The Rise of Green Gamification

Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Green

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 games to make sustainability fun and rewarding.

The growth of 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 conserving water, 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 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, nonprofit and small business, 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 UVA Bay Game 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.

While small business owners are often pressed for time and money, thousands across the country have joined the Green Business Bureau (GBB), which offers a gamified online sustainability tool that helps assess, manage and report on a library of 400+ green initiatives. One GBB member, NewMarket International, shaved $60,000 of its annual budget by following the adaptive survey’s recommendations and reducing packaging waste, among other green achievements. The GBB’s technology also powers green business certification for nonprofit, Green America, and Intuit’s small business supplier network.

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 & CEO of Bennu, which is the leader in green social media marketing. Ashok coined the term “green gamification” and has worked extensively with FORTUNE 500 clients and startups to develop game-based campaigns that promote sustainability while creating enterprise value. Ashok’s career as a social entrepreneur spans the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, including launching a progressive entertainment company, leading a youth development organization, and working on Newsweek magazine’s inaugural Green Rankings while at KLD Research & Analytics, the pioneering sell-side firm for socially responsible investors. Ashok holds a BA in Sociology and Environmental Analysis & Policy from Boston University and a master’s in Nonprofit Management from Milano The New School. He earned his MBA in Entrepreneurship from Baruch College’s Honors program, where he served as President of the Sustainable Business Club, Baruch’s Net Impact chapter. He has also studied abroad at the Indian Institute of Management, India’s premier business school. Ashok has received numerous awards related to social enterprise. His writings on sustainability are regularly featured on leading websites and he is a frequent public speaker at events such as the White House’s GreenGov Symposium, South by Southwest, Gamification Summit and Sustainable Brands. He is also a board member of the Entertainers 4 Education Alliance and volunteers for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). In 2011, Ashok joined a distinguished team of eco-advocates to launch Ocean Aid, which is a campaign dedicated to protecting the health of our oceans.

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