The Rise of Green Gamification

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.

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Inspiration Capital

Social entrepreneurship heals one of the world’s most unfortunate – and common – ailments: hating work.  While too many people see their job as a necessary burden on the path to a paycheck, the social entrepreneur’s journey is a reward, in and of itself. Work is a vehicle to translate passion into action, and action into social change. There is no divide between personal values and professional aspirations because they are aligned in the social venture.

Nevertheless, there will be times in every social entrepreneur’s life that make her wonder whether the return justifies the investment. Lack of resources, physical and mental exhaustion, disappointing results – these factors, and others – spell doubt and fatigue. While the highs of social entrepreneurship are deeply satisfying, the lows can be crippling because so much is at stake around the cause.

This emotional rollercoaster makes social entrepreneurship a psychological battle. In the face of agony and chaos, Inspiration Capital provides the edge to succeed. Inspiration capital is the motivational force created by your greatest source of inspiration. It is necessary because, without hope, financial capital is an incomplete resource. During inevitable periods of adversity, the most valuable currency is inspiration. Inspiration capital reinvigorates your purpose and revitalizes your confidence to pursue it.

I draw my inspiration capital from disruptive changemakers. These are dynamic social entrepreneurs who make me feel part of a larger movement to confront the world’s problems through innovation.

For example, my friend, David Auerbach, co-founded Sanergy to offer proper sanitation facilities in Kenya’s slums. Sanergy trains local entrepreneurs who run the facilities, which close the waste loop by converting waste into renewable energy. David’s vision inspires holistic solutions that connect the dots between health, employment and the environment.

Rachael Chong, Founder & CEO of Catchafire, is another young leader whose work motivates my efforts. Rachel created a sleek web platform that matches volunteer professionals with nonprofits that can employ their skills and interests. Catchafire provides value at both ends of the pipeline: volunteers get a more engaging experience, while organizations save resources such as time and money. Rachel inspires a more efficient social enterprise ecosystem.

I am a strong believer in the power of games to create social change. One of my favorite new ventures is Good World Games, started by veteran Internet entrepreneur, Gregory Sukornyk. Greg founded Good World Games to make philanthropy more engaging. The premise is simple: people play mobile social games – one of the most popular forms of entertainment today – that are co-branded with nonprofits such as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Donations are made through game-related micro-transactions that are partially funneled to partnering nonprofits. It’s a novel concept: allow people to do good by doing what they already enjoy – playing! I am inspired by Greg’s application of cutting-edge digital technology to improve conditions in the physical world.

The value of inspiration capital is freely exchanged: not only do you leverage it for support, but also you share it through your positive actions. My company Bennu’s goal is helping businesses make their sustainability strategies both fun and profitable. We develop social media marketing campaigns, such as Ocean Aid, which promotes recycling and protecting the world’s oceans. Ocean Aid is inspired by veteran oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, and we hope it inspires the next wave of ocean advocates.

Whether you are a social entrepreneur who is just getting started, getting going, or getting over a setback, you have to stay focused, motivated and optimistic. Only the most tenacious succeed in this war of attrition. As a founder, your attitude – positive or negative – is contagious to all your stakeholders. When you experience moments of despair or frustration, remember your greater purpose and tap your inspiration capital. The exercise will refresh you and your commitment to the mission.

What’s your inspiration capital?

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Fun Before Green, Except … No Exceptions

In many ways, last week’s Gamification Summit (G Summit) in San Francisco marked a turning point in the development of gamification. G Summit speakers and participants celebrated gamification’s integration into every business function, the increasing sophistication of gaming science and technology, and the scope and size of companies involved. It is no surprise that new research predicts that the gamification industry will grow to almost $3 billion by 2016. Moreover, esteemed digital media investor, Tim Chang of Mayfield Fund, suggested that gamification – like social media – will be far more influential as a horizontal business force than stand-alone industry. While the positioning and application of gamification continues to evolve, one message at the G Summit was constant: gamification is about fun.

G Summit Chair, Gabe Zichermann, closed the event by declaring that gamification may have its greatest impact in the domains of sustainability, health & wellness and education – a triad popularly referred to as “Gamification for Good.” These increasingly important applications of gamification are another sign of the movement’s maturity. After all, gamification exhibits enormous capacity to create sustained behavior change. In particular, Gamification for Good aims to motivate people to solve problems and improve the world.

Yet while it is easy to understand the connection between gamification and pure entertainment, the relationship between gamification and more serious topics, such as sustainability, is less obvious. On the surface, a carbon reduction challenge may seem incongruent with play. The “fun” can be lost if the “game” feels like “work.” Indeed, gamification without fun is like Iron Man without armor – the power disappears. Therefore, a more nuanced understanding of “fun” is needed to fully exploit gamification’s potential.

G Summit speaker and game designer, Nicole Lazzaro, highlighted the importance of fun in driving engagement when she outlined “4 Keys to Fun.” In Easy Fun, the experience is enjoyable and creates novelty through exploration and fantasy. Popular games such as Fruit Ninja offer good examples. But making more sustainable choices, such as ridesharing over driving, may not, in and of itself, be perceived as Easy Fun. Green gamification is more suited to leveraging other types of fun that fulfill intrinsic emotional needs. Specifically, Hard Fun, which challenges players by setting goals and providing feedback until triumph is achieved; People Fun, which promotes friendship by encouraging communication and collaboration; and Serious Fun, which fosters a sense of meaning by leading to real-world impact.

A promising start-up that incorporates these types of Fun is Greenbean Recycle, based in Boston, Massachusetts. The company develops software for reverse vending machines (RVM’s) to gamify recycling. Greenbean recently launched successful pilot campaigns at MIT and Brandeis University, significantly increasing both the volume and frequency of beverage container recycling on campus. Among other fun challenges, students compete as fraternities and sororities and receive real-time feedback on the environmental benefits of their actions. Recyclers are also rewarded with eco-friendly prizes and cash that can be earmarked for charity. Achievements are updated on a dynamic web interface and posted to users’ Facebook and Twitter pages to facilitate social comparison. Greenbean puts fun first and transforms recycling from an individual, inconvenient chore to an exciting and fulfilling social act.

Like gamification in general, the sustainability movement is accelerating at breakneck speed and progressing toward mass adoption. However, the development and marketing of greener living would have been stunted if early evangelists had not highlighted a fundamental principle: good comes before green. In other words, inferior green products or services are destined to fail because most consumers refuse to pay a “conscience penalty” for going green.

On the other hand, research consistently finds that people will support green options that also compete on primary selling points, such as quality and price. Similarly, substandard green games and applications are the biggest risk to green gamification because haphazard point systems, random rewards and boring applications do not work. As Greenbean Recycle’s example illustrates, the success of green gamification does not hinge on developing the next Angry Birds; rather, it depends on promoting sustainability while evoking the inherent fun in challenge, community and purpose.

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Gamifying Sustainability: The Carrot Beats the Stick

Would you rather be punished or rewarded? The answer is obvious. Would you rather pay a carbon tax or play a carbon game that incentivizes you to reduce your emissions? The answer still seems obvious. However, the prevailing approach by sustainability advocates has been to shame people into changing their behavior. It hasn’t worked. While we’ve made progress, sustainability has yet to achieve mainstream adoption. Look no further than the United States’ recycling rates, organic food consumption, waste production or renewable energy generation for evidence that we need a new strategy.

Fortunately, emerging data suggests that “gamification” provides a solution to accelerating sustainability. As opposed to punishment, or “shamification,” gamification is about making sustainability fun and rewarding. The psychological drivers that have made gamification the hottest trend in conventional marketing apply equally to promoting sustainability. People play games because of the fundamental need to get challenged, be social and achieve recognition. The motivation is largely emotional. Similarly, the quest for sustainability can be seen as a game in which players strive to create a better world in order to feel better about themselves. The task is challenging; it requires a lifestyle change. The action is social; it involves the community. The reward is recognition; it signals leaders.

I’ve been working with people who are at the forefront of combining gaming and sustainability. I’m thrilled to have three of them join me for a session on “Gamifying Sustainability” at Sustainable Brands ’12, one of the world’s premier green business events. Albe Zakes, Global VP, Media Relations, at TerraCycle, will be demoing the first upcycling social game, TrashTycoon.

Developed in conjunction with Guerillapps, the game features Farmville-esque slick graphics and addictive gameplay. Most importantly, it bridges the gap between the digital and physical world by connecting with TerraCycle’s real-life recycling and charitable programs. The results are impressive. More than 700,000 people have played the game and it’s generated more than $1M dollars in advertising value.

While early gamification applications mostly targeted consumers, enterprise gamification – focused on organizations and employees – is the fastest growing segment of the market. Toward that end, Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO and Founder of Practically Green, will be discussing how she developed the leading gamification platform for helping companies optimize their sustainability programs. Practically Green’s engaging web and mobile interface employs game mechanics such as leaderboards and badges to challenge people to form groups, take green actions and measure their environmental impact at work.

Practically Green recently signed up FORTUNE 500 clients such as CA Technologies, and it encouraged Seventh Generation employees to take over 8,000 green actions in areas such as energy, waste and water.

Innovative large companies are beginning to carry the green gamification torch as well. A great example is NBC Universal. Maggie Kendall, the Director of Marketing, CSR, will be highlighting its Green is Universal program, which features a suite of green apps and games designed to educate viewers and incentivize green behavior. For example, iBloom is a Tamogochi-style simulation in which players care for flowers while navigating environmental threats and learning about nature. A new web and mobile app, One Small Act, was launched during Earth Day with celebrity support from Alec Baldwin and Maria Bartiromo. The app directs users to set sustainability goals, while each pledge contributes to the growth of a vibrant digital garden that provides real-time positive feedback.

People inherently want to protect the planet – for the sake of themselves, their families, and future generations. But people don’t want to be browbeaten into changing their behavior. Gamification makes sustainability accessible, enjoyable and rewarding. Moreover, it catalyzes a movement. People want to be part of a community, so as their peers start to live more sustainably, there is a powerful social motive to play along and join the fun.

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Greening South By Southwest

The Bennu team just returned from a trip to Austin, TX attending the 2012 South By Southwest Interactive Festival. The legendary event was the birthplace of Twitter, Foursquare and countless other technology startups and trends. It’s a mashup of thought leaders, technologists and cultural tastemakers coming together to accelerate the innovation curve.

This year, Bennu Co-Founder & CEO, Ashok Kamal, joined world-famous environmentalist and eco-entrepreneur, Philippe Cousteau, to discuss “Gaming the Environment for Positive Change.” The panel was a great success and you can read the full recap, “Can Green Gamification Save The World?“, courtesy of Triple Pundit.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so we’ve composed a photo blog to share a bird’s eye view of the SXSW scene. Enjoy!

As Soon As You Land, It's Clear That Austin, TX Is SXSW Country!

The Calm Before The Storm: Preparing In The Green Room

Our Eco-Friendly Homie, Philippe Cousteau, Has Serious Swag!

Ashok Breaks Down The Art And Science Of Green Gamification

The Green Room Fridge: By The End Of The 5-Day Festival, Speakers Are Cooked!

We Launched The So Fresh, So Green 100% Recycled T-Shirt

Ashok Is Greening It!

Downtown Austin During The Day ...

Downtown Austin At Night ...

We Took A Lunch Break At The Intercontinental With Our Friends From Recyclebank

Techies Like Us Love Ping Pong

Company Parties Are Nonstop!

The Alabama Shakes Rocked It At Austin City Limits

We Visited Bennu Coffee -- And We're Proud To Share A Company Name And Core Green Values With This Sustainable Cafe On The UT Campus

Social Entrepreneurs Unite: Bennu's Co-Founder, Ashok, and Bennu Coffee's Co-Founder, Stephanie, Talk Sustainable Business And Green Living

Do You Plan To Speak At SXSW Next Year? Make Sure You Follow The Instructions On The Official Speaker Prep Infographic!

To continue our visual tour of SXSW, check out our Flickr gallery. Thank you to the City of Austin, organizers, colleagues, sponsors and all the participants who made SXSW amazing! See you next year!

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Social Media Week: Food for the Mind, Body & Soul

I can’t recap my first day of Social Media Week NYC without mentioning the night that preceded it. Speakers at 9am always seem more colorful when they’re presenting on the heels of a crazy party. And Social Media Week’s 2012 Opening Reception – hosted by Nokia and held at the Greenwich Village Country Club – included an open bar and competitive sports. I knew I was headed for a great week when I hit, not one, but TWO hole-in-ones over 7 holes of mini golf! Given that we live in a digital world, I’m shocked and saddened that nobody filmed my moments of glory (okay, luck). Nevertheless, the tone was set for a special week – and the following day’s events did not disappoint.

Keynote: Gabe Zichermann on The Business of Fun: How Gamification Will Change Your Organization: Bennu is in the (green) gamification business and Gabe Zichermann is my guru. While Bennu’s focus centers on leveraging gamification to promote sustainability, if you’re even remotely involved in game-based marketing, you can thank Gabe Z for evangelizing the movement and making it tangible. He literally wrote the book on gamification, which he defines as “the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage people and solve problems.” As always, Gabe’s talk was a mix of thought innovation, business application and unadulterated fun. While I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Gabe speak numerous times, he drops new gems with each appearance. This presentation included my first exposure to the concept of “fluid intelligence,” which characterizes the ability to think critically and solve problems. It’s juxtaposed with “crystalized intelligence,” which essentially translates to book smarts. It turns out that – despite popular conception – children are becoming smarter if you measure wits by fluid intelligence. Early and frequent exposure to games and technology is wiring their brains for multi-tasking and tackling complex challenges. This is one reason why renowned experts ranging from Dr. Jane McGonigal to Raph Koster argue that games have the power to change the world for the better. Considering Social Media Week’s 2012 global theme of Empowering Change Though Collaboration, Gabe was the ideal catalyst to press “game on” and kick off the festivities.

This Game Will Make You Healthier: My next stop spoke directly to my lifestyle. As a vegan and exercise enthusiast, I take great care to manage my diet and health regimen. Along with refreshing my body with Vita Coco, I came away from this event – organized by Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness – with a greater understanding of the intersection between health and information technology. As a perfect segue from my morning session, the panelists discussed how game mechanics like challenges, points, rewards and leaderboards can lead people to better physical fitness and nutrition. The drivers are grounded in principles of behavioral psychology and the innate human desires to achieve, be social and get appreciated. Executives from companies such as MapMyFITNESS and HealthPrize demonstrated how their mobile apps and interactive web platforms provide real-time feedback to keep people motivated and on track toward better health.

Chocolate Tasting Networking Party for NYC’s Social Good Community: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. The long hours, nonexistent vacations and constant pressure are enough to depress the spirits of even the most passionate founder. But being a social entrepreneur is unique: in addition to making money, we are driven by a mission to create a better world. The most valuable currency for an entrepreneur is inspiration. I received a full plate of it (and ethically-sourced chocolate), courtesy of COMMON, Design for Social Innovation at SVA and the Social Innovators Collective, who collectively brought together a diverse, dynamic and dedicated group of people – most of whom were also dateless, considering it was Valentine’s Day and we were all still “working.” I write “working” in quotes because, as the saying goes, when you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life. This event reminded me how fortunate I am to align my personal values with my professional career, and meet the coolest people in the world along the way.

Social entrepreneurs unite!

The bottom-line. My experience at Social Media Week NYC wasn’t business or personal: it was both.

Bennu organized and moderated the Social Media Week panel on “Green Gamification: Combining Social Media and Game Mechanics to Promote Sustainability.” The recording can be viewed in its entirety on Livestream.

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Green Gamification

Games are like ketchup: widely loved and diversely applied, with an appeal rooted in childhood. In fact, a new report reveals that over 90% of U.S. kids aged 2- 17 are gaming today. Yet the gaming generation has been on the rise for three decades, leading to not only an army of young gamers, but also an influential adult segment. It is small wonder, then, that “gamification” is the most disruptive force to impact marketing since the arrival of social media.

Typically defined, gamification refers to the use of game mechanics, such as points, badges, leaderboards and challenges in non-game settings. Traditional examples include airline frequent flyer programs and “Buy 10, Get 1 Free” loyalty offers. But the proliferation of social media and smartphones along with the cultural adoption of gaming has increased both the scope and sophistication of gamification.

At its core, gamification is about one thing: fun. In today’s competitive battle for mindshare, games are the most effective tool for leveraging technology, rising above marketing noise and engaging the socially-networked consumer.

Like any marketing strategy, gamification can be applied to encourage frivolous consumption or provide superficial entertainment. But games are also uniquely suited to change the world for the better. As gaming enthusiast and renowned author, Dr. Jane McGonigal, points out, “When we are playing games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure.”

The power of gaming is derived from the underlying behavioral psychology that motivates people to play. Successful gamification design involves understanding player personality traits that can be identified through models such as Bartle Types and Keirsey Temperaments. A key finding of gaming studies is that the vast majority of players are driven by cooperative social interaction. Gamification guru, Gabe Zichermann, developed the “SAPS” rewards model to further outline the behavioral drivers “Status,” “Access,” “Power” and “Stuff.” While extrinsic rewards, such as free products (Stuff), can be short-term motivators, Zichermann reveals that intrinsic rewards, such as community recognition (Status), are superior mechanisms for fostering engagement and loyalty. The most compelling rewards fulfill innate human desires for achievement, reciprocity and appreciation. Great games make us feel alive.

The Gaming Era is upon us. Gartner analysts predict, “By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.” As a result, gamification presents an exciting opportunity to advance sustainability initiatives. Research from Ogilvy Earth suggests that games can be a vehicle to create brand equity while also promoting green behaviors. The synergy between gamification and sustainability is based on the fact that, like gaming, greening is largely a social action that triggers an emotional response. Innovative companies recognize the opportunity to tap into consumer passions and have begun to employ “green gamification” to create shared value for individuals, businesses, communities and the environment.

The recently announced union of Recyclebank and Greenopolis affirms the traction of two leading platforms that reward people for everyday green actions. Recyclebank’s “Green Your” challenges use quizzes, pledges and social sharing to educate and incentivize players on interactive microsites. Greenopolis’ RecyclePix mobile App encourages users to share pictures of recycling to earn rewards. The interface includes a dynamic photo stream that can be voted on for bonus points.

Solar manufacturer, SunPower, recently ran a Facebook contest to teach people about solar energy in exchange for badges and prizes. Startups such as Simple Energy and Practically Green use the social web to calculate metrics like household energy saving and reward users for their relative performance. These companies validate that people are proud to share eco-conscious habits and that a little friendly competition positively reinforces their green activities.

Traditional industries are green gaming too. The Nissan Leaf includes CARWINGS, which is a digital tracker that both measures fuel consumption and ranks drivers according to fuel-efficiency. The Ford Fusion Hybrid adds graphical flair by incorporating a Tamogochi-style game, in which a small dashboard plant grows and shrinks based on green driving practices. Even social games on Facebook are experiencing a makeover; for instance, Guerillapps and upcycling pioneer, TerraCycle, partnered to introduce Trash Tycoon, which applies Zynga-like gameplay to bridge the gap between virtual and real-world sustainable living.

Gamification and game development are still in their formative years, evolving to exhibit more purpose and tangible impact. As the sustainability movement also matures, it behooves the stakeholders to embrace the potential of green gamification.

In order to propel green into the mainstream, we need to make it enjoyable, accessible and rewarding. As my fellow eco-entrepreneur, Anthony Zolezzi, proclaims, let’s embrace “fun and fame, not guilt and shame.” This is the new spirit of sustainability and green gamification is leading the way.

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Greening Is A Team Sport!

Yesterday marked a great day in green business history.

North America’s largest recycler, Waste Management (WM), made a landmark investment in Recyclebank, which is the leading rewards platform for people taking green actions. In the world of sustainable business, the scope and significance of this deal is largely unprecedented. Here’s why:

  • Innovation Engine – Waste Management and Recyclebank are thought leaders. In fact, both companies are re-defining their respective industries; WM is transforming from a trash hauler to environmental solutions provider and Recyclebank has created the most engaging technology platform to incentivize greener living. While many strategic alliances fail, there is reason to be optimistic because sustainability is at the core of both companies’ mission, vision and strategy. The combination of WM’s infrastructure and resources and Recyclebank’s information technology and marketing chops suggests a new sustainable business model is on the horizon.
  • Scale – Environmental problems are complex and typically transcend geographic boundaries. Solutions are best carried out locally, but large organizations have the reach to support change far and fast. For example, Recyclebank is under 10 years old and already runs its rewards program in 30 U.S. states. The partnership with WM will accelerate the joint companies’ expansion into more domestic communities and international territories such as Canada and Brazil. This will spread existing best practices and spur new community-based solutions.
  • Social Recycling – Part of the deal includes Recyclebank taking charge of WM’s Greenopolis unit, which uses interactive technology to educate and reward people for recycling. The Greenopolis portfolio includes social games, a photo-sharing App and roughly 1,000 high-tech recycling kiosks throughout the U.S., resulting in over 20 million bottles and cans collected to date. Recyclebank boasts one of the most active online green communities, cultivated through social media experiences such as its flagship “Green Your” challenges, which exemplify the “gaming for good” movement. The common thread between these companies is an emphasis on fun. Recycling is transformed into an enjoyable, collective experience that benefits the person, community and planet as a whole.

If I sound excited, I am. In the spirit of transparency, I’ve dealt with many people involved. That’s because the social enterprise community is small – but passionate and growing rapidly – and our personal and professional endeavors overlap. This is not our job, it’s our lifestyle.

At both the individual and institutional levels, we need cooperation to make green the new mainstream. The Waste Management and Recyclebank alliance forms a green Dream Team. Play ball!

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Infographic: 10 Facts About Plastic Recycling

The numbers speak for themselves.

Plastic waste is a huge environmental problem but also presents a tremendous opportunity for social change and economic development. The choice is ours.

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Blue is the New Green

 Did you know that 70% of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean? Or that 97% of the biosphere is in the sea? The oceans also absorb much of our carbon dioxide and hold 97% of the earth’s water. Every single human being, plant and animal is literally dependent on the ocean for survival. Yet we treat our oceans like a bottomless liquid landfill.

Recent events have elevated ocean abuse to a top of mind environmental crisis. The infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch – composed of small but strong bits of plastic waste – is estimated to be much larger than the state of Texas. The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion left BP’s corporate reputation bruised, but continues to poison sensitive marine life that supports both local communities and global ecosystems.

Human activity has been punishing the oceans for decades. In the past 60 years, 90%-95% of many once common fish have been consumed. Half of all shallow coral reefs, which are a hotbed for biodiversity, are either gone or threatened. Climate change is leading to dangerously high sea levels and acidification that makes the water harmful to many marine species.      

While the green wave keeps accelerating at an encouraging pace, we need to pay more attention to the color blue. Viewed holistically, the green and blue worlds are inextricably linked. Clean energy reduces carbon dioxide emissions, which in turn relaxes pressure on the ocean’s role as a carbon sink. More sustainable human diets can reverse the decline of endangered sea life. And a reduction of consumer packaging and increase in recycling will allow us to focus on cleaning up existing plastic waste rather than constantly compounding the problem.

Thankfully, our ocean heroes are emerging. Dr. Sylvia A. Earle is a tireless oceanographer and activist who has spoken for TED and testified before the U.S. Congress. Advocacy groups such as 5 Gyres and Oceana are in the trenches and taking action to protect our oceans. I’m privileged to be a part of Ocean Aid, which is a new Greenopolis-sponsored campaign using creative tactics to raise public awareness about oceans as our life support system. We launched while celebrating World Oceans Day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is another renowned champion for the ocean and all its diverse inhabitants.  

Melissa McGinnis from Greenopolis TV interviewing Ashok Kamal from Bennu during the Ocean Aid launch in Monterey, CA

All of these efforts are necessary to enact the structural and policy changes that will better serve our oceans. But let us not forget the role that each individual can play in solving big problems. Just as every vast beach is built by small grains of sand, every incremental step toward sustainability contributes to a larger movement.

I approach my daily life by considering its environmental impact. For example, fishing has decimated marine ecosystems that are a building block for the food chain. I’m a vegan because I believe that a plant-based diet conserves resources and reduces suffering for animals and fish. With climate change wreaking havoc on our oceans, I mostly take public transportation and purchase wind energy credits to lower my carbon footprint. Finally, whether it’s cooking at home or re-using my water bottle, I try to minimize waste and I recycle religiously! The ocean sustains all life on Earth; we owe it our utmost appreciation and respect.

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