"We live in an era where embracing sustainability is a viable, commercial route to new markets and customers and to gaining stakeholder trust."
By Paula Owen
A new engagement theory that has been quietly permeating the business sector over the past few years is starting to make waves in the CSR/sustainability domain, and it goes by the name of gamification.
What if I told you that encouraging your staff, and even customers and clients, to engage in fun and games would greatly enhance their knowledge of environmental matters and increase their involvement in pro-environmental actions?
Would you be willing to play along?
That’s exactly what I am suggesting. Gamification is indeed proving to be an effective new tool in the CSR practitioners' toolkit, and it can help you reach and engage with sectors of your workforce and communities that you may not have been able to reach previously.
Great swathes of society have been put off taking action by the ‘doom and gloom,’ guilt inducing messaging that has been the dominant communication route for environmental campaigners over decades. This ‘misery messaging’ as I like to call it, does work for a certain demographic, but, given our failure to make truly significant in-roads into creating a more sustainable society, I argue that it’s time for a fresh, new, more positive approach to encouraging people to take action.
Step up to the mark: gamification.
The gamification wiki, probably the largest compendium of information on the subject, offers the following definition:
“Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. Gamification can potentially be applied to any industry to create fun and engaging experiences, converting users into players“.
The idea of turning ‘users’ – a relatively reactive term, into ‘players’ – a term that suggests proactive engagement, effort and activity, is a key element of the gamification process. It's about turning passive consumers or employees from recipients of products/services or commands/orders respectively into active, engaged, enthusiastic proponents of whatever the organization is ‘selling’ -- and it is a powerful driver for businesses.
Brand Advocates: Embracing Gamification
To convert both customers and staff into positive and vocal advocates for the brand has a strong pull and, indeed, marketers have been using this approach for some time. In these early days of gamification’s evolution, business sustainability practitioners are beginning to perk up and take note of the early successes.
We live in an era where embracing sustainability is a viable, commercial route to new markets and customers and to gaining stakeholder trust. It has also become one of the core pillars for non-financial reporting in the corporate world. However, much talk of late has centered on the need to achieve real transformation, in the long-term, in a way that employees, customers, and shareholders can engage with the concept of sustainability.
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Harnessing the 'power of the collective' through challenge and competition is a potentially exciting idea for practitioners in environmental sustainability and behavior change programs, many of whom are craving new and engaging ways to reach beyond the circle of ‘usual suspects.’
At the community level, it could provide an alternative approach to engaging local people in activities and campaigns, people who may historically have been turned off by the overtly ‘green,’ ‘eco’ or ‘save the planet’ messaging that green advocates and evangelists tend to espouse.
At the business level it provides an additional, novel way of involving staff in environmental engagement – taking schemes out of the ‘Green Champion’ / ‘Environmental Rep’ silo that some well-intentioned, but limited, initiatives have had a tendency to fall into over recent years. The wider appeal of a challenge or competition-based approach has the potential to enthuse a much broader spectrum of workers to take part and potentially provide powerful motivations to kick-start programs of long-term organizational behavioral change.
Ecoinomy: Testing the Power of Gamification + Incentives
Here's a workplace example from software solution company Ecoinomy.
Ecoinomy provides eco-gamification platforms and mechanics to companies to engage staff on environmental actions. They recently partnered with a utility company, who used the system to motivate employees by promising a portion of monetary savings to community causes chosen by them.
Each employee had their own online account and could submit eco-saving opportunities as they came up, like carpooling. The amount of money and CO2 emissions saved by the action were logged. Results were impressive, and over 25 percent of the staff joined with the pilot scheme. The project helped save the utility £41,000 in costs and 66 tonnes of CO2.
An annualized estimate of the savings for each employee active in the scheme came to £350, which translates to a potential £7 million in savings if every employee took up the challenge in the future.
As a result, over £8,000 was donated to local causes and nearly 5,000 actions undertaken.
Has this whetted your appetite to learn more about what gamification techniques could do for your CSR and sustainability programs? Have examples of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you @DrPaulaOwen.
About the Author:
In 2012, Paula Owen was awarded a London Leaders position by the London Sustainable Development Commission, and Unltd social Entrepreneur award funding, to further her work in researching the power of fun and games to help save the planet. She began her career in academia, gaining a PhD in climate change chemistry from Oxford University. However, she quickly realized she couldn’t spent her entire life in darkened laboratories and so changed tracks slightly to concentrate on the communicating of environmental and scientific concepts and issues to general audiences.
Since then she has worked for environmental charities, within in the public sector, through secondments in central government, and in 2010 she set up her own research, authorship, training and advice agency focusing on environmental sustainability generally, and energy and carbon management in particular.
This article draws on Paula's ebook How Gamification Can Help Your Business Engage With Sustainability -- part of Dō Sustainability's new DōShort series of concise, sustainable business books for professionals. These practical books support professionals in the vanguard of sustainable business -- who are often forging new paths in their organizations -- by giving them the confidence, information and tactics they need at every stage of their career.
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