CoolCalifornia Challenge Overview

About the 2015-2016 CoolCalifornia City Challenge: The Challenge is a carbon footprint reduction competition within and between communities. The fun and engaging program provides information, resources and rewards to individuals, groups of individuals and communities that achieve carbon footprint reductions and other milestones. The challenge embodies a unique partnership between California State agencies, academia, local governments, community-based organizations and local business. Read about the challenge winners and the program in the Press Release.

Objectives: The goal of this project is to develop, monitor and evaluate an innovative carbon footprint reduction program for California households and communities based on ARB’s website and toolkit.

Structure: The program will be structured as a competition because previous studies have highlighted the effectiveness of competitions to motivate more sustainable behavior. Competitions prove particularly effective when combined with other intervention strategies that tap into social as well as financial and altruistic motivations for behavior change. These include:

  • Providing customized advice
  • Encouraging commitments and goal setting
  • Setting social “norms”
  • Comparative feedback (“comparing to peers”)
  • Offering rewards (recognition and prizes)

The program and social networking features were used to monitor and compare carbon footprints, pledges and progress of individual participants and communities overall. This allowed users to track and compare their progress in real time. The competition aims to include 200 - 250 households from each participating city, which will be organized into smaller Eco-Teams with designated leaders. Cities and Eco-Teams will compete for prizes based on important milestones. Such milestones might include lowest initial footprints, greatest overall GHG reductions, highest pledges, most pledges completed, lowest footprints per capita, etc.

The 2015-2016 CoolCalifornia Challenge included 22 California cities to motivate and reward residents for reducing their carbon footprints and help build more vibrant communities. The Challenge ended on March 30, 2016. The top three winning cities were:

  1. Claremont, the Coolest California City
  2. Long Beach, the Cool California City
  3. Burlingame, the Cool California City

Collectively, the 22 participating cities engaged nearly 3,200 households to take energy savings actions to reduce their carbon footprint. In total, the participants reported that they completed actions that will save 5,638 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the energy saving actions’ lifetime, equivalent to removing more than 2,500 California homes from the grid or over 1,100 automobiles from the road for a year. 

Households tracked driving and home energy use and completed bonus actions to earn points for their city. Each point earned increased the amount of total prize money cities won. All prize money will be used to fund a local sustainability project of the city’s choice.

The Challenge was a partnership between Energy Upgrade California®, the program at the California Air Resources Board, and the Cool Climate Network at the University of California, Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

Mayor Videos

These Mayors and Councilmembers took the Challenge to the next level by motivating their residents to do more. Check out their videos uploaded to by clicking on the links below.

Previous CoolCalifornia Challenge Competitions

Recognizing that voluntary reductions are an essential component of California’s effort to meet our energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, both the Air Resources Board and Energy Upgrade California have developed a variety of tools and resources to support voluntary efforts. 

As part of the CoolCalifornia program, in 2010 the Air Resources Board launched a research project with the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley to:

  • evaluate the effectiveness of a city to city competition for encouraging voluntary carbon footprint reductions throughout the community, and also
  • to quantify the household greenhouse gas emissions reductions that result from this type of program.

Emerging from this research project was the first CoolCalifornia Challenge, which was a pilot competition engaging thousands of households in cities across California to conserve energy, reduce their carbon footprints, and help build more vibrant and sustainable communities.

The 2013 Challenge top 3 winning cities were:

  1. Davis, the Coolest California City
  2. Chula Vista, the Cool California City
  3. Tracy, the Cool California City

Since the initial pilot, the Air Resources Board partnered with Energy Upgrade California to grow this program. 

In 2014, a second Challenge was held. In this campaign, over 3,700 households participated! The 2014 Challenge top 3 winning cities were:

  1. Riverside, the Coolest California City
  2. Claremont, a Cool California City
  3. Rancho Cucamonga, a Cool California City

And in 2015, the third round of the Challenge was launched, this last round was fully funded and ran by Energy Upgrade California with ARB as a sustained partner.