This article was first published on the Guardian Sustainable Business website. It draws on content from Paula Owen’s book: How Gamification Can Help Your Business Engage with Sustainability
The sustainability sector is cottoning on to the fact that games are incredibly powerful tool to educate and engage the wider world in the issues that are so dear to its heart. Gaming is already being implemented in the health and fitness, medical research and finance sectors.
A recent report by the global research company Gartner suggests that gaming with purpose increases user interaction, helps with behavioural change, and stimulates innovative thinking and the generation of new ideas. It is a breath of fresh air blowing into the increasingly stale world of employee engagement initiatives and environmental improvement programmes.
At its heart, ‘gamification’ is the simple concept of taking the ideas behind good games design and games mechanics and applying them to non-gaming environments. By utilising principles that make both traditional games and online social media games appealing and compelling – ie encapsulating a sense of fun, competition, achievement, gratification, improvement and rewards. Businesses are beginning to sit up and take notice of the potential of gaming.
In particular they are looking to gamification to increase that holy triumvirate of: staff productivity; customer loyalty and, of course, bottom-line profitability. Crucially, it also provides an alternative way in to reach out to younger consumers; customers; clients and potential employees; basically the strata of society born around and after 1990, brought up in the wholly digital age and nicknamed ‘generation Y’ or the ‘digital natives’, those who have never known a pre-internet world. This sector of society is often somewhat impervious to the traditional methods of communication and advertising and requires something much more interactive, novel and challenging to engage their attention in any meaningful and long-lasting way.
So how has it played out so far? Although it’s early days for the concept of eco-gamification, there are some early, stand-out examples of how the theories have worked in practice to engage staff and citizens in pro-environment habit shifting and behaviour change. For example, in congested Bangalore, Infosys technologies used gamification techniques to change the commuting behaviours of their workers and by doing so reduced average daily commuting time by nearly 20 minutes and saved 2600 person hours per day at their main factory site. In the United States a start-up software business has been working with utility companies to persuade householders to actively lower their utility bills by pitching them in direct competition with their neighbours. On average they shaved off 2% of every participating household’s energy bills. Translated to a UK scenario, if this was replicated across the country, total bill savings could amount to a cumulative £700 million saving annually.
Back in the UK there are already innovative, ready-made solutions to help companies introduce gamification into their employee engagement.Ecoinomy has a software solution which provides the platform and mechanics to engage staff in environmental actions. A recent case study involves the work with a utility company. The company used the system to engage staff in eco saving behaviours, with the motivation being that a proportion of the monetary savings made were shared with the community causes chosen by staff. Each participating employee had their own online account and when they spotted an opportunity to bring about a change in the workplace they submitted it. An example would be sharing a lift with a colleague rather than using separate vehicles. The amount of money and CO2 saved by the action was logged by the system. Results were impressive. Over one quarter of all staff at the site joined in with the pilot scheme. The trial saved £41,000 in costs and 66 tonnes of CO2. An annualised estimate of the savings for each employee active in the scheme came to £350; this translates to a potential £7 million saved if every employee took up the challenge in the future. Over £8,000 was donated to local causes and nearly 5000 actions undertaken.