Municipal utilities focus on workforce to guide sustainable choices

The One Planet program is an employee engagement educational program to support employees of a municipal utilities providing electricity and water in Colorado, USA.

IUCN CEC member Michelle Finchum reports on an employee engagement program for sustainability at a municipal utility

Fort Collins, Colorado recently won another award – Outside Magazine listed it on its “America’s best places 2013” list. Managing a growing city while maintaining high quality, attractive services that get national recognition is an on-going challenge for municipal workers. Many Utilities workers quietly ensure outstanding electric reliability or some of the best drinking water in the nation. As our external programs grew, our internal workforce was in need of a pat on the back. Enter – the One Planet program. This internal, reward-based, employee engagement program highlights the services we provide for our community to our Utilities workforce.

It’s our answer to “what are we doing to be more innovative, green, energy conscious, water sensitive, consider land management”, which is “we already do it”. The best part of the program is that it is run by employees for employees.

It all began in 2008 when our executive director embarked us on a journey called “The 21st Century Initiative”. We needed to take a hard look into the future and our current services and realign them. Several teams were created, such as the Culture Team, which started the groundwork for shifting our culture. This team began the work of the One Planet program in 2010 – which transferred the next year to the Workforce Team. This team of dedicated employees started to identify places to visit to experience the projects we do. We asked Water Treatment Plant employees to lead their co-workers on tours of how our water is treated to exceed federal, state and municipal standards. The program blossomed, and by 2011 we had 60 opportunities to tour projects such as power substation work, watershed monitoring programs, ditch protection programs, land restoration for storm water quality and low impact development sites.

Now that we had high interest in going on tours of “what we do” to understand more of how we impact our community daily – it was time to focus on the One Planet program. We incorporated adult learning theories, project management steps, fostering sustainable behaviour concepts and tied it to the Shine model. We measured behaviour change to see if there was a shift in thinking about the three pillars of sustainability – and there was – both quantitatively and qualitatively. It was working, our workforce felt more comfortable with our own projects and practices, therefore were more willing to promote or even partake in our public programs.

To use water conservation as an example, the One Planet program allows an employee to tour our reservoirs, ditches, watershed, treatment plant and waste water treatment plant. One could go on tours of City xeriscape gardens or get a free audit of their sprinkler system. With this deep understanding of the complexities of water, ones’ attitudes toward the water coming from a faucet changes. This leads to a higher value for our water and in turn to the behaviour change of conserving water.

We are currently wrapping up our 4th year of One Planet. We’ve had higher participation this year than any other, with more than 50% of our Utilities workforce involved. We feel that programs like these for our municipal employees in turn make our community stronger and better – which in turn leads to recognition in more national magazines.

For more information, contact CEC member Michelle Finchum at

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