istock cflOne of the best things about working at a think tank is that you come across all kinds of interesting ideas. Here’s one that caught my attention recently, courtesy of Scott Marlow. Let’s call it the “Corporate Carbon Challenge.”  

 Here’s how you might bill it:

Save Power, Save $$—During the month of April, compete against other businesses to see who can conserve the most energy. Your local utility will track the results. Category winners will receive publicity and a free month of power!

It would work like so. Participating businesses would be grouped into categories—by number of employees, industry type, and so on—and they’d compete against one another for the biggest reductions in electricity use over the same month of the previous year (or some other relative standard). The winners garner some positive publicity, and the most successful businesses might even develop some share-able ideas and lessons for others.

The Corporate Carbon Challenge wouldn’t be difficult to implement. Many Northwest utilities already have the benchmarks in place to measure performance, so very little “infrastructure” would need to built for the contest to work. (That’s certainly true for Seattle-area utilities like Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy.) So the Corporate Carbon Challenge is mainly a messaging project, with plenty of opportunities for green business sponsorship, human interest and business story angles for the press, and much more.

  • Admittedly, you’d wanted to sort out some competition-distorting features. For instance, you wouldn’t want a business to “win” because it laid off half its workforce owing to the recession. There are surely dozens of technicalities we could worry about, but I’m willing to bet that the issues could be sorted out. And anyway, it’s a gentleman’s game.

    Plus, there’s at least one precedent, of sorts, for this kind of thing: the Group Health Commute Challenge. Businesses sign up and compete against other similarly-sized organizations to see how many employees will commute by bike for a month. The Commute Challenge has by all accounts been a smashing success.

    If the Corporate Carbon Challenge worked out, there’s no reason you might not design a residential challenge, or a neighborhood challenge, or a church challenge, or what have you. And I have a hunch that harnessing our competitive instincts might reveal some neat ideas about how to reduce our carbon footprints.