Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Persuasive Technology for Positive Behavior Change: Employee Engagement as a Sustainability Super Strategy

Howard E. Woodin Colloqium Weekly LectureSarah Finnie Robinson

Sarah Finnie Robinson, Founder WeSpire and Practically Green

by Otto Nagengast ‘17


In 2010, Sarah Finnie Robinson received her MA from the Breadloaf School of English. During the previous two summers at the Breadloaf campus near Middlebury, she wrote–a lot. But during her time in the Green Mountains, she also realized that climate change was a serious challenge, and she was galvanized to take action. She co-founded what later became WeSpire, a company that provides, “technology-based engagement programs to inspire employees for measurable impact.” At the time, says Sarah with a laugh, she thought that she would “do WeSpire for six months and then go back to writing her yet-to-be published bestselling novel.” Four years later, WeSpire is thriving, and Sarah continues to be a leader at the company.

At the core of WeSpire’s software is a platform that individuals can use to measure their sustainability impact. Initially, WeSpire offered their platform to consumers, but they quickly discovered that companies were interested in having their own systems to encourage their employees to adopt more sustainable practices. Now, WeSpire offers personalized versions of their persuasive technology platform to individual companies.

In essence, however, the platform works the same across the different versions. Individuals earn points for adopting different practices, or as WeSpire describes it, taking different steps. The points reflect the relative impact of each step. A person can earn five points, for example, by not rinsing their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Or, they can get ten points for using public transportation instead of driving. Included with each step is a “Why this matters” section that describes the importance and impact of the step. Steps are organized into projects like Zero Waste Workplace or Healthy Lifestyle. Individuals’ progress can be shared with their friends and co-workers. As part of the personalization of the platform, WeSpire will also help companies create their own steps and projects.

WeSpire now has 38 client companies that all started on three-year contracts. Some of these clients include eBay, the front office of the Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters, where WeSpire has a remarkable 14 percent engagement rate. Client companies have even tied incentives, like trips and bonuses, to the WeSpire platform to encourage participation. At eBay, they used data from their WeSpire platform, Little Bits of Good, to calculate their employees’ total impact on reducing eBay’s environmental footprint. WeSpire’s dream is to make the data from their platform so streamlined that it can conform seamlessly to accounting conventions. This would enable firms to not only calculate their employees’ impact, but to see how much this impact was worth in dollar terms to the company and to the greater world.

“I never could have imagined that checking-off boxes on my smartphone would be my contribution,” Sarah says. Though unexpected, the contribution of Sarah and WeSpire to the fight against climate change is significant, innovative, and inspiring.

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