THE BLOG
11/14/2012 04:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 14, 2013

Small Business Unlocks Social Change at Schools

Twice a day, at suburban schools across the country cars idle in front as parents drop off and pick up their kids. Kids are not only missing the health benefits of walking or biking to school, the fumes of the idling cars make the air quality around the school closer to that of a bar in Bangkok. An idling car in one minute produces as much pollution as three packs of cigarettes.

The challenges in breaking this bad habit may be even harder than kicking smoking. Parents fear their kids will be abducted walking to school or bullied on the school bus. Walking or biking to school is often not cool in school social circles. There are a lot of forces at play that make trying to fix the problem seem not worth the effort.

One program in Boulder, Colorado has been able to have remarkable success however and is drawing national attention. The unlock actually turned out to create a completely unexpected benefit for Boulder at a critical time.

Boulder Valley School District's Trip Tracker program is making walking, biking, busing and carpooling to school cool again. Last year they estimate they reduced 117,000 miles of driving and 5,850 gallons of gas use in just three schools. This year they're in 12 schools and they're projecting a reduction of half a million miles of driving. That's the rough equivalent of 156 coast to coast road trips.

The solution was currency -- social and financial. If a kid gets to school four times without a ride from mom or dad, they earn a TripTracker Dollar that can be used at any one of a dozen locally-owned stores, bakeries, amusement parks and book stores. Some kids are earning as much as $40 per month.

This not only gave kids spending money, it made it cool to earn the green. And it made it hard for parents to convince their kids to let them drive them to school. The kids now know that ride will cost them green and make the environment less green.

The program pays the participating business partners 50 cents for each dollar used. For some of the participating business they see it simply as smart philanthropy. For many others it is good business -- they still generate income but also get introduced to new customers who end up spending real money too. It clearly outperforms Groupon for many.

This year over $50,000 will be earned and spent in Boulder through this program. That is $25,000 in real revenue for small business in tough times.

The program is led by a caped super hero, TripTracker Dude (TDD), who also happens to be my father. He got the social entrepreneurship bug late in his career, but it clearly bit him hard and the people of Boulder are glad it did.

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera won baseball's triple crown this year, the first player to lead the league in three offensive categories since 1967. I would, perhaps with a little bias, argue that TripTracker Dude also won the triple crown this year -- the social change triple crown. His program has helped increase the health of kids, cleaned up the air and boosted small business.