Could this behavior game turn the world green?


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

Bill Heward, co-author of the foundational ABA text that has come to be known as “The White Book,” published an article with co-author Jonathan Kimball in Sustain Magazine outlining an innovative way to promote energy conservation.  The article, titled “Sustaining Sustainability with Clueless Contingencies” draws upon a highly successful conservation incentive system at Bowdoin College in Maine.

As part of the it’s overall sustainability program, the College holds an annual dorm competition to see which dorm can be the “greenest.”  During the competition, real-time feedback is provided on energy use and the winning dorm receives trophies for their success.  In 2011, the Baxter House dorm reduced their energy use by nearly 40%.

Heward and Kimball explore how we can practically translate such a system into our daily lives.  The main requirement is that sustainable behavior targets must be repeatable and be able to be performed by many people, such that the behaviors can contact immediate consequences (ICs).

The authors suggest a game of “Conservation Clue,” based on the classic board game — except in this game, the players want to be caught, and you need six things to get started:

1) Target Green Behaviors: We want behaviors that can contact many ICs, like turning off light switches when you leave a room or taking the bus.  This means purchasing solar panels for your house, or that new hybrid vehicle, don’t count.

2) Determine How to Detect and Measure the Behaviors: One drawback of the dorm competition is that the feedback was at the group level, not at the level of individual behavior.  Thus, the actual behaviors that contributed to the reduced energy use were not clear.  One way to measure green behaviors is through their behavioral products (e.g., energy-efficient light bulbs, recycled material, etc…).

3) Ready the Playing Field: This means making it as easy as possible for people to participate and prompting people to participate.  In other words, you are more likely to engage in green behavior if it is easy to do — if recycling bins are plentiful and mass transit is convenient.  Also, you are more likely to engage in green behavior if you are prompted by signs and other people’s actions as models.

4) Select Rewards: Variety is key here as all of your participants will have different preferences.  However, the authors note that the magnitude of the rewards aren’t really that important, as long as they are effective.  On a college campus, this can include bookstore discounts, gift certificates for food, etc…

5) Make It a Game: Everyone likes games.  They have a nearly magical ability to make mundane tasks fun and exciting.  The key to every game, of course, is figuring out how to win.  The authors recommend supplying rewards for green behavior in an unpredictable way through drawings involving everyone who qualifies.

6) Evaluate, Revise, and Play Again: The authors recommend Conservation Clue be an empirical game of sorts.  In other words, the effectiveness of the game at increasing sustainable behavior should be under constant scrutiny with an eye towards constant improvement.

So what do you think about Conservation Clue?  Let us know in the comments below.  If you find it interesting, be sure to read the full article which goes into much greater detail.

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2 Comments on "Could this behavior game turn the world green?"

  1. Nice idea! Put an app with it that tracks behaviors and permanent products (utility bills, etc) and you have a global idea! I have a blog focusing on gamification and this is a great compliment to the idea. Do you mind if I post a link to this page? Would you care to reciprocate?

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