22.08.12 – Sustainability meets art and games   Leave a comment

When we think of sustainability, often the images conjured up are changing light bulbs, switching off taps and putting things into recycling bins. Certainly, these initiatives are essential, specially in the face of rising global populations and wealthier middle classes consuming more. But is real behaviour change occurring? And is it happening quickly, and broadly, enough? What else can be done to help bring sustainability into the mainstream?

While information programs and education will remain key platforms of engagement, as will “stick” approaches to change people’s behaviour (such as a price on carbon, congestion taxes, landfill levies), other areas are emerging, such as the use of art and games.

One organisation, Carbon Arts, works with artists and businesses to develop projects that look to engage communities on climate change and sustainability through events, public art works and exhibitions. A particularly fascinating project of theirs is dotBlush, a building that provides an  “emotional response” and rewards positive energy performance. When the building is generating more energy than it’s using it literally “blushes with pleasure” due to “freckles” consisting of thermochromic technology, the building’s skin changes hue based on its energy usage. The aim of such a building is that with innovative visualisation of energy consumption, we will hopefully consider our use of resources and impact on the environment more carefully.

dotBlush was part of the City of Melbourne’s 1200 Buildings Public Art Commission Exhibition, part of a growing global trend in combining art and green infrastructure.  The Commission was the first of its kind in Melbourne with each entry responding to the questions: Can the environmental leadership of one building help transform a neighbourhood? How can a public artwork assist in this transformation?’

If you want to transform reality, why not play with it first? Like art, gamification could also become a useful tool in helping drive better sustainability outcomes by making it fun and rewarding. The quest for sustainability can be seen as a game in which players strive to create a better world.

The growth in the amount of users and flows of information being communicated over the internet is phenomenal. In December 1995, there were 16 million users on the internet (0.4% of the world population), while in December 2011, there were 2,267 million users (32.7% of the world population).  And an increasing amount of these people are playing games, so why not use them to instil good values and encourage better social and environmental behaviour?

People play games because of the fundamental emotional need to be challenged, be social and achieve recognition. Games can leverage an increasingly networked generation’s fascination with gaming and social media to drive sustainability in our personal lives and within organisations.

In businesses, most initiatives around sustainability usually consists of creating informative posters and sticking them around the office, which can have mixed results. Online games, however, might encourage greater employee participation and social competition amongst each other.

They can be provided with real-time progress updates on their phones, tablets or work computers, with indicators of whether or not they’re achieving set targets (such as reducing their carbon footprint, energy and water consumption, waste generation, or volunteer hours). In reward for hitting targets, employees might earn a monetary bonus or receive an extra day off. Those who don’t hit targets might be forced to buy a pizza for their colleagues.

An example for the work place is Practically Green a gamification platform for helping companies optimise their sustainability programs. It employs game mechanics such as leaderboards and badges to challenge people to form groups, take green actions and measure their environmental impact at work.

For general play, check out:

evoke was developed by the World Bank Institute, the learning and knowledge arm of the World Bank Group. The goal of the social network game is to help empower people all over the world to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.

World Without Oil invited people from all walks of life to contribute “collective imagination” to confront a real-world issue: the risk our unbridled thirst for oil poses to our economy, climate and quality of life.

TrashTycoon “in a distant, but not so unrealistic future, where people have abandoned your town because it has become covered with trash, you the player, have been left to clean up the mess; So grab this trash picker, invite your friends and start to clean up your trash-strewn town to become the Willy Wonka of the garbage business. Earn game money and experience points by collecting trash, upcycling it in various ways, and creating new and marvelous products out of recycled components”

iBloom is a Tamogochi-style simulation app in which players care for flowers while navigating environmental threats and learning about nature.

One Small Act 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.

Shane Gladigau

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Posted August 21, 2012 by equilibrium in Engagement & Communications

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