Recently we participated in an Earth Day event at a library in Door County, Wisconsin. The event offered us an opportunity to interact with the general public so we decided to conduct a short survey on electric vehicles (EVs).
Now attendees at an Earth Day event aren’t “typical” consumers. We knew this audience would tilt green but we also thought it would be useful to understand what this greenish audience thought about EVs.
Just under 40 people completed our survey, which means it’s a small sample and we won’t draw any big conclusions. More, folks did this survey on their phone or our iPad while standing at our table, sometimes while also juggling toddlers, which means they had limited time and attention. (Arguably that makes them a little more typical—everyone we’re all trying to reach has limited time and attention.)
What we heard was interesting.
In this greenish crowd, one survey respondent owned an EV and eight reported that they were not familiar with EVs. Everyone else said they’d read about EVs or been in one (as a driver or a passenger). As you might expect, the bulk of folks had more than one EV interaction—many had read articles, watched videos and either driven or been a passenger in an EV. About one-third of respondents reported that they were likely or very likely to consider an EV the next time they purchased a car, which is consistent with variousother surveys but also not terribly informative since we humans are pretty awful at predicting our own behaviors.
We were most curious about what these respondents thought about EVs. We asked two open-ended questions to understand what was front of mind for them. We were curious about what they thought of first relative to benefits and concerns. (The responses below are verbatim; a number in parenthesis indicates that more than one person had this exact response.)
What do you like about electric vehicles?
Everything, clean, efficient, inexpensive to operate, nonpolluting.
Best for our environment
Energy efficiency and non-carbon producing
Low carbon emissions
Kind to the environment.
Clean energy (2)
Their quiet presence when driving. And the fact that you must plan your usage more carefully (energy-wise).
No gas. No pollution.
No fossil fuels…longer drive range
They offer an alternative to traditional transportation.
No gas or pollution
Clean, mean, team machine
Renewable energy chargers
Sustainability and the fact that they can be less complex/more reliable than petrol.
Low cost of operation
Reducing use of fossil fuels.
efficiency, reliability, saving the world with EV to PV
Not enough info
I don’t know much about them (2)
What concerns you about electric vehicles?
Range anxiety, purchase cost.
Limited drive range, limited power sources and vehicle cost
Lack of acceptance, charging infrastructure
Lack of affordability initially.
It takes more in the long run according to critics
Length of trips that can be made. Availability of recharging stations.
Need station wagon models to carry dogs!
Distance it can travel
Availability of charging stations
Not enough drive time
Mining and manufacturing the materials to make them.
Lack of plugins
Cost going up as become more popular also may be too technical for me
Doesn’t really save energy
Not enough charging opportunities
Coal burning chargers
Cost to purchase, how to dispose of spent batteries.
Miles between charges
Range, charging stations, and source of electricity used in charging.
Coal powering EV
Cost and availability of charging stations
Making them and battery waste may not be environmentally friendly
Looking at these responses, it’s striking that most of the benefits listed relate to the environment. Nobody said, for example, that EVs are really fun to drive because of the instant torque. (See what EV owners say there is to love about EVs here.) Remember, though, this was a survey at an Earth Day event so folks were primed to think about the environment. Still, it reinforces that we need to talk more about the magic of driving an EV so that those benefits are more front of mind.
On the concerns side there were three themes—purchase price, charging infrastructure and anxiety that EVs aren’t as green as promised (due to electricity from coal, battery disposal, etc.). Of these, the third one (which, again, might be over-represented here due to our Earth Day location) merits the most attention.
As folks shop for a car, the price anxiety is likely to dissipate; the average new car purchase in the US last year was $36,000 and there are multiple EV models in that price range (assuming federal tax credits).
Similarly, newer EVs have longer ranges and states are working hard to address charging infrastructure along key travel routes so range anxiety is fast becoming something of the past.
For us, the short survey helped us identify the EV benefits we want to showcase going forward. And it also helped identify barriers we need to address. Hopefully it will help to inspire your efforts as well!
These commitments are important and exciting. As we’ve discussed before, public commitments are a great way to jump start action while also influencing others to act as well.
To address climate change it’s critical, of course, that these communities succeed in transitioning away from fossil fuels. That’s where the rubber hits the road (and in many places the local roads are currently congested with single-occupancy vehicles, mostly running on gasoline).
Once the commitment is made these communities need to make change happen.
In most localities, the first priority is to address municipal operations—to make sure local government is walking the talk. This is a great spot to start because government operations can provide an example for private industry—showing the benefits of an electrified fleet and zero energy buildings, for example.
Simultaneous with those internal efforts, though, communities should tackle two other priorities:
Involving the whole community in the clean energy quest and
Optimizing near-term decisions that can impact long-term goals.
Everyone Has a Role
While it’s reasonable for community leaders to focus first on government operations, the ultimate quest here is to reduce emissions across the whole community. Accordingly, leaders need to communicate—from the beginning—that everyone will have a role in this effort.
Emphasizing government action to the exclusion of other efforts can prompt residents and businesses to assume they are off the hook—that the clean energy commitment applies only to government operations. Sending that message now will make it harder to motivate private sector change later.
Instead, try a message like “Our first priority is to reduce government emissions, which will help identify effective strategies for residents and businesses.” Make clear from the onset that this transformation involves everyone—that everyone will eventually participate and that everyone will see benefits.
And, from the onset, identify and celebrate the locals who are also leading by example. Perhaps there’s a business that has bench marked its energy use, installed a solar array or converted part of its fleet to clean fuels. If so, recognize them for their leadership and use that recognition as an opportunity to talk about how it’ll take efforts from everyone to realize the community’s ambitious goals.
When you recognize leaders it will inspire interest in others. It’s important that you’ve a short list of simple ways individuals and businesses can get involved. To maximize participation:
Keep the list short – 3 to 5 different ways to get involved is ideal (e.g., “Start using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to bench mark your business’ energy and water usage.” or “Commit to active transport–biking or walking–for trips shorter than half a mile.”)
Create a way for folks to tell you what they’re doing so that you can accumulate these results over time while also offering these folks more advanced actions
Keep recognizing and celebrating new successes
The aim here is to build a compelling story about how your community is working together to achieve its big climate goals. Ultimately you want everyone in your community to see themselves in this story.
Do It Right the First Time
A building constructed in 2019 will likely still be in use in 2049—which means that communities need to think about the long term impacts of current decisions. This is particularly important relative to buildings, roads and other infrastructure projects.
If your community aims to increase biking and walking over the next few decades, for example, then any new subdivision should prioritize sidewalks and bike lanes. To build new neighborhoods without this infrastructure will make it more difficult to achieve your big goals later.
Similarly, standards for new buildings—homes as well as businesses—should consider the long term objectives. If your plan presumes that all homes will consume 30% less energy by 2040, it doesn’t make sense to build a subdivision where the houses barely meet current building codes. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to build more efficient homes right now so that there’s less to fix later. (Plus this means residents benefit from efficiency up front—and you’ve another local success to showcase.)
Even if clean energy features aren’t desired up front, new buildings should be both electric vehicle and renewable energy ready. Installing wiring during construction costs just a fraction of what it will cost later to retrofit these properties.
A way to think about this is to consider the number of opportunities you’ll have relative to different technologies and infrastructures. The lighting in a business, for example, might be replaced 3 times between now and 2050, which means efficiency can improve again and again. Similarly, a resident might replace their vehicle twice in that timeframe and their heating system once. A new home, though, is likely to see no major structural changes in 40 years—so it’s critical to do it right the first time.
We Can Do This!
The U.S. is in the midst of an exciting transformation from fossil fuels, which powered our industrial revolution, to clean energy that will enable us to thrive forward. We’re on a tight timeline for this transition. The faster we reduce emissions, the more we mitigate dire climate change impacts. Local leaders are taking a critical first step by committing to clean energy goals. Next these leaders need to be smart about how to achieve their clean energy targets.
In preparation for an Earth Day talk about electric vehicles (EVs) I did an informal survey of EV owners. The survey was not scientific, but it was informative. I simply posted a question in the Nissan Leaf Owners Group on Facebook to which I belong.
The results surprised me and they might surprise you too.
The Many Benefits of an EV
When I asked drivers what they liked best about driving an EV, the most frequent responses had to do with torque. In case you didn’t know, EVs have a lot of torque and feel very responsive compared to gas-fired cars. Respondents wrote:
I’ve driven stick shift trucks, a stick shift Ford Probe, and automatic luxury sedans…among others. None were as fun to drive as my Leaf. The perfect torque with no delay in engine and/or transmission response is SO much fun! The money savings are great, the small environmental impact is also great and talking to people about the details of going electric are all reasons I purchased initially. Ultimately, tho, it’s the fun of driving an EV that will keep me coming back for the next 40 years!
“100% torque off the line” rocks
Numerous respondents also talked about the conveniences of an EV compared to a car with an internal combustion engine (ICE car). Conveniences included:
charging at home instead of going to a gas station in the rain or cold
being able to warm the vehicle in the garage without worrying about carbon monoxide fumes, and
fewer trips to the dealership for routine maintenance.
Finally, people talked about how their EV made them feel good. There were a few comments about reducing emissions but, more, people talked about how clean the EV felt compared to an ICE car. For example:
…We loved the heated seats so much that we sometimes went weeks at a time without driving our ICE car. Going for weeks at a time without using gas brought another issue to our attention. Gas cars really do stink (of gas fumes) in a way we never noticed before! But we notice it quite a bit, if we haven’t been in a gas car for a while.
You don’t realize just how badly ICE cars stink until you ‘get out of the monkey house’ for a while and realize what fresh air is.
People also noted that EVs are quiet compared to ICE vehicles, which means drivers can hear the radio or other passengers better. One respondent said a coworker calls her EV the “Zen car” because it’s so quiet.
Talk Up Benefits that Resonate
I asked EV owners what they liked best about their EVs for a reason.
My decades of experience in energy efficiency taught me that technical experts often overlook the benefits that matter most to consumers. (An efficiency advocate will talk about saving water via an ENERGY STAR clothes washer, for example, rather than talking about how the water-efficient washer reduces overall laundry time–which is way more compelling to someone who does 5 loads of laundry a week.) Similarly, I suspected that EV owners might point to benefits that weren’t getting a lot of attention in the literature.
Advocates talk about the environmental benefits and certainly a few of the owners who responded to my informal survey mentioned that. Mostly, though, owners mentioned more personal benefits—stuff that prompts them to choose to drive the EV when there’s another choice in their garage. These are the benefits that matter! While climate change activists are appropriately focused on EVs as a way to reduce emissions, EV salespeople and EV advocates should focus on the features that delight consumers. If you want more folks to consider purchasing an EV, talk up the torque and the simplicity of re-fueling your car at home overnight. Talk up the peace of mind relative to fumes as well as the peace and quiet that comes with an EV. Talk about benefits that resonate with buyers.
Contact us at email@example.com to learn more about what you can to accelerate the adoption of EVs in your region.
In the US about 30% of all emissions come from the transportation sector with about two-thirds of that from personal vehicles. The emissions from an EV vary, based on how clean the electricity charging the EV is. (Union of Concerned Scientists has a great calculator where you can explore this.) In Wisconsin, where we still get 55% of our electricity from coal, an EV emits 37% less carbon that the typical gasoline vehicle. The emissions reduction is even better in states with cleaner electricity.
Transitioning from gas vehicles to EVs will help us reduce our emissions. The faster the transition the better.
EVs have other advantages: gas costs at least 2X as much per mile as electricity as a fuel, even at today’s cheap gas prices. EVs have fewer moving parts so maintenance costs are lower—another savings for consumers. Plus EVs are clean, safe, quiet and responsive—all of which makes driving fun again.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Surely all that means consumers are lining up to buy these vehicles, right?
Well, not exactly.
And that’s where the déjà vu comes in. As is the case with all sort of energy efficient products from LED bulbs to furnaces to industrial motors, consumers are not always persuaded by better products that cost less over the long run.
I spent decades in the trenches on traditional energy efficiency programs. I know well the frustration that comes from consumers choosing an old, inefficient technology when a better option is available. The EV market looks a lot like any number of energy efficiency markets did in the 1990s and early 2000s. Similar to the challenges we faced promoting various high efficiency products:
Consumers are hesitant about a new technology
Influential market actors—manufacturers, salespeople, repair shops—are hesitant too, still more comfortable with the familiar, less efficient models
Advocates emphasize the features that matter to them (like emission reductions) rather than the benefits that will delight consumers
I’m guilty of the latter in this post—I started with an explanation of why EVs are a great climate solution, instead of talking about how great it is to drive a car that can idle in the garage without jeopardizing your family’s health. But no more! The best way to accelerate EV sales is to learn from energy efficiency efforts, particularly market transformation programs (the efforts where we sought to change the way vendors sold and consumers bought some product category).
What can EV advocates learn from efficiency’s market transformation efforts?
First and foremost, we need to engage the vendors. EV advocates will tell you that it’s a challenge to work with car dealerships but old folks like me remember that it was also a challenge to get hardware stores to carry compact fluorescent light bulbs, and that it was a challenge to convince appliance manufacturers to produce high efficiency refrigerators and clothes washers. Changing how vendors do business is always a challenge, especially if the old way is still profitable. The best strategy here is an opportunistic one: work with whoever is willing now and welcome in others when they see the light. (A competitor’s success can be particularly enlightening—many a reluctant vendor joined our efficiency efforts after witnessing the successes their competitors were seeing in the program.) Focus on who’s in and presume the others will follow. A local dealership selling a high proportion of EVs is a dealership of the future; if you showcase them as such others will start to take notice.
Second, EV advocates need to talk more about the benefits of an EV. As noted above, these vehicles are
Quiet–without a gas engine these vehicles are “hear yourself think” quiet. This feature is especially appealing when it comes to bigger vehicles like buses!
It’s these benefits—or a by-product thereof—that will engage consumers and transform the US automotive market. For example, consumers got excited about front-loading clothes washers because the clothes coming out of the washer were less wet, and dried faster…which meant washing and drying cycles were equivalent, which simplified laundry time for families. Too, the washers weren’t as rough on clothing yet got out stains effectively. All of those were features people who owned the washers shared with others—features that mattered to consumers. Smart energy efficiency programs promoted those features (the non-energy benefits).
Similarly, we need to talk up the benefits of EVs—a vehicle that won’t spew toxic gases out its tailpipe. Ideally, we should all feature EV owners talking about the features they love; this will help us understand which features resonate with potential buyers.
And in this discourse we need to stop obsessing about charging infrastructure. Yes, as EV ownership grows we’ll need more chargers. But most people will charge at home most of the time—so as they buy a vehicle they’ll address their primary charging needs. And certainly communities should continue to support public charging stations and charging options for people in apartments and condos but there’s no need to go on and on about the need for charging stations. All that talk just makes people nervous about investing in EVs. I mean, imagine if we’d held press conferences to talk about the need to re-train HVAC contractors when we were promoting high efficiency furnaces—that would not have prompted confidence in the technology! Focus the public dialogue on the benefits of EVs and address the infrastructure needs as necessary with decision makers, rather than with the media.
Finally, I think there are lessons to learn about incentives. The energy efficiency industry was built on incentives—buying down the first cost of more expensive technologies. In some cases, incentives were vital—there was a time when compact fluorescents cost 10 to 20x the price of an incandescent bulb. In the case of EVs, though, the price differential is smaller. US consumers paid an average of $36,000 for a new vehicle last year and there are multiple EV options at or below that price point. Because the costs are more comparable I would urge folks to be prudent when thinking about incentives. Any time we offer consumers an incentive for buying something we shift the dialogue, often encouraging more skepticism. Instead of focusing on consumer incentives I’d encourage folks to think about initiatives that inspire salespeople to sell more EVs. Again, the energy efficiency industry offers a lot of market transformation examples that support this approach.
A fast transition to EVs will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions; it’s a vital part of our climate change strategy. So let’s learn from energy efficiency and speed up this important transition!
Contact us to learn more about how Cool Choices can help you accelerate EV sales.
I spent a few hours at the Kennedy Space Center recently. In the course of the tour there were at least three times that I saw footage of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech urging Americans to work together to reach the moon. In the clip Kennedy talks about the need for US leadership and our collective willingness to take on hard tasks.
The third time I heard the speech—when it was coupled with a dramatization of engineering challenges NASA scientists overcame during the space program—I started thinking about climate change.
What if US leaders talked about the challenge of climate change in the way that Kennedy talked about going to the moon?
In 1962 most folks didn’t think it was plausible to reach the moon within a decade. Likely it sounded really hard and really expensive—a kind of fool’s errand. Indeed, skeptics mocked the idea, much like skeptics today mock current proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% in a dozen years. A lot has changed in fifty years but skeptics are still skeptics. Still, fifty years ago the visionaries prevailed—we invested in a space program and safely got humans to the moon and back within a decade.
“We used to be able to think big. Let’s do it again,” Eugene Robinson wrote recently in the Washington Post, in reference to the Green New Deal. When I went back to his piece this week I was not entirely surprised to see that he referenced the space program too. It’s important to remember though, that in 1962 nobody knew how to get to the moon—engineers and scientists had to invent solutions. By contrast, in 2019 we know how to reduce emissions and we can see places where it’s already happening successfully—so it’s more a challenge of public will than know-how.
In Kennedy’s speech he noted that Americans can lead or we can follow. On climate we’ve largely abdicated a leadership role; Europe and China are leading.
At the Kennedy Space Center there’s a really strong patriotic vibe. Walking around the exhibits I watched folks marvel at our past accomplishments—the ingenuity that led to cell phone technology and other 21st century necessities.
Maybe that’s why, listening to Kennedy that third time, I started to feel sad, wondering what had happened to our collective moxie. Fifty years ago we committed to big goals without knowing how we’d achieve them. Fifty years ago we had confidence that we could overcome unprecedented challenges because we were Americans and that’s just what we did.
So where’s the commitment? I’m struck that the advantage Kennedy had in 1962 was one of scope: getting humans to the moon and back required hard work and ingenuity from a talented group at NASA. Getting to the moon didn’t require engaging all Americans, transforming buildings and transportation systems, or ending our dependence on fossil fuels. In 1962 Kennedy asked all Americans to support the space effort but he didn’t suggest they would need to live differently. We delegated the hard part of the moonshot to scientists and waited for their technological solution.
And there’s the crux of the issue: climate change is hard because there is no magical technology. Climate change requires a myriad of solutions that affect our daily lives—which means it’s personal (and potentially inconvenient). We can’t delegate the problem to a group of scientists because we are the problem—and the solution.
Definitely it’s the case that sustainable practices—reducing energy use in buildings, adopting more active modes of transport, reducing waste—impacts one’s life in positive ways. Facilitating these solutions makes communities stronger. Achieving deep decarbonization means cleaner air and water as well as better physical fitness (because we walk and bike more). If we pursue a vision like the one outlined in the Green New Deal, where the inequities of our fossil fuel economy are also addressed, we’ll have greater shared prosperity as well.
Fifty years from now there might well be a museum that documents our response to climate change. I hope the story it tells is as inspiring as the Kennedy Space Station’s story. But of course that depends on us, doesn’t it?
We were on vacation in Florida when I spotted the sign (yes, geek alert…she takes pictures of signs while on vacation…).
If you own an electric vehicle (EV) or follow the technology, you might be aware that sometimes EV drivers have challenges accessing public charging stations because non-electric vehicles are parked in front of the chargers. (In the EV world this is called being ICEd—an internal combustion engine (ICE) is in your way.) In some regions of the country ICEing seems to be the latest exemplification of ongoing culture wars—a Tesla versus pickup truck battle. The issue is significant enough that there are webpages devoted to parking protocols.
Most often, though, getting ICEd isn’t about partisanship—it is about poor communications. When the signage is unclear and a good parking spot seems open most drivers will take the spot. The best way to prevent ICEing is clear signage.
And that’s why I really liked the sign I saw at a park in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first line is clear—NO PARKING. It’s coupled with cross-hatching on the pavement—a clear signal to park elsewhere. And then the sign offers a single exception: Except When Charging. So not only is it clear that I shouldn’t park there if I don’t need to charge, it’s also clear that I should move my car when I’m done charging. This is much clearer than signs that say “Reserved for EVs” or “EV Charging”. There’s nothing about NO PARKING that is open to interpretation. The sign eliminates any potential for confusion.
At Cool Choices we talk a lot about how important it is to make the right choices EASY for people and this sign is a great example of how clear framing simplifies things. The sign, coupled with the cross-hatch paint on the spots, makes clear that this isn’t a regular parking spot. A driver who’s thinking about 15 other things while looking for a spot (that is, a regular person like you or me, every day of the week) will see the sign and typically opt to park elsewhere. Which means the charging station is accessible to EV drivers who need it.
Hundreds of communities around the US have committed to reduce their carbon emissions. As local leaders implement strategies to facilitate those reductions it’s important to remember EASY. The best strategies make it easy for people to do the right things.
To learn more about the power of EASY, check out our on-demand webinars or reach out to us for more information.
Culture Change—You Need It So How Do You Know If You’ve Got It?
Achieving aggressive sustainability goals—whether within corporate operations or as part of a community’s quest for zero carbon emissions—is an enormous task.
In the early phases of any entity’s sustainability efforts a committed green team can do a lot. A small group of people can identify and address opportunities. As a company (or community) become more efficient, though, the projects get more complicated. And the projects involve more stakeholders. One of the ironies of sustainability efforts is that the more you succeed the more challenging it is to expand that success.
Sooner or later—especially if you’ve got aggressive goals—success requires all hands on deck. A company can’t achieve zero landfill unless everybody does their part in the lunch room. Similarly, a dramatic reduction in fleet emissions is possible only if every driver does their part.
At Cool Choices we talk a lot about the need for culture change. We share stories from partners who’ve got “an entire employee population moving in the same direction.” We love that moment when our partners get it–when they see culture change happening in their organization.
How do you know, though, if you are achieving culture change?
Culture is what people say and do. The simplest way to assess the current culture is to monitor practices—what’s the recycling rate? Do employees volunteer new opportunities for saving resources or do all ideas come from the people tasked with these efforts?
Sustainability leads, then, need to transform this culture—to create a culture where people think about resource use and identify opportunities to reduce use. A culture where reducing waste is a shared value.
And as sustainability leads work on culture there’s a lot you can learn by just observing but for real proof we suggest you use surveys to measure culture change. Cool Choices does this in its own work and we focus on two metrics: how often employees talk to other people about sustainability and whether employees think other people value sustainability.
We ask about the frequency of conversations because people talk about what matters to them. If you want a culture of sustainability then you want people talking to each other about sustainability. You want them talking about sustainability at work, at home, and across the community. In our programs we’ve seen sustainability conversations increase dramatically. In a typical baseline about 20% of respondents say that they talk about sustainability at least weekly with their colleagues, compared to more than 50% at the end of a game. This is what you want—spontaneous conversations about sustainability because those conversations are evidence of shared values.
Then, to get even deeper, we ask folks if sustainability is important to their family, their colleagues, their friends, and even leadership at the company. What people think matters to other people is vitally important. We’ve seen numerous workplaces where three-quarters of employees reported that sustainability mattered to them personally while reporting that less than half of their colleagues cared about sustainability. This is a problem! If I think my peers aren’t interested in sustainability I’m not going to stick my neck out to make a difference.
Culture change starts when people realize that they have shared values and that there’s opportunity to express those values.
To learn more about how Cool Choices can help you assess and then accelerate culture change around sustainability, check out our webinar on this topic.
Over the last eight years Cool Choices has implemented
numerous engagement programs, inspiring thousands of people to adopt
sustainable practices at work and home. We successfully helped corporate and
community partners accelerate sustainability efforts, changing social norms in
the process and prompting thousands to ask friends “what cool choice did you
make today?” Our platform is easy-to-use and effective—if you haven’t tried it
While we’ve seen terrific successes with our game platform,
the urgency of climate change becomes clearer every day. Cool Choices is a
mission-based nonprofit; our goal is to inspire change at a level that slows
climate change—which means we are always striving to achieve more greenhouse
gas emission reductions faster.
In January the Cool Choices Board of Directors decided the
organization should shift its primary activities—a pivot that will help us
achieve more action on climate change more quickly.
The Board action means:
Instead of implementing games directly, Cool
Choices will make its innovative platform available to others via licensing.
This means a myriad of groups around the world can leverage our efforts to
create their own mechanisms for change. Frankly, we are excited to see what
some of you do with the foundation we created!
Additionally, Cool Choices will pursue new
efforts that leverage our deep expertise in energy efficiency, behavior change
and sustainability to accelerate climate action at scale. We look forward to
sharing more about those new efforts in the coming months.
At Cool Choices we talk a lot about making change happen,
how we have to do things differently to address the significant environmental
and economic challenges facing humanity. At the same time, we know change is
daunting and difficult—that it’s always feels easier to keep doing what you
We also talk a lot about how actions matter—that people are
more influenced by what they see you doing than what you say they should do.
All of that means we’re excited about these
changes and we look forward to collaborating with you on efforts that make
substantive progress on climate issues.
A decade after the Great Recession, we’re now in the midst of a tight labor market. Wisconsin’s unemployment hovers at 3%, which is lower than the 4.5% to 5% unemployment that the Federal Reserve targets. How should employers view this tight labor market, and how can they use sustainability to attract and retain talent?
In a tight labor market, individuals have more options about where they’ll work and what they’ll do. Companies are competing against each other to attract and retain staff. Additionally, Millennials and Gen Zers often have different expectations than those of workers of previous generations.
Studies show that 88% of millennials look for ways to contribute to social and environmental issues at work. This matters: by 2020 millennials will be 50% of the workforce! You are not only competing for talent; the terms of the competition are changing. Potential employees certainly care about salary and benefits, but they’re also likely to ask about work-life balance and corporate sustainability efforts.
The Importance of HR
Most companies are taking some action to reduce resource use. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to learn about those efforts. This is a problem for recruitment. Potential candidates should be able to easily find meaningful information about your sustainability efforts on your website. Otherwise, it’s likely those candidates will pursue other opportunities first. Note that people want substantive information. A single paragraph saying the company is committed to sustainability won’t cut it.
Recruiters and HR staff must be able to talk confidently about the company’s sustainability efforts. These folks should have at least noteworthy statistics. (“ABC Corp has reduced its energy usage 10% since 2010—last year we received a national award for our efforts.”) Ideally, they will also have first-hand experience with corporate sustainability efforts. (“Everyone at ABC has the opportunity to join green teams that work on department and location-specific initiatives. I’m part of a group that helped to eliminate plastic water bottles at our headquarters.”)
To use sustainability as a lever in attracting and retaining staff, corporate sustainability leads must both achieve sustainability targets and engage existing staff in the corporate sustainability efforts. After all, the most cost-effective talent strategy is retention.
Engaging Current Employees Is a Win
Effective engagement isn’t an occasional article in the employee newsletter or posters in the break room. It is a collaborative effort to build shared practices and a culture where reducing waste is the new normal. Effective engagement means getting regular folks involved, hearing their ideas, empowering them to be part of the change, and then celebrating shared accomplishments.
The magic happens when employees are a part of the company’s sustainability efforts. Engagement in these efforts will grow their pride in their company. Existing employees talk up the company to their friends, thus creating authentic endorsements. This makes recruitment easier while also increasing retention. It’s a major win for corporate talent efforts while also accelerating sustainability efforts.
Contact us to talk more about how you can leverage your corporate sustainability efforts to attract and retain talent.
Transportation represented 28% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Reducing transportation emissions is critical to tackling climate change. Yet inspiring more people to adopt walking, biking, and public transit, as well as electrifying cars and trucks, is a major hurdle. How can we reduce transportation emissions quickly, and what have we learned from the successes of other energy-saving initiatives?
Transportation is a complex problem with no singular solution
Even states that are climate leaders acknowledge that transportation is a particularly wicked problem. In December the California Air Resources Board issued a report outlining the challenges associated with reducing transportation-related emissions. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also issued a report last week acknowledging a lack of progress on transportation emissions.
It seems like some folks thought this transformation would be easy. After all, electric vehicles (EVs) have a cool factor, thanks largely to Tesla. Surely everything will be fine if we all convert to EVs?
Hoping people buy electric vehicles isn’t enough
It’s time for some reality.
First, mass adoption of electric vehicles won’t just “happen.” Building charging stations will not magically increase the number of EVs on the road, just as a bus stop sign won’t lead to a surge in transit ridership. While the charging stations (and signs) are necessary, they are not sufficient to change practices. In order to transform the car and truck market, we need to motivate change.
Second, even an expansion in electric vehicles won’t fully solve our transportation challenges. CARB‘s report highlights the need to reduce vehicle-miles traveled even with rapid expansion of zero-emission electric vehicles.
Finally, reducing vehicle-miles traveled means getting people out of single-occupancy cars and into shared rides and public transit, as well as biking and walking. To do so, we need better transit, smarter land-use planning, and an unprecedented level of behavior change.
It’s no wonder states are struggling. Reducing transportation emissions is a tall order!
What can sustainable transportation advocates learn from other initiatives?
The dearth of systemic efforts to influence transportation became apparent early on in our engagement programs.
Compare transportation to energy efficiency and conservation, for example. Whereas energy utilities have encouraged energy conservation habits in Wisconsin for decades, there is no equivalent for transportation. No formal entity, for example, provides tips about fuel economy at the gas pump.
Similarly, the ENERGY STAR program is extremely popular and well-known among average consumers. However, there’s no similar program for automobiles. Because of the lack of these programs, transportation experts have less experience influencing change and receiving evaluation reports assessing their efforts. In energy efficiency, by contrast, third-party evaluations are the norm.
Change takes time
States aiming to reduce transportation emissions would do well to heed the lessons from successful energy efficiency efforts.
First, change never happens overnight. Sometimes it seems like something has happened quickly; for example, the way LEDs have overtaken CFLs and incandescent bulbs. However, if the change seems fast to you, it’s because you were blissfully unaware of everything going on behind the scenes. For decades, energy efficiency advocates worked with lighting manufacturers and retailers to bring efficient lighting to market. The push for LED adoption built on the effort to promote CFLs in previous decades. Ultimately, advocates’ work helped to make it profitable for lighting companies to pursue LED technology and for retailers to see an advantage in giving these products shelf space.
Look beyond the consumer to the middleman
Second, sales don’t just happen. With any new technology, there will be some early adopters. The challenge, however, is to convince regular folks to consider and then purchase electric vehicles. This means we need to understand consumer priorities and how vehicles are bought and sold because your aim is to transform that market.
Again, the efficiency industry offers some interesting insights. Consider home furnaces. In the 1990s, 80% of all furnaces sold in Wisconsin were high efficiency, whereas only 20% of furnace sold in neighboring (and equally cold) states were high efficiency. The difference? Wisconsin had strong initiatives that motivated heating contractors to recommend high efficiency units. It turns out that people mostly follow contractor recommendations.
Similarly, there’s the push for high-efficiency clothes washers. Utility programs offered incentives to salespeople for selling the high efficiency units, and therefore market share grew substantially. The lesson here is clear: for EV sales to expand substantially, programs need to engage car dealerships more effectively.
Make it simple to buy
Just as transportation initiatives can learn from energy efficiency, there are also great lessons to learn from rooftop solar programs. Utility interconnection standards did not prompt an avalanche of rooftop installations (much as charging stations won’t spur EV sales) but it turns out solar is contagious: people are more likely to install if they see an installation in their neighborhood. Efforts to simplify the purchase—group buys, third-party ownership—have also been effective in growing the market. Ask yourself how you can make purchasing an EV easier.
Beyond EV: Broader visions of transit
In addition to accelerating the transition to EVs, entities need to inspire people to ride share, take public transit, or opt for active forms of transportation.
On this front, the California Air Resources Board lays out a solid plan forward. CARB urges more pilot programs to experiment with incentives and messaging for the public. However, the report also focuses on land use issues. After all, people have to get from home to work and back again, and sometimes a car is the only option. Changing land use practices can be slow, but new land use policies are enormously important and have lasting effects.
We need innovative partnerships and new ways of motivating
To reduce transportation emissions, there’s a great need for innovative partnerships. For example, one common source of transportation miles is the commute to and from work. Employers thus have a stake in our transportation choices.
However, a recent transit study in Wisconsin showed that local bus systems in some communities don’t even serve the largest employers in those communities. That’s missing a great opportunity for collaboration! Often bigger businesses already have sustainability objectives, and employee commuting is a big piece of their carbon footprint (especially for white collar businesses like law firms, banks, or insurance companies). That means there’s opportunity for cities and businesses to collaborate on solutions that increase transit use as well as biking and walking.
Additionally, we urge entities to pilot initiatives that encourage people to try new modes of transit. Offer two-for-one bus fares or free transit days. Create incentives for those who already bike to work to engage a colleague in biking, too. The aim of these programs should be to nudge people into trying a new behavior that was previously outside their comfort zone. We want folks to see themselves as people who take the bus or who bike to work. Yes, there are often cost and health benefits to driving less, but identifying as someone who bikes, buses, or walks is a powerful way to keep up with the habit.
None of this will happen overnight, and none of it is easy. But it is doable and necessary. Contact us if you want to talk more about how you can accelerate a transformation of transportation practices in your community.