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Getting a Little Good Out of Everyday Choices


By Wendy Gordon

I went to the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday with a friend. I used my Bank of America credit card to buy the tickets. Not only did I get one free, but I also got us both in to see the sold-out Matisse exhibit.

Now that’s a reward. Got a total dopamine rush to boot. Pretty much made my day.

It doesn’t take much as it turns out. A few days earlier, I ordered some personal care products and cleaning supplies through PIPsRewards.com, a social good rewards site I co-founded. (PIPs stands for Positive Impact Points).

Along with the PIPs reward points I got for making responsible shopping choices, I was notified that a few of my newly-earned PIPs had been pledged to ioby.org, which supports neighborhood development projects. My face lit up. I had forgotten I’d set up the auto-pledge function a week or so earlier. And I’ll probably forget again until I get another notice that a few more PIPs are being passed forward to a favored cause.

Full disclosure, I founded the company that launched PIPs. But I’m also a healthy skeptic -- neither a wild rewards junky nor a rabid do-gooder. So, I was pleasantly bemused by my 'test mouse' reaction to the email and again in the museum. I was craving more.

As it turns out, the opportunity to goose a little good out of people is everywhere. I love this example from Beijing which installed reverse vending machines in subway stations so passersby can convert their empty plastic bottles into either transit credits or extra mobile phone minutes.

Wow, what’s not to love about a device that derives positive value for individuals who recycle those ridiculously overpriced, single-use, last-a-lifetime-in-landfills plastic beverage bottles?

The author of the article about the reverse vending machines suggests that it’s too bad it takes rewards to get people to care. I disagree. I happen to believe, like Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist at Microsoft, that “most of us are well-intentioned.”  We do care. It’s just that to act on our intentions is "cognitively expensive" -- meaning it takes too much mental energy than we have to spare.

That is, until now. Technology, like this ingenious “recycle for rides” reverse vending machine, is making everyday behavior change significantly easier -- "cognitively easier" -- as well as more fun and more rewarding.

The many new personal tracking apps and connected home and car apps are further examples. Stores and restaurants everywhere use coupons, gift cards and discounts to build customer loyalty and drive sales. Why not reward behaviors like exercise, carpooling or saving energy that deliver not only economic returns but positive social benefit as well.

What about shopping? It’s the holiday season once again, a time often brimming with guilty pleasures and indulgences. Being a mindful gift giver can be a challenge -- ugh, just so much more stuff -- and ever so unrewarding. Until PIPs. Forgive the shameless plug, but PIPs’ online catalog is brimming with gift ideas -- everything from kitchen appliances, music downloads and games to responsibly made clothing and jewelry, local consumables and donation opportunities to worthy causes. There are even meditation apps you might just keep for yourself -- a chance to chill between the season’s crazier moments.

Sounds like every other catalog, no? What’s special is that every choice is carefully curated and comes with PIPs rewards points -- or can be made by redeeming or giving PIPs -- our guarantee that it has positive impact on personal and or planetary health.

Some day I hope you’ll be able to redeem your PIPs for entrance into museums, theatres and concerts -- experiences that would make an awesome holiday gift. Just thinking about it goosed my karma-meter.

Image courtesy of PIPs Rewards

Wendy Gordon is co-founder and CEO of PIPs Rewards. She and Meryl Streep co-founded Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, an organization in the vanguard of the environmental consumer movement. M&Os' most successful strategy was the 'buycott,' by which consumers were guided to improved products in the marketplace. With 'Positive Impact Points' (PIPs) - 3P Partners' all new social good currency and the 'rewarding better' marketplace - Wendy hopes to significantly reduce "the friction" (a behavioral sciences term) and up the fun associated with making surprisingly simple yet powerfully positive choices everyday.

3p Contributor

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