Virality of sustainability through gamification

Shea Zwerver

May 13, 2015

4 Min Read
Virality of sustainability through gamification
Video game designer Jane McGonigal makes a compelling case for why we should play more.

When it comes to sustainability, games can be used by industry to educate, train, empower and engage professionals, especially younger generations just entering the workforce.

The word “gaming” makes me think of my 14-year-old nephew up until the wee hours of the morning talking to kids from across the world, trying relentlessly to kill some bad guys. I can picture him in the dark basement, wide eyes expressing his level of absorption into this virtual world, wearing a headset and his hands crippled around a controller.

This generation of Millennials and Generation Y are growing up in a digital age. Digital gaming is becoming a mainstream avenue of education. Gaming can be effective in capturing attention, as well as absorption/retention of a subject matter. When it comes to sustainability, games can be used by industry to educate, train, empower and engage professionals, especially younger generations just entering the workforce.

As sustainability becomes an increasingly integral part of business operations, it is vital to have an aware workforce. When companies implement environmental initiatives or set sustainability goals, most often the entry-level laborers are the ones carrying out the daily functions and tasks that need to be altered to achieve those goals. Some companies conduct trainings on sustainability to ensure all employees have a basic understanding of sustainability and how that translates to their daily operations. An educated workforce equips businesses to carry out sustainable operations and fosters a workplace where sustainability thrives.


Employee engagement and sustainability education was the intent of GreenBlue’s Sustainability Game. Originally developed by Alcan Packaging as a board game to engage an internal corporate leadership team, the game has evolved to a public educational tool with room for customization. The Sustainability Game is a simple and fun way to get employees to better understand sustainability, particularly as it relates to consumerism, waste and business (see sample screen above).

Author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” Jane McGonigal discusses the qualitative benefits of playing games in her TedTalk. “When we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimization and we are more likely to reach out to others for help…you are adopting creative ways to face real-life challenges.”

Practicing creativity can drive innovation, which is key to companies’ adapting to the depletion of key natural resources, rising commodity costs, and volatility of markets and prices. A 2011 article from Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, stated that, “By 2015, more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.” So, are we there yet?

Through the simulation of games we can adopt strategies for real-world scenarios. A growing number of games are simulating modern day environmental issues and real work atmospheres. For example, people can experience potential consequences of severe storms in a region or explore the lifecycle of a product that goes to landfill versus a product being recycled. These simulated experiences could then be used for planning for real-world outcomes or potential long-term consequences. 

Many characteristics of games can be used in the workplace that can benefit the organizations business/operations, including:

• Having challenging but achievable goals. Short-term, achievable goals can encourage participation.

• Clear goals and well-defined rules “of play” can empower people to complete tasks.

• Rewarding people boosts productivity and drives performance.

• Games facilitate peer collaboration and face-to-face networking, allowing people to interact in ways they would not normally do so in their daily routine.

In summary, people get engaged with things that are fun and exciting, we live in a more and more digital-based world, and sustainability should be, and is increasingly, at the core of business operations. Games can weave together these three things: sustainability, engagement and business.

If we are going to change the outcome of our future we need the population involved and engaged. The virality of sustainability can create change—all we have to do is play the game.

Author Shea Zwerver joined GreenBlue as executive assistant in September 2014. Prior to that, she worked for Aramark in sustainability, The Nature Conservancy, Penn Institute for Urban Research and Morris Arboretum.

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