Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

MPower Champions

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MPower Champions: A Pioneering Clean Energy Campaign
Madison, Wisconsin

Federal Funding: $499,496
Project Timeline: April 1, 2011 – December 31, 2014

Project Summary

Mobilizing the Business Community and the School District to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

A partnership between Sustain Dane, the City of Madison, and the local utility (MGE) launched a greenhouse gas reduction program called MPower Champions. The program began in 2007 and aimed to raise community awareness and mobilize the commercial sector to join the City in promoting sustainability initiatives and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. MPower Champions was developed to help businesses negotiate the multitude of free resources available to them, to take precise measurements of their baseline emissions, increase their energy efficiency, use renewable energy, mobilize their employees to make changes at work and at home, and track their overall progress. With the Climate Showcase Communities grant, Madison:

  • Expanded the program to reach 106 businesses over three years
  • Mobilized the Madison Metropolitan School District to join the program
  • Created a Sustainable Business Network
  • Increased sustainability and commercial economic competitiveness
  • Documented and publicized the program

The program worked with 68 businesses over 4 years, including collaboration on the creation of a Sustainable Business Network. The goal of the Network was to provide a forum for businesses and schools who completed the MPower program to share best practices and unexpected benefits. This network was created to inspire and engage the broader community, help recruit new Champions, and feed into an ongoing GHG reduction effort in the Madison area.

The MPower Business Champions program provided support to businesses so that they could use sustainability and energy efficiency resources and gather data to measure their impact. Program participants selected and documented implementation of five sustainability projects, and received feedback from the MPower team. Energy Advocates worked one-on-one with Champion businesses. Additional staff were hired to accommodate the new Champions, and Madison sought efficiencies to allow each Energy Advocate to work with more businesses. To further improve efficiency and encourage program replication, Madison developed standardized toolkits for tracking data.

Another component of the project was working with schools. Sustain Dane partnered with Madison Metropolitan School District over the course of three years to enhance their sustainability programs and reduce emissions. During Year 1, an energy reduction campaign was initiated in partnership with McKinstry. During Year 2, the “lights off” campaign was launched to further encourage energy efficiency behaviors for both students and staff. The Sustainable Schools Program Manager provided support during this project, and piloted the MPower Schools Program (also referred to as the “Race to Clean Energy”) in four schools during the 2012-2013 academic year. The goal of this program was to engage 50% of Madison elementary, middle, and high school students in hands-on lessons about sustainability and energy efficiency over three years. The “People. Power. Planet.” (PPP) Campaign (referred to as the “School Climate Challenge” in the grant) launched in Year 2 and continued through Year 3, allowing schools in the district to track their energy savings and emission reductions.  A partnership with the GROW Gardens Pilot sparked the “Growing Outdoor Classroom Program,” which worked with one middle school and four elementary schools in Year 3 of the project. PPP campaign ended at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

As of the final report, MPower will received additional funding from the City of Madison to continue the project.

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                                 229,051

Area:                                         68 square miles

Government Type:                       City

Community Type:                        Urban

Median household income:           $51,288

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Final Results

Projected Cumulative Results  

Annual GHG Reductions

1,520.6mt CO2e

54,000 mt CO2e

Annual Cost Savings



Participating Businesses



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Lessons Learned

  • Many of the projects focused on communication or behavior changes, which can be difficult to measure accurately.
  • Staff turnover made it difficult to reach program participant goals.
  • The project’s focus on one-on-one support for each business limited the number of organizations each staff member could handle.
  • A participant cohort size of between 15 and 20 organizations proved beneficial for logistical reasons, including facilitating effective meetings and showcasing participants during events.
  • The final report identified three common setbacks to increasing program participation:
    • Businesses decision cycles do not necessarily align with the hard start date of the program.
    • Businesses often take a long time to make the decision to participate, up to a year in some cases, because they need to “sell” the idea to upper management.
    • Participation in the program is a significant time commitment, and businesses take this very seriously and often may not have the capacity to give the program the time it requires. Not all businesses have the ability to participate in programming during a 9-5 work day. Some businesses that are located far from in-person meetings have decided not to participate because of the driving time required.
  • The staff time that was budgeted for managing extra business participants was put to good use by making the Green Business Network more robust. The Network is still active and has a growing number of participants.
  • Originally, the program had hoped that school staff would participate alongside businesses in the Sustainable Business Network, but ultimately it was more practical for the team to make connections between schools and businesses when appropriate rather than having them participate in the same network. This increased effective collaboration between school projects and businesses where possible.
  • Getting participants to update monthly energy data was a challenge, especially because of the voluntary nature of the program.

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  • Madison shared program case studies via print products, television and online media, public outreach, and networking events to encourage expansion and replication. In fall of 2014, Lacrosse, Wisconsin, began a replication of the project using MPower branding and materials.

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Project Websites

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