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Can “Green Gamification” Save the World?

Alison Monahan | Wednesday March 14th, 2012 | 0 Comments

TriplePundit is at SXSW this week, bringing you the latest thinking on CSR, social media, and more.

Today’s question: Can “green gamification” help solve our most intractable problems?

UVA Bay Game (SXSW)

Green games, or “green gamification” if you want to sound trendy, are a big deal. Companies, brand strategists, academics, marketers — they’re all on board with the potential for making sustainability about “fortune, fun, and fame” instead of “blame.”

We’ve got lots of examples for you later, but first let’s talk about a really exciting project from the University of Virginia and Azure Worldwide: The UVA Bay Game.

The UVA Bay Game
Gaming the Environment for Positive Change, moderated by Philippe Cousteau, co-founder of Azure Worldwide, discussed the UVA Bay Game. It’s a massive, multiplayer simulation of the impacts of various stakeholders on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the country. The simulation runs for 20 years, with players making “moves” every two years. The first ten years are based on real data, and the second ten years are based on projected data.

As Jeffrey Plank, Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Virginia and leader of the UVA Bay Game project, reported, something surprising happened when they introduced the game to students and stakeholders (farmers, government regulators, fishermen, and the like). The original intent was simply to teach students about a complex, interconnected system. What they were surprised to discover, however, was that the players (who play together in one room, in the current version of the game, and represent particular stakeholders) very quickly started to exchange information and collaborate. (As Plank acknowledged, certain initial “information exchanges” were in the form of shouting matches, but they quickly morphed into discussions of how to optimize the relationships between different participants.)

It’s this conversational aspect of green games that appeals to companies, such as Intel (represented on the panel by Carrie Freeman, Director of Sustainable Business Innovation). Intel’s factories are sometimes located in arid regions with water issues, and running simulations like the UVA Bay Game can help all stakeholders work together to find mutually agreeable solutions. Plank sees potential even beyond just sorting out least-bad solutions to challenging problems, and argues that when businesses sit down with key stakeholders and run these simulations, they can actually identify business opportunities. Being able to interact with such a high volume of data in meaningful ways allows the corporations to become change agents — turning risk mitigation into corporate opportunity.

What else is out there?
Certainly the Bay Game isn’t the only example of green gamification. There’s lot of stuff out there, because, as panelist Ashok Kamal, Co-Founder & CEO of Bennu, remind us, using fun is a great way to build awareness and change behavior.

Some examples:

  1. RecycleBank
  2. TerraCycle
  3. GreenBean’s Recycle app
  4. Practically Green
  5. The Mutual Perk Lab
  6. MyEnergy
  7. Nissan Leaf’s CARWINGS social comparison dashboard
  8. Green is Universal’s iBloom
  9. The Green Schools Alliance “So Fresh, So Green” video contest

Taken together, these examples illustrate the key elements of a good game: they’re social, they use healthy competition, and they offer real-time feedback.

All of these elements are present in the UVA Bay Game, which is why it’s so powerful, and potentially transformative.

Going forward, they’d like to convert the Bay Game technology into a platform for modeling any watershed, and they’re looking for partners with interesting ideas on how to reach more users, particularly online.

If you’ve got ideas, get in touch!

What do you think of green games? Great way to increase environmental awareness, or just another entertainment fad?

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Alison Monahan is a web developer, turned lawyer, turned entrepreneur. She runs The Girl’s Guide to Law School and co-founded the Law School Toolbox. You’ll find her on Twitter at @GirlsGuideToLS.


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