Gaming Sustainability

by Helen Serebin, MBA Operations Management & Sustainability 2012

A day after everything was red for Valentine’s Day, on February 15th a panel talked about greening the world through ‘gamification.’

Green Gamification: Combining Social Media & Game Mechanics to Promote Sustainability presented by the Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity and co-sponsored by one of Zicklin’s newest eco-entrepreneurs Ashok Kamal MBA ’10, discussed how to use online games to spur environmental awareness and promote sustainable actions.

One of the problems that all 4 panelists discussed [Samantha Skey/Recyclebank, Susan Hunt Stevens/Practically Green, Albe Zakes/Terracycle, Dan Vallejo/The Mutual] is that it is hard to answer the question “How green am I?  These four social media companies create games that assign values to sustainable activities, injecting the fun into the green.

Some interesting points to come out of the panel:

  • There is a Green ‘intent gap’ where intent does not equal action.  For example, we all know we should take shorter showers or eat less meat or buy food in the bigger containers, not the individual-sized servings.  Gamification gives feedback (points, prestige, peer recognition) for doing sustainable activities that are hard to monetize.
  •  Do the game elements in North America work in other cultures?  Do other cultures place different values on sustainable activities? This has repercussions for whether the games can be exported or need to be completely developed anew for other parts of the world.

In the end, as Albe Zakes of Terracycle said, we can not be guilted into recycling.  If we only do it so long as someone is watching, we won’t sustain our behavior  — and that leads to an unsustainable world.  But if these guys are onto to something, it looks like we can be gamed.


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