By Ashok Kamal, Co-founder and CEO of Bennu, LLC, and Co-founder of Ocean Aid
Who said going green had to be boring? Maybe the same people who believe games are just entertainment. Both myths are being shattered by the growing phenomenon of green gamification – the use of game mechanics to make sustainability fun and rewarding.
I recently joined Green Seal’s inaugural Advisory Council to help augment the organization’s scientifically rigorous certification with cutting-edge social media technology. Our goal is to engage more people toward creating a sustainable world. We can achieve that goal faster and more effectively by tapping into the innate human love for games, which are more popular today than ever before.
Green gamification is being accelerated by forces ranging from the government’s Green Button promotion of energy usage data to the digital generation’s strong desire for smartphone apps that allow them to manage resource consumption.
Much as Nike+ Fuelband is turning exercise from a chore into a cool activity, a suite of green web and mobile apps are transforming the way people approach environmental stewardship. From startups such as Leafully to corporate alliances that increase energy efficiency, gamification is emerging as a powerful weapon to advance sustainability.
In isolation, recycling a bottle or turning off the lights may not sound enjoyable to the average person. But before the emergence of gamified apps jogging was perceived as a burden to many outside the fitness enthusiast community. Whether working out or sustainably cleaning your home, actions become rewarding when they are measureable, engaging and shared.
Social comparison – the relative performance compared to peers – is a powerful motivator for achievement. Not only are people driven to gain status and recognition by social sharing, but also there is positive peer pressure to avoid being a laggard. Do you want to be the house on the block with the worst recycling rate?
The Zynga (developer of hit social games such as Farmville) of green gamification is Opower, which is a software player that processes big household energy data into a gamified interface that helps people reduce their power consumption and utility bills. The company partners with utilities to analyze data in over 50 million homes and it closed out 2012 by saving users an estimated 2 terawatt hours of energy, or $200 million.
Greenbean Recycle is a Boston-based startup changing the attitude and behaviors about recycling on the campuses of some of the nation’s best colleges, including MIT, Harvard and Tufts. Greenbean’s game mechanics, such as intercollegiate challenges and recycling lotteries, have resulted in up to a 40% increase of the recycling rate. Moreover, Greenbean is cracking the code of one of recycling’s main hurdles: how to get people to recycle non-deposit bottles that don’t pay a redemption value. By posting leaderboards and rewarding the top recyclers, Greenbean’s collection is 30% non-deposit materials that would normally be destined for overcrowded landfills.
Other new green gaming companies that raised millions of dollars in venture funding include My Energy and Practically Green, which both use the social web to calculate environmental footprint metrics and reward users for their performance.
Even historically static sectors, such as academia, are embracing innovation through green gamification. Ocean explorer and activist, Philippe Cousteau, in conjunction with Dr. Jeffrey Plank at the University of Virginia, developed a massively multiplayer online game to simulate the impacts of human activity on the health of the Chesapeake Bay (which is the largest estuary in the U.S.). Players of the Practically Green take on the role of key stakeholders – ranging from fisherman to regulators – to learn systems-thinking and collaboration.
Philippe, Dr. Plank and I spoke on a 2012 SXSW panel with Intel’s Carrie Freeman, who asserted that corporations can leverage the UVA Bay Game model to solve business challenges such as balancing company vs. community water needs. The UVA Bay Game developers recently announced a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to launch a new version of the simulation focused on a major Texas watershed.
The main reason people play green games is that they are fun. A more sustainable world is the convenient – and welcome – by-product.
Ashok Kamal is co-founder and CEO of Bennu, which is a leader in green social media marketing. Bennu’s sustainability solutions increase enterprise value by aligning clients’ business objectives with consumer demand and environmental resources.