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Networks, Fun, and Healthy Competition Spur Boston Businesses on Sustainability

In Boston and most cities, the majority of GHG emissions come from buildings (in Boston, they are responsible for 74% of the city's carbon footprint).

In Boston and most cities, the majority of GHG emissions come from buildings (in Boston, they are responsible for 74% of the city’s carbon footprint). This means that, without the support and participation of businesses that own and manage buildings, there is little hope of Boston or any city hitting the kind of GHG reduction targets necessary to curb climate change. What can be done? A new program in Boston is showing the power of peer networks, fun, and healthy competition to do right by the environment and their companies’ bottom lines.

In 2010, with support from the Barr Foundation, A Better City (ABC), a Boston-area business association, launched its Challenge For Sustainability. Its aim was to provide a simple, but comprehensive system for tracking sustainability actions and impacts, and also to create a network for sharing ideas and effective practices (and to generate healthy competition).

Earlier this year, an independent evaluation documented the successes, challenges, and impacts of the effort in its first full year. In 2011, 37 properties representing 15.4 million square feet participated in the Challenge. Collectively they saved 8.5 million kWh of electricity (enough to power 1,700 homes for a year) and 11 million gallons of water (enough to fill 2,100 Olympic size swimming pools).

How did ABC get this to happen?

One important ingredient turned out to be engaging businesses in the fun of friendly competition with their peers. The tools and resources ABC provided to Challenge Participants - including a scorecard, toolkits, and dedicated ABC staff – created the knowledge and pathways for change. Yet participants consistently noted that the peer network and competition is what made the Challenge fun and helped build engagement and commitment.

The Challenge has allowed businesses to engage at levels they find comfortable and that are tailored to their unique business environments and priorities. Many participants are finding increasing ways to deepen their level of implementation, resulting in a positive reinforcing loop of increased personal and company-wide commitment to sustainability. Collectively, these companies are building a network of business leaders committed to sustainability across Boston.

The full evaluation is attached to the bottom of this post.

ABC has also been producing short videos featuring participants, their work, and its impacts. Here are two of the first - "Build it, They will Fill it" and "Small Business, Big Rewards":

Challenge for Sustainability - Build it, they will fill it

Challenge for Sustainability - Small Business, Big Rewards

A Better City Evaluation Report

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Mariella Puerto

Mariella Puerto

Co-Director of Climate