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Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

Climate Champions: Accelerating Local Leadership


Kathy Kuntz

We are in the process of identifying Climate Champions across Dane County. These are folks leading on energy and water efficiency, on clean fuels, on sustainable farm practices and on climate more broadly.

The Climate Champions program is the first new program out of our office since we issued the Climate Action Plan (CAP).

So why start with a recognition program?

It’s all about the power of positive reinforcement.

I spent about a decade of my life obsessed with human behavior. I wanted to understand the best ways to engage people, to inspire them to action even when the issues were big and overwhelming (yes, even then I was focused on climate change).

During that time I learned a lot—about hope (vital) and shaming (ineffective) and empowerment (necessary) but most important I learned about the extraordinary power of positive reinforcement, especially positive reinforcement via a blow horn.

Positive reinforcement is incredibly powerful. And it’s powerful in multiple ways. Positive reinforcement is like a virtuous circle within a virtuous circle—it delivers spectacular results.

Put simply, positive reinforcement is catching people doing the right things and celebrating their efforts. When a child makes her bed and the parent thanks her, that’s positive reinforcement. When a company leads by example and is praised out by local leadership, that’s positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is most effective when it is public. Celebrating an employee’s accomplishments in front of the whole team has more impact than private praise. Indeed, public reinforcement is where the real power comes in. When you celebrate someone’s accomplishments in public, you recognize their efforts but you also launch two sets of ripple effects:

  • First, you influence others. When I hear you talk about Betty’s amazing efforts, I feel compelled to try a little harder, so that next time you might compliment me as well. Positive reinforcement nudges others to try harder to earn recognition for their own actions. But that’s not all…
  • Second, you influence the person you praised. Humans are funny creatures in that we tend to think a lot about what others are thinking about us. So when you praise me, I feel a little self-conscious and I want to be sure everyone knows that I deserved that praise. If you call out my company for environmental leadership, it will push our corporate leadership to lead more—so that there’s no question that we deserved the award. (That is probably why we call it positive reinforcement—it reinforces the behavior internally.)

This is the logic behind our Climate Champions program. By celebrating the many and diverse leaders in our community, we will inspire more leaders AND we will spur the existing leaders to do even more. Lauding local accomplishments will accelerate climate progress across our county.

So join me. Call out a leader you see—tell them you admire their efforts and encourage them to apply to the Climate Champions program. Help us multiple the ripples of climate action across our communities.

Kathy Kuntz

Kathy Kuntz

Acting Director

Kathy is the Acting Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.


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