guests were all fully vaccinated and boosted, and we all took a home test hours before the gathering) and we had our first lottery pick for the coming year. Our EMV Project Manager Rachael Straub was the lucky winner! She’s currently planning on using the funds to purchase an EV that she and her family otherwise would have put off. It was a great, fun way to kick off the party as well as the rebooted Green Incentives Program.

What are you doing at your company to incentivize more Earth-friendly behavior or carbon reduction? We’d love to hear from you!

Written by Eric Hauser

As Cx Associates' Director of Finance and Operations, Eric wears many hats - he creates and tracks budgets and projections, handles all receivables and payables, manages CxA's PM and bookkeeping platform, administers payroll and employee benefit programs, manages recruitment, and drafts cost estimates and proposals. Eric joined Cx Associates in 2009 as the Operations Manager, and in July 2020 was promoted to his current position. Prior to joining Cx Associates, Eric served for nearly a decade in the non-profit sector at several organizations in the DC and NYC areas. In 2014, Eric and his wife relocated to Chicago from Vermont. Eric continues to work remotely for Cx Associates.