Workplace Challenge


The concept for the municipal workplace challenge stems from the Mayor Karl Dean’s Mayor’s Workplace Challenge started in Nashville. Mayor Dean challenged businesses and organizations to create more green, healthy and involved workplaces in Nashville. This challenge has snow balled to 6 other southern communities and inspired 244* businesses and organizations to challenge themselves to be part of making greener, healthier and more engaged communities. The workplace challenge invites businesses and organizations to track their progress around key metrics that ultimately create more sustainable businesses, and a more livable community. Businesses compete with each other to be the most sustainable business in the city using an online scorecard and website to submit and track progress.

Collaboration Project Overview – Despite the original challenge program hailing from Nashville this story actually begins in Chattanooga, TN. A motivated group of twenty city sustainability directors got together during the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) annual meeting. During this meeting they traded best practices, taught each other about urban sustainability innovations, and sought to build the SSDN network. During this summer meeting Laurel Creech, the then sustainability director from the City of Nashville, presented her recently launched Mayors Workplace Challenge program to her peers. Impressed with the impact of the program and the thoughtfulness of the program design a seed was planted in the imaginations of her peers. By the end of the three day convening six SSDN communities aligned around the desire to expand and replicate the Nashville program in order to implement it in all of their communities. Within a year of that meeting this ambitious group had secured grant funding from the USDN Innovation Fund to take this one city program to six additional communities in the region.

Collaborating Communities:

  • City of Miami, Florida (project lead)
  • Orange County, Florida
  • Sarasota County, Florida
  • City of Asheville, North Carolina
  • Durham City and County, North Carolina
  • City of Knoxville, Tennessee

Project Deliverables- 1. An open-source workplace challenge website that can be easily customized and utilized by any local government. 2. A Workplace Challenge Implementation Manual to guide any city through launching a work place challenge. 3. A business toolkit to provide resources for businesses successfully participating in the challenge.

The Workplace Challenge Implementation Manual guided member collaboration by teaching members the six key steps to implementing a challenge:

  1. Define your challenge priorities
  2. Identify your audience
  3. Define measures of success
  4. Plan marketing and communications
  5. Create and challenge framework
  6. Implement your challenge

SSDN members were able to use this collaborative process to develop their own challenges. While participants’ projects are currently in different phases of development and implementation, there are already many exciting stories to share and several lessons learned.


About the Challenge- The City of Asheville’s Office of Sustainability worked with their SSDN peers to develop Asheville’s Workplace Challenge website and design a business outreach and rewards implementation program. They narrowed their focus from Nashville’s three pronged program to mostly focus on green initiatives.

Kerby Smithson says, “Sustainability and green initiatives are most important to us, and so we chose to build our program on that foundation.”

In the future, the City may expand to touch on “healthy” or “involved” categories as well, but for now they want to make sure green workplaces are at the forefront of their project which launched in April 2016. The first phase of the program will run for one year and invite businesses to join the program throughout the year through various outreach pushes. The programs measures success around predetermined “green” initiatives. Businesses complete self-assessment scorecards online that send updates to the City as they make progress. The challenge will end in March of 2017 with an award ceremony to reward and honor participating businesses.

Measuring Businesses’ Success- Asheville’s scorecard measure things like the energy usage of the business’ building, use of alternative energy, alternative transportation options used for business, water conservation, runoff mitigation, environmental purchasing policies, and other areas of sustainability innovation. It also allows businesses to account for any sustainable events or continuing education it participates in. For example, if a business participates in a seminar or a training session, or an incentive program, they can get points toward the Workplace Challenge. The program measures businesses’ success through six areas:

  1. Organizational policies and culture of environmental responsibility
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Water conservation
  4. Waste reduction and landfill diversion
  5. Transportation
  6. Innovation

Challenge Impact- In the short life of this program 20 businesses have already signed up to take the challenge and learn how to deepen their sustainable impact! The goal in year one is for 100 businesses to sign up and take the challenge. The businesses participating so far span the spectrum from restaurants like the Green Sage Café, to community organizations like the Asheville Jewish Community Center, to health care providers like Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care which is part of the Mission Health System.

Many of their lessons learned come from expanding the traditional reach of a sustainability office from mostly environmental organizations to the business community. Understanding that developing partnerships with support organizations to the business community and the actual outreach to the business community takes time; the Asheville city team says they’re in this for the long haul.

“During year one of this program,” Kerby Smithson says, “we are focusing on increasing communication around green initiatives with the business community and more than anything else building a network between green minded businesses.”

Asheville Lessons Learned- For the City of Asheville’s Sustainability Office, this was the first foray into working with the local business community. In addition, year one is about building partnerships and growing influence. The Asheville team has been leveraging new partnerships through working with groups like the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and the local business initiative, Asheville Grown Business Alliance, to see if they can promote the challenge to the City’s “buy local” movement as well. The Chamber helped get the message out to their membership by placing ads in their newsletter and featuring the challenge on their website. The City developed print advertising, a presence on the City’s website, and on the City’s blog, and has plans to do local radio spots. They developed fliers and a monthly newsletter, emails and other communications, in addition to the website. They had a launch event at a Chamber event in April, and combined City promotions for Earth Day to help advertise the importance of this project. Kerby and Haley are also putting together events at the Chamber’s monthly board event, presenting at Green Drinks and planning other events later this year.


About the Workplace Challenge: Project leads Jane Gregory and David Jones of Orange County, developed the Central Florida Workplace Challenge (CFWC) similarly to Nashville by having focus areas: green, healthy and involved. The project was developed through the SSDN collaboration project and added an additional layer to leverage collaboration at the metropolitan level. Instead of launching a program in one municipality, this group created the Central Florida Challenge to have one program for Orlando, Winter Park and all of Orange County Florida. The cherry on top? The website is actually directly connected to Green Destination Orlando an established and highly visited community website. Through this metropolitan collaboration not only were resources efficiently used to create one program, but businesses in the area are receiving one clear signal about sustainability from the group of municipalities. The challenge launched in January 2016 and ran for six months. An awards event was held for at the end of August to recognize and celebrate the business participants.

Challenge Impact- Jane and David started the project with the goal of getting 50 businesses or organizations to sign up. Registrants have included spa, dental office, churches, school, library, some public offices, nonprofits, construction groups, and electricians. They’re happy to announce that they reached their goal and even exceeded it – 54 businesses signed up in this first phase and an additional phase in in the works! Jane’s using the rest of the year to continue this outreach showcasing success stories, advertising the challenge and continuing the relationship building she started this year.

After conversations with participants Jane noted, “They loved getting their workforce behind it and it’s helped bring their employees together.”

Measuring Businesses’ Success: The Central Florida Challenge focuses on producing three outcomes in area businesses and organizations: greener, healthier, and more involved. The “green” challenge measures things like energy and water usage, waste and consumption, and transportation. The “healthy” workplace piece of the challenges recognizes organizations that make their work environment an easier place to be healthy. The “healthy” section is guided by the “Prescription for a Healthier Workplace,” which is a pre-established healthy workplace program. This element focuses on physical activity, healthy food and beverages, active transportation, lactation support, tobacco free workplaces. The “involved” workplace challenge invites organizations to improve their levels of community engagement by creating e a culture of service, having a volunteer program or policy for employees, designating staff to organize volunteer activities, implementing a volunteer tracking system, focusing employee volunteer efforts, promoting community and volunteer projects, and awarding outstanding volunteers.

Central Florida Lessons learned: Jane is excited because the program allowed her to reach more people and spread the message of sustainability beyond individuals interested in sustainability to the business community. She started a newsletter and has grown the outreach and communication efforts since the launch in January.

As they prepare for the next phase the project, partners are fine tuning how they will track the number of employees the program reaches so they can better measure impact to the regional workforce. In part, they feel like measuring the number of employees the program reaches will make the competition aspect of the challenge fairer. It will also allow organizations that are similar in size to have more appropriate benchmarks. In the future they will have separate categories for small, medium and large businesses.

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Four other SSDN members are diligently working on the final touches of their challenge projects and expect to launch in the fall / winter of 2016. Even though these communities’ launch dates are coming up, members are already sharing stories that show their experiences with this collaborative project are expanding their capacity and reach within their communities.

Programs Coming Soon

  • Miami, Florida
    • Project lead – Ajani Stewart
  • Sarasota County, Florida
    • Project lead – Lee Hayes Byron + Sara Kane
  • Durham City and County, North Carolina
    • Project leads – Tobin Freid + Megan Carroll
  • City of Knoxville, Tennessee
    • Project leads – Erin Gill + Brian Blackmon

Here’s what members are saying about collaborating with their peers across the southeast:

“Collaborations with other members on web development, graphic design, toolkits and other technical elements are contributing toward a quicker and more effective challenge launch”

“One of the main advantage of doing this in a collaborative project has been the work of managing the consultants to develop the website and the workbook”

“We are learning web-development skills, and it’s easier to do this as a team”

“We are working through challenges together and this helps us develop consistency and the ability to replicate the website for all members easily and fine tune functionality.”