The Positive Impact of Environmental "Gamification"

Getting people excited about environmental issues can take a bit of strategy. Natural resource depletion, global warming, landfill waste and water contamination are topics that can be intimidating when presented to the average consumer, especially for the demographic we most hope to reach: young people and future stewards. With so much on the line for establishing sustainable infrastructures for future generations, it is important that we find ways to engage youth and make motivations for environmentalism positive and fun.

Making complex concepts like sustainability and the importance of circular waste solutions compelling to young consumers can be a real game: literally and figuratively. One of the most popular, and effective, methods for engaging consumers is gamification, the simple concept of taking elements of a game and applying them to other areas of activity, like learning about implementing green habits. "Gamifying" environmental action campaigns has proven to be a very successful way to get consumers excited about CSR and environmental issues - and we've been doing it for years at TerraCycle.

Using animation and a multiplayer format, our social networking game Trash Tycoon made a splash on Facebook in 2011, allowing players to earn points for collecting trash in a waste-filled town and recycling and upcycling the items. In real life, every TerraCycle program offers individuals, businesses and organizations the opportunity to earn TerraCycle points for the waste they collect and send in, which are redeemable for cash donations to the charity or nonprofit of their choice. The more you recycle, the more points you get, and through brand sponsored contests like the Sensible Portions® DIY Poster Contest back in May, people have the opportunity to win additional TerraCycle points for an even larger contribution.

Incentivizing recycling through a points system quantifies an individual's environmental efforts with hard numbers, recognition of effort, the thrill of competition, and the opportunity to do something big for their community. This element of gratification creates a rewards system that is sometimes missing from conventional messaging.

Big companies like PepsiCo are catching on to the effectiveness of gamification in reaching young people with an environmental platform. For years, PepsiCo's Recycle Rally has engaged K-12 students, teaching the importance of recycling by incentivizing schools to track their bottle and can recycling. With an online tracking system and regular competitions and challenges, the "game" keeps young people immersed in the program and, therefore, in recycling. Through gamification, PepsiCo has recycled over 59 million beverage cans and bottles and awarded over $1 million in prizes since 2010.

Science competitions are a form of gamification that incentivizes knowledge of environmental issues and the application of the tools available to solve them with resources that allow students to make a difference in the future. The Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology presents an opportunity to students to conceive engineering or technical solutions for different problems affecting the world, including environmental problems; winners are awarded scholarship money for the college or university of their choice. Focusing specifically on current and future water challenges, the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) is a science research project competition in which students aged 15-20 compete on the state and national level for $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to represent the U.S. on the international level.

A personal stake in the world's sustainability challenges is the bridge that needs to be built for children and young adults to cross into the future as environmental stewards. Not only does game-based engagement create that connection, it allows environmental concepts to be learned, developed and used; like riding a bike, they'll never forget. Gamification is proven to work, so why not play?