Utilizing Gamification to Promote Sustainable Practices

Making Sustainability Fun and Rewarding
  • Kristen SchieleEmail author
Living reference work entry


Gamification is a growing phenomenon, described as one of today’s top disruptive trends in technology. Utilizing traditional game design principles to affect user behavior, gamification is commonly used in many industries, such as marketing, health, and education. This chapter explores the potential of using gamification to motivate individuals to engage in sustainable practices. Prior studies have shown how utilizing gameful design can be a powerful strategy to convert serious real-world problems into engaging and meaningful user experiences. By promoting peer-to-peer education and behavior change through social interactions, gamification can provide a positive solution to implement social change. Analyzing real case examples, Fit for Green, PowerAgent, Greenify, and PowerHouse, this chapter demonstrates how game design can make sustainability both fun and rewarding. Examining companies currently using gamification to promote sustainable practices, findings show that by creating positive peer pressure on sustainability issues, organizations can apply gamification principles to promote meaningful action and motivate users to adopt behavioral changes outside of the game.


Sustainability Gamification Sustainable power Green energy Technology Climate change Gamification elements 


Since 2008, gamification has become a growing, innovative phenomenon in consumer engagement (Zichermann and Cunningham 2011). The Wall Street Journal described gamification as “a fast-moving hard trend of using advanced simulations and skill-based learning systems that are self-diagnostic, interactive, game-like and competitive–all focused on giving the user an immersive experience” (Burris 2014). Similar reports project that gamification will become a 5.5 billion dollar market by 2018 (Bloomberg 2014). If these predictions are correct, gamification requires further investigation on how to properly implement in various contexts, including sustainability efforts.

Gamification uses traditional elements of game design in nongame contexts (Deterding et al. 2011) and is defined by its use of game-like elements and principles to engage users in real-world activities (McGonigal 2011). Essentially, this trend takes the essence of game design and applies those principles to real-world objectives, rather than for only entertainment purposes (Palmer et al. 2012). By creating an experience similar to games, organizations can utilize gamification to affect user behavior, enhance user activity, and increase social interactions among users (Huotari and Hamari 2017; Hamari 2013).

In recent years, the popularity of gamification has skyrocketed with growing numbers of gamified applications, as well as a rapidly increasing amount of academic research and articles in trade publications (Blohm and Leimeister 2013; Marchand and Henning-Thurau 2013). A large body of literature has focused primarily on the use of gamification and game theory in business (Herbig 1991; McAfee and McMillan 1996; Reeves and Read 2009; Terlutter and Capella 2013) and computer sciences (Deterding 2012, 2015; Huotari and Hamari 2012). Although gamification has become a very popular topic, little has been studied on the use of game design to promote sustainability.

Many traditional approaches to educate the public on sustainability issues and promote environmentally conscious behaviors have not always proven effective. The majority of these sustainability campaigns have tried to foster behavioral changes through information intensive means and have had little impact (McKenzie-Mohr 2008). Gamification offers an innovative alternative to these conventional campaigns, with an approach that blends together knowledge and tools from the field of game design with behavioral psychology. Since gamification has been successfully applied to a number of applications, this chapter will discuss why this can also be used to enable users to engage in sustainable behaviors.

The following sections first review the history of gamification and how the process works. Next is a discussion of current applications of gamification including contexts, such as marketing, health, ideation, and education. The subsequent sections will discuss how gamification can promote sustainability and give examples of best practices from companies who have been successful in using this method. Finally, the conclusion will outline the major takeaways and recommendations for organizations that wish to utilize gamification to promote sustainable practices.

History of Gamification

Although touted as the hot new business trend, gamification is not a new concept, as many believe. As part of a much broader phenomenon, play has been cited as an essential component in the formation of societies and civilization (Huizinga 1949), and historical predecessors to today’s idea of gamification go back to the eighteenth century (Fuchs et al. 2014). Many of the early games for business purposes focused more on loyalty and rewards, such as the introduction of S&H Green Stamps in 1896. In the 1970s, Charles Coonradt founded a consulting firm, The Game of Work, which introduced sports game mechanics into the workplace.

The more recent idea of gamification as a term originated in the digital media industry in 2008, but gamification entered widespread adoption in 2010 (Deterding et al. 2011). The majority of studies on gamification have demonstrated how its application produces positive effects and benefits to users. Gamification has been seen to improve user engagement and enhance positive behavior patterns, such as increasing user activity, social interaction, or quality and productivity of actions (Hamari 2013; Hamari and Lehdonvirta 2010).

Practitioners forecast that gamification technologies will continue to be incorporated in more organizations. Gabe Zichermann, CEO of Gamification Co., asserted, “many enterprises have just scratched the surface of its potential. Over the next year, gamification is likely to morph from a tactical concept to a strategic imperative” (Zichermann 2013).

How Gamification Works

Like traditional games, applications that use gamification create a goal-oriented, competitive experience that also has the potential to provide real-life results (Carignan and Lawler Kennedy 2013; McGonigal 2011). A study by Conaway and Garay (2014) examined both customer and manager perspectives of gamification use, specifically in service marketing. Their results support a design theory that outlines four key characteristics that appeal to users including progress paths, feedback and rewards, social connection, and attractiveness of the site.

Gamification can be a powerful strategy to influence groups of people, by utilizing motivational affordances and behavioral outcomes to provide “gameful” experiences (Huotari and Hamari 2012). By applying traditional game mechanics to nongame activities, gamification has the power to influence user’s behavior, by keeping score of points earned through various activities on the application. For example, Huotari and Hamari (2012) attribute gamification for the success of many mobile applications, such as Foursquare. Foursquare utilizes a rule-based system providing the user with feedback and interaction mechanisms, which supports the users’ overall value creation.

According to Hamari et al. (2014), gamification can be described in the sequence of three main parts: (1) the implemented motivational affordances, (2) the resulting psychological outcomes, and (3) the further behavioral outcomes.

Gamification aims to improve users’ motivation toward given behaviors and to improve both the quantity and quality of the output of the activities related to these behaviors (Morschheuser et al. 2017). Operant conditioning is also used in these games, using positive sound and visual reinforcements to encourage users. Implementing certain motivational affordances and holding them constant while varying the nature of the underlying service may give further insight into how the context affects the outcomes of the gamification.

The gamification process applies both psychological and sociological factors to drive intense gameplay by users (Donato and Link 2013). Psychological outcomes include aspects such as motivation, attitude, and engagement in the learning process, as well as users’ enjoyment in the overall experience. Prior studies have shown many examples of motivational affordances including points, leaderboards (Halan et al. 2010), achievements/badges, levels, story/theme, clear goals, feedback rewards, progress, and challenges (Jung et al. 2010). Playing against others and elements of competition are also important to users. Other elements such as high score, personal path, and goals motivate users by setting up a road map for personal journey (Halan et al. 2010).

Sociological factors also play a part in acceptance of gamification, so it’s important to recognize that there are differences across populations and cultures. For example, some studies have found that the younger population tends to respond more favorably to gaming techniques than older demographics (Terlutter and Capella 2013). Younger generations, such as Millennials and Gen Z, are often called “digital natives” since they were born after the widespread adoption of digital technology . Gabe Zichermann, the author of Game-Based Marketing and the CEO of, affirms that the millennial generation is one of the most significant factors in the increased success of gamification practices since they are more game attuned than previous generations. So if an organization wishes to reach a younger target market, incorporating digital games into their communication strategies may be one of the best ways to gain their attention.

Gamification also incorporates principles from game mechanics, behavioral economics, and design thinking to create a positive user experience. One important element to include in game design is creating progress paths that begin with an easy task and then evolve to more complex challenges over time as the user progresses (Palmer et al. 2012). With a relatively easy initial reward, a beginner is encouraged to continue playing, and since the challenges become more difficult with each level, the advanced users continue to stay engaged in the game.

One of the persuasive powers of gamification stems from the fact that games take place in a simulated environment. As explained by Bang et al. (2006), “within the micro-world of a game users can safely explore cause-and-effect relations and uncover new behaviors.” Gamification can be used to direct the completion of specific tasks and gives users an opportunity to rehearse targeted behaviors in the simulation before conducting them in the real world.

“Shamification” is another emerging motivational trend that utilizes a more negative approach. The exact opposite of gamification, shamification makes people feel bad about a particular habit or behavior, so that they will be motivated to make a change in order to avoid feelings of shame. Although shamification has the potential to be an effective motivator due to one’s competitive nature, positive reinforcement has traditionally been found to be a healthier and more sustainable way to motivate people.

Applications of Gamification

The gamification process merges the strategic thinking of a business manager with the tools and creativity of a game designer (Palmer et al. 2012). An increasing number of companies have focused on adding a gamified layer to their core activity. Other applications have been created to assist more traditional companies in gamifying their existing services. Gamification has been most widely used in marketing to promote customer retention, customer loyalty programs, customer engagement, positive word of mouth, and positive website usage behavior (Leclerq et al. 2017).

Gamification has also been successfully used in several human resource contexts, such as to motivate including workers’ productivity, training, and development of specific job tasks or skills (Vesa et al. 2017). Primarily used with sales personnel, many organizations are using gamification techniques internally to motivate employee performance and allow employees to earn vacations and rewards. Gamification has also become part of many business packages, as companies attempt to recruit and retain talent from the millennial “gamer” generation (Zichermann and Linder 2013).

Over the last few years, marketing and consultancy agencies have actively promoted gamification as a potential revenue source for businesses. Despite its increased use by corporations to manage brand communities and personnel, gamification has become more than just a marketing buzzword. Over the past few decades, gameful play has become more widely utilized in various applications, including health and education.

In the health industry, gamification or “exergaming” has been utilized to promote healthy living and physical fitness. From Foot Craz by Atari in the 1980s to the recent popular mobile application Pokémon GO, exergaming has upended the stereotype of gaming as a sedentary activity and instead uses technology to promote an active lifestyle. For example, applications such as Fitocracy and QUENTIQ use gamification to encourage their users to exercise by awarding points for activities they perform in their workouts and gain levels based on points collected. Users can also complete quests (e.g., sets of related activities) and gain achievement badges for fitness milestones (Jeffries 2011).

Other examples of gamification include wearable technologies that motivate fitness, such as FitBit, NIKE PLUS, and Garmin watches. These wearable technologies allow users to track their activity and progress by measuring data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, and other personal metrics involved in fitness. There is also a gamified part of these technologies where users can set goals, join challenges, and connect with friends in the online community.

Gamification of education and learning has also become common, especially with games to test recall and learning. Educators that use games, such as Minecraft Education Edition, to teach part of their curriculum have reported improvement student engagement, collaboration, creative exploration, and tangible learning outcomes. Gamified applications, such as Everfi and Kahoot, have also been proven to empower unique and creative learning experiences for students, especially in elementary education. Using gamification, students are able to learn through a combination of observation, trial and error, and play-based practice. For example, applications, such as CodeCombat and Codecademy, give users game-like elements to help teach children how to create their own codes. This learn-by-doing gives students a sense of accomplishment when they can demonstrate their knowledge.

Using Gamification to Promote Sustainability

Gamification should not only be a profitable resource for designers and business people but can also be a tool to change the world (McGonigal 2011). Gamification is a concept that describes a new age where users can collectively apply their problem-solving skills not only to solve puzzles within a game but also to approach real social and political issues in the world (Fuchs et al. 2014). Game designers have an opportunity to become the new social entrepreneurs, by creating rewards for users, outside of gameplay, to benefit society as a whole. From this perspective, gamification can become an important method for enabling positive social change, such as increased sustainable efforts.

Over the past decade, many countries have begun programs to encourage the development of renewable energy sources, and many international agreements have been made to control emissions. Although these are positive steps forward in both the government and corporate sectors, unfortunately personal energy consumption behavior remains relatively unchallenged (Bang et al. 2006). One of the main challenges is how to best communicate to consumers on how to use energy efficiently in relation to everyday activities.

The objective of sustainability communications should be to encourage members of a community to engage in sustainable behaviors. In the past, most promotions to foster sustainable behavior have consisted primarily of large-scale informational campaigns that utilize education and advertising to encourage behavior change. Although education and advertising can be effective in creating awareness of a problem, and it has the potential to change consumer attitudes, studies show that behavior change rarely occurs as a result of simply providing information (McKenzie-Mohr 2008).

One of the theoretical cornerstones of gamification, The Gameful World (Walz and Deterding 2015), explores how social and political shifts can be made using pervasive game-like practices. Since studies have shown the effectiveness of gamification in various industries, sustainability education has the opportunity to implement similar innovative approaches such as utilizing new interactive, online platforms, and game elements. By leveraging games, these programs can create platforms to share new ideas in sustainability, unite like-minded people around a common goal, and empower people to take real-world action. But what are the best strategies to use games to promote sustainable practices?

Engagement by gamification can depend on several factors, such as the motivations of users or the nature of the gamified system. Prior studies indicate that pervasive games for behavior change and learning may also be appropriate to approach related domains such as environmental conservation and lifestyle-induced health problems. Gamification can be employed to raise awareness of energy-related issues and change the use patterns, as well as create a positive way of living where satisfaction becomes the center of a responsible practice. Game thinking in its purest form should give people direction about what they should be doing in small, incremental positive ways (Zichermann and Linder 2013). By doing so, gamification could become the name of a play practice that truly helps human beings in fulfilling their own lives and those of others.

Organizations need to reflect on how gamification might work as a method to inspire individuals in their everyday lives. Games can work as a supportive regulator of behavior since it offers positive feedback (e.g., rewards, leaderboard) rather than negative penalties (e.g., fines, prison). Many companies who have utilized gamification to foster positive social behaviors rely on one of the following: (1) individual’s internal sense of right and wrong, (2) messages centered on resource usage and conservation, or (3) data derived from sensor-based systems (DiSalvo et al. 2010). To date, only a few organizations have worked on fostering sustainability through gamification.

To understand how gamification can influence users to engage in sustainable behaviors, it’s important to take a look at real case examples. This chapter highlights some of the best practices from a few of these organizations: Fit for Green, PowerAgent, Greenify, and PowerHouse.

Fit for Green

Fit for Green has redefined wellness by uniting fitness and sustainability. The company created a line of exercise equipment that helps individuals track and improve their fitness levels while generating sustainable power during their workout. Unlike other leading gym equipment, Fit for Green machines reclaim power from users’ workouts and channel this energy back into the power grid. The company currently provides commercial cardio equipment for university fitness centers but plans to expand to other markets over the next few years.

Their development team has dedicated many years to introducing this disruptive technology to the gym equipment market. According to Fit for Green founder, John Spirko, “for years skeptics have criticized the idea of humans generating any amount of meaningful renewable energy…Fit for Green changes the game from the individual to the 400 million plus gym members in the world, the more than 800 million active Facebook Users, and the 9,000,000 + pieces of self propelled gym machines in operation today.”

When a user exercises on a piece of Fit for Green equipment, they create approximately the same amount of energy as a solar panel would in that same time period. Empowered with this knowledge, a user feels better knowing that their behavior not only has a positive benefit to their personal health but also has a positive effect on the environment. Fit for Green offers a unique experience incorporating responsive technology with collaborative play. Their mobile application also gives users convenient and comparable results while providing real-time motivation.


PowerAgent is a game designed to encourage teenagers and their families to reduce energy consumption. PowerAgent is a pervasive game for Java-enabled mobile phones that was designed to influence everyday activities and the use of electricity in the home. The basic idea of the game is that users must compete in teams to collectively decrease consumption of household electricity and, in the process, learn how to conserve energy.

PowerAgent is connected to the user’s actual household electricity meter reading equipment via the cell network, and this setup makes it possible to incorporate the user’s real consumption data in the game system. Through cognitive and behavior learning, the properties of PowerAgent utilize persuasive technology components to change the users’ behavior.


Greenify was created at the Games Research Lab of Columbia University to foster sustainability and learning through real-world actions. This mobile, real-world action game (RWAG) utilizes the power of community-based interaction, crowdsourcing, and game mechanics to foster sustainability and learning through real-life actions. The Greenify system was designed with game elements, which allow players to address climate change in their day-to-day lives. These game elements include the ability to earn points for completing and creating real-world missions; a leaderboard that displays top scores daily, weekly, and all time; a player profile with progression mechanics; and a page that provides recognition for top-rated content and deeds.

The Institute of Sustainable Communities defined healthy climate and environment, social well-being, and economic security as the three essential elements of a sustainable community. Greenify addresses these in the following ways: (1) healthy climate and environment through user missions and game mechanics, (2) social well-being using game dynamics to strengthen social bonds, and (3) economic security with virtual currency and local rewards (Lee et al. 2013).

The PowerHouse

The PowerHouse is a computer game designed to motivate teenagers to increase their interest in energy-related issues and promote efficient energy use in their homes (Bang et al. 2006). In the PowerHouse, users manage a simulated domestic environment, similar to the one featured in the popular game the Sims. The activities in PowerHouse require the use of electrical energy (i.e., washing clothes, cooking, watching television), and the objective of the game is to direct characters to engage in energy-efficient behaviors. When users engage in sustainable actions, they earn virtual money that can be used to buy different game artifacts.

The user must work to balance the available resources and aim toward a more sustainable lifestyle. On the screen, the meters in the lower pane display a specific character’s mental and physical state. In the upper right corner are the money and power meters that show the accumulated points and how much energy is being consumed.

Best Practices of Sustainable Applications

This section further examines real case examples utilizing gamification and discusses best practices employed by these organizations.

Make Sustainability a Fun and Rewarding Experience

Classic gamification design uses motivational affordances (such as points, badges, rewards) to encourage users to monitor their performance and compares it with performance of other users. Thus, using these game principles provides a platform for motivating sustainable actions in everyday life. When combined with social engagement, gamification can be a great opportunity to encourage desired behaviors and habits through positive motivational psychology.

In addition to motivating sustainable action, principles of good game design and contemporary learning theories should be used to guide users in the mastery of complex information (Gee 2005). Action-based learning in the area of climate change education and instructional design illustrates that effective games increase knowledge while accelerating the learning process through the completion of authentic tasks (Gee 2011). Feedback during tasks is very important, because it gives users a signal of success with virtual rewards (Palmer et al. 2012). Gamification typically rewards participants immediately after task completion, but some also use delayed gratification. The delivery of rewards depends on the path the user takes, since some users desire to have a level of power, leadership, or responsibility as they progress.

Fit for Green created a feedback and rewards program they call “The Triple Impact Workout.” This program creates cardio machine workouts that are both fun and rewarding, especially for people that care about the environment.

This triple impact workout consists of:
  1. 1.

    Impact on climate change – creating green energy as people exercise and feeding that energy back into the grid

  2. 2.

    Impact on natural resource preservation – generating funds for charities that protect them

  3. 3.

    Impact on cardiovascular fitness – as any cardiovascular machine would


Fit for Green also utilizes a point system in the form of pulsed light generation. These lights are used to symbolize the flow of electricity from the person back into the power grid, as they pulse from the machines screen and transition on to an LED lighting strip. The lights indicate both current workout intensity and cumulative workout accomplishment. In other words the harder a user exercises, the higher frequency of the creation of lights. The lights can also be accumulated, so the end of a workout with 100 lights is more productive than a workout with 50 lights.

Greenify was designed to motivate adult learners to take informed actions regarding climate change . Greenify uses a system that encourages users to share knowledge about climate change and practical ways one could lessen their personal contribution to the problem. A team of educational technology experts at Columbia designed this effective, educational strategy to provide information that is relevant to the users’ values and create a persuasive message that appeals to the target audience.

The user interactions provided by online game platforms, such as Fit for Green and Greenify, create a sense of community when users come together for a common purpose. Combined with the ability of social media to connect individuals with similar values, online environments show promise for creating social groups with a shared interest in climate change. With Greenify, several design features were developed in order to create a culture and community that value climate change discussions, sharing knowledge, and taking positive actions.

The Greenify system allows users to complete real-world missions to earn “tree points,” the system’s virtual currency tied to local retail incentives. Virtual currencies like this tend to elicit motivation, competition, and playfulness from the users (Lee et al. 2013). Missions can fall into one of four categories including personal (e.g., choosing green product choices), energy (e.g., transportation choices), resources (e.g., usage of water and electricity), and communication (e.g., debating issues and sharing knowledge with others). Users complete missions by presenting their completed deeds to other users in the form of written descriptions and photographs on the platform. The Greenify system was also designed to empower players to make a difference: Players are able to create actions for others to complete, and they receive points when others complete these actions. This also gives users a sense of ownership, since they listed as featured author of actions and articles.

The founders of Greenify surveyed users to learn about their overall experience with the program. According to their research, the program was viewed as a fun experience for nearly all participants, and the most commonly used words used by participants to describe their experience were informative, interactive, fun, practical, social, and engaging. Greenify participants asserted that the crowdsourced, social interactive aspects of the program were motivating, and participation affected their behaviors beyond the scope of missions (Lee et al. 2013).

Operant conditioning is an instrumental component to most effective games. The PowerHouse applied different kinds of conditioning, such as sound and visual effects, to motivate users to stay at the computer and continue to play the game. The display meters indicate how much time that is left of the game, as well as the users’ accumulated points (e.g., virtual money). The display meter also includes a “high-score list,” so the users can compare their results with others and enhance their motivation to compete.

Creating Positive Peer Pressure on Sustainability Issues

Fit for Green uses gym leader boards to create positive peer pressure by creating friendly competition across colleges. The company recently created a multiplayer, 100 light challenge that allows users to cooperatively work together. Fit for Green’s platform also has the capability to display cumulative light competitions between gyms and quarterly competitions across fitness centers.

Fits for Green encourages members to join forces with friends and family in order to make working out while creating energy even more fun. For some social groups, this may be all about the competition, and for others it may be more about cooperation around some renewable energy creation goal that they have set as a unit. In either case the peers become a new driver to help members get healthier and at the same time contribute to a united renewable energy cause.

Similarly, Greenify uses gamification elements to facilitate the creation and completion of user-generated missions, encouraging interaction between geographically proximate communities of peers. Three elements were identified as necessary components to achieve sustainable communities: a healthy climate and environment, social well-being, and economic security. Studies on climate change education recommend social, accessible action-oriented learning that is specifically designed to resonate with a target audience’s values and worldview. The Greenify game fosters the creation of peer-generated user content, motivated informed action, and created positive pressure that is perceived as a fun and engaging experience for its users (Lee et al. 2013). Greenify also added a social game layer to accelerate positive community impact through sustainability initiatives.

By leveraging the normative and committing power of social groups, Greenify crafted a culture of positive peer pressure. Just as support groups have proven to be effective in changing behavior in negative contexts (e.g., substance abuse), groups are also a viable strategy for promoting sustainable mind-sets and behaviors. Greenify uses social groups to provide accountability and transparency for the users’ actions with platform features such as the ability to see recent activity by other users in a news-feed format, a publicly viewable profile and status, and the ability to show appreciation and give positive feedback.

Mechanisms of group behavior compel users to comply with group norms and values. Creating social groups with users, who normalize desired behaviors, can be a powerful strategy for affecting changes in behavior. Greenify users have expressed that sharing knowledge, ideas, and deeds within a social network was a positive and motivating experience for them. Social interactions, such as commenting on others’ missions or deeds, were perceived by most players to be valuable (Lee et al. 2013). Social connection serves a key element to the attraction to gamification. Many successful game platforms leverage a user’s social network to create competition and provide support through instant access to their friends and social connections (Palmer et al. 2012).

Related to the above issues of users’ need to fit in socially, the PowerHouse found that it was important to create archetypical characters in the game that the users could identify with. PowerHouse game designers found that the persuasive power of the message increased with the use of physically attractive characters that match the identification processes of the target group. So from the initial stages of game development, the designers involved the target users in the design process meetings, where they discussed the game scenario and the teenagers provided designers with a set of archetypical characters and an outline for the graphic design.

Using Gamification to Promote Meaningful Action

With gamification, positive changes in user behaviors emerge when gameful experiences provide motivational affordances that are implemented into the program (Ryan and Deci 2000). By promoting the creation of messages that are accessible and relevant to the community of users, gamification works to promote meaningful action.

The objective of Fit for Green is to increase “healthily planet awareness.” As people exercise and generate power, the experience is not just about creating enough energy to light a bulb or charge an iPod. The overall goal of the experience is to give users the realization of what energy is and how difficult it actually is to create it. For example, after a demanding 1-h cardio workout, a user’s screen shows that 150 watt-h generated. This allows user to then relate work they did to something real such as “I can light a 75 watt bulb for two hours.” This also allows users to conceptualize and better understand the impact they have on the environment, such as each time they needlessly leave a 75-watt bulb on, the same burden is also put on the planet mostly by burning coal.

“Fit for Green Charities” is another part of the program where the electricity that users collectively save is donated to environmental charities. The “Calories to Charities” screen on the platform allows sponsors the opportunity to contribute by pledging a donation for each watt-hour generated on Fit for Green. This benefits sponsors since their logo becomes associated with Fit for Green and becomes part of the engaged sustainability initiative.

PowerAgent uses engaging computer games and mobile applications, with the goal to change energy consumption patterns in the home. The objective of PowerAgent is to transform the home environment and its devices into a learning arena for hands-on experience with electricity usage and to promote engagement through team competitions. A study by Gustafsson and Bång (2008) examined the effectiveness of PowerAgent by evaluating teenagers and families that were playing the game for 10 days in two cities in Sweden. Data collection consisted of home energy measurements before, during, and after gameplay in addition to interviews with participants after the game sessions. The results suggest that the PowerAgent game was highly efficient in motivating and engaging the players and their families to change their daily energy consumption patterns during the game sessions.

Greenify communicates to the user practical everyday steps that can make a difference. Although the majority of climate change education strategies focus primarily on increased understanding of the broad problem, this knowledge does not necessarily lead to changes in a users’ behavior (Kellstedt et al. 2008). Recommendations for future efforts in climate change education suggest that action-oriented learning should be used instead. This allows individuals to connect their understanding of the larger problem with actions that they can directly take in their own life. The Greenify system provides this practical and actionable knowledge and appears to be a more promising approach to encourage sustainable changes to one’s lifestyle through repetition. As prior behavior studies have demonstrated, when people have done something once, they are more likely to do it again (McKenzie-Mohr 2008).

Built into the Greenify system are several design features that promote informed action and empathy-driven behavior change (Kim et al. 2010). For example, the users have polar bear pets whose happiness and status correspond directly to that user’s actions. Similarly, the section with personal stories in which people can share videos or written testimonials of how climate change affects their lives also increases empathy-driven behavior. Greenify users reported that their overall game experience was heightened due to these design features, and they had become more aware of how their personal actions impacted the environment.

By combining general knowledge with specific actions that people could take, Greenify offers users increased personal relevance and accessibility, creating a sense of meaningful accomplishment. By providing missions that consisted of small actions, users felt less overwhelmed when dealing with such a large and complicated issue as climate change (Lee et al. 2013). Based on survey results, findings show that Greenify users felt a more personal relevance to sustainability issues, were empowered to create content and actions for others, and had a heightened awareness of how climate change was connected to their personal choices.

Similarly, in the PowerHouse users can explore the cause-and-effect relationships of different everyday activities and receive instant feedback. For example, if someone is taking a long hot shower, the energy meter will show this immediately and his or her money meter will drop. This immediate feedback allows users to try out different behaviors and learn from their mistakes, which reinforces their learning to promote meaningful change.


Gamification is a growing phenomenon and has been described as one of today’s top disruptive technology trends. After examining companies currently using gamification to promote sustainable practices, there is a lot of potential for applications that promote sustainability efforts. These case examples provided suggest that gamification principles are compatible with sustainability education efforts and that game technologies can enable positive peer-to-peer pressure and ultimately motivate behavior change. Gamification can be a powerful strategy that converts serious real-world problems into engaging and meaningful gameplay that promotes peer-to-peer education and behavior change through social interactions.

One of the most important elements of gamification is that a user is having fun while engaging with the application. But companies are really missing out on some of the elements that make real games compelling when they focus only on leaderboards, achievement levels, and badges. User loyalty develops through the game designer’s proper use of design principles and understanding of motivational psychology needed to change user behavior in favor of the organizations’ objectives. However, if gamification platforms lack novelty, creativity or unexpected twists, and difficulty choices for the user, they may prove to lose users’ interest over time.

Gamification is a powerful tool for increasing engagement, yet it is important to remember and address potential limitations. Game design is difficult to implement well since the games should be complex and involve an understanding of motivational information system design. Interface and user experience must be attractive to users, so unfortunately for many small and medium enterprises, complex design requirements can pose a challenge for proper implementation (Palmer et al. 2012).

Another layer that complicates the scope of game design is that the goal of gamification is to affect behavior outside of the game itself. Some studies predict that a majority of gamification implementations will fail due to poor understanding of how to successfully design games (Morschheuser et al. 2017). Poor design can lead to decrease of users’ intrinsic motivation (Thom et al. 2012), potential cheating (Carignan and Lawler Kennedy 2013; Makanawala et al. 2013), and short-term engagement (Farzan et al. 2008). So it’s important to remember that misused gamification can actually de-motivate users.

Popular game designers have criticized gamification as excluding important elements like storytelling and experiences and using simple reward systems in place of true game mechanics. It is crucial to have more than just badges and achievements but create a journey for the users that includes well-designed puzzles or challenges. Game designs should challenge the user to master skills over time, which is critical to the learning process. Gamification will work when the games reward productive struggle, which results in learning that’s engaging and motivating.

With gamification, users must benefit beyond receiving rewards and experience an emotional connection with the messages being presented in the game. One of the big challenges with gamification is to balance the trade-off between persuasive methods and communicating sustainability information and the overall gaming experience. Some studies have shown that too much praise and explicit information can naturally impair the gaming experience negatively (Bang et al. 2006).

This chapter outlined a few of the organizations that are positively transforming sustainability by their use of gamification. After investigating Fit for Green, PowerAgent, Greenify, and PowerHouse, the gamification approach proves to give users more autonomy in achieving their personal goals while also engaging in sustainable behaviors. These examples show how it is important to frame sustainability as a positive idea that leverages intrinsic motivation and self-determination (Grant 2012). Through widespread use of game designs that promote sustainability, communities that share values and worldviews can more effectively exchange ideas for sustainable living (Leiserowitz 2006; Owens 2000). These strategic directions possess the potential to motivate communities to become more engaged and better equipped to take positive action. By embracing the theme of changing perspectives, organizations can begin to properly utilize gamification to achieve a sustainable future.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State Polytechnic UniversityPomonaUSA

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