Monday, 14 September 2015

Eco-gamification: Game Changer for Sustainable Real Estate

By Mehgan Yen
Analyst - Sustainability Asia Pacific at CBRE



A powerful new approach - eco-gamification - is emerging which promises to significantly improve the ecological performance of buildings.  

Studies show that there is a solid correlation between tenant behaviour and building performance. Eco-gamification uses game mechanics and experience design to engage and motivate people to achieve environmental awareness goals. The idea is to induce meaningful and long lasting occupant behavioural change.

Simply put, even the 'greenest' buildings can be eroded by the environmentally unfriendly actions of its occupants. Despite the onus often being placed on building owners, without tenants who are committed to raising the sustainability bar, the built asset in question can lag behind.

The traditional methods of inspiring positive environmental actions such as green guides, sponsored events, newsletters, and posters have limited and short-lived success. Instead a shift in behaviour to drive innovation and improve skills is the way forward as cited by Gartner.

One of the most impressive cases of gamification leading innovative real-world change comes from an online protein-folding puzzle game called Foldit developed by scientists at the University of Washington. The protein structure of an HIV-related enzyme, that had stumped esteemed scientists for 15 years, was solved by players within just 10 days. The results contributed to a significant step towards finding a cure for diseases such as HIV and shows that gamification can help solve real-life situations. 

It is still early days for eco-gamification in real estate but there are already several case studies which demonstrate its profound implications. Google, for example, runs an internal Sustainable Pursuit program based on the LEED framework in conjunction with the popular board game Trivial Pursuit to guide the performance of its global campuses. The program pits teams from around the world against each other to compete for points by implementing locally appropriate sustainability initiatives and measures the green performance of their respective built environments. 

AMP Capital’s Green Tomorrow initiative is a zero cost success story in shifting behaviour to being more pro-environment. The initiative includes a 'Floor Wars' competition across seven stories of its Sydney headquarters with the objective of seeing which floor can reduce energy the most and achieve the highest waste recycling rates over a four-month period. As a result of this gamified initiative, a 15% reduction in energy was achieved and maintained.

Companies can start implementing green gamification methods for employee engagement. This will appeal to people through fun and interactive activities instead of the guilt, blame, and shame-based negative approach that is typical of office occupier approaches to environmental issues. In time, such an approach could become particularly useful in aligning the sustainability goals of occupants with those of building owners, facilitating environmental win-win situations.

The UN predicts that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. The impact of buildings on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will therefore continue to increase. The potential of eco-gamification should be thoroughly explored as an additional tool to help the real estate industry mitigate its impact on climate change and other sustainability challenges.

In conclusion, building performance can improve simply by leveraging our innate competitive instincts. The notion of harnessing the power of collectivity through gamification is exciting for both proponents and practitioners of environmental sustainability and behavioural change.

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