BE Blogs: A Voice for Responsible Business
As part of our sustainability pledge to discuss best practices openly and honestly, we share insights that allow others to effect change in their community. While companies have responsibility to drive change internally, we believe they also can add to their insights and impact by sharing their experience with others.
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When I begin to discuss sustainability with people, I get a lot of blank stares and questions. I then default to the buzzword ‘green’…
“Oh, I understand what that means!”
But that easy and fast response tends to make me cringe.
I am so passionate about sustainability but qualifying it with the concept of green, triggers images of hippies chained to trees. What I am talking about is an all encompassing term that defines responsibility; responsibility to our environment, our local communities and the world. I don’t want to deemphasize the importance of sustainability with such a simple word but I also know that an easy understanding of the concept is the only way we will grow the importance of sustainability…and, I will admit, in the world of SEO, green is a major keyword.
So what does green mean?
As a marketing mind, I consult Wikipedia for societal and trending definitions, and I found exactly the cliché explanation I was looking for:
“Recent political groups have taken on the color as symbol of environmental protection and social justice, and consider themselves part of the Green movement, some naming themselves Green parties. This has led to similar campaigns in advertising, as companies have sold green, or environmentally friendly, products.”
Another cringe-worthy moment as I read about the Green movement and green products in one paragraph. One speaks to capitalism and a greater economy; the other, to that “green” cleaning product you just bought that is “better for you and the environment”. Green tends to be overused and misused, usually highlighting only a small piece of sustainability; I want to broaden people’s view with a much wider range of topics, the important ones.
In an article by Bahar Gidwani, he identified the rainbow of sustainability, the numerous “colors” that define this growing market. He surveyed a few thousand users from his site, CSRHub, and assigned a color to the different focuses of each group.
Green: environment focused; this group ranked environmental issues as their highest concern.
Blue: community and employee focused; this group pushed up the importance of community and employee engagement, and de-emphasized environment and governance.
Red: governance focused; this group wanted companies to be ethical, have a balanced and diverse board, and to be transparent about their behavior.
Grey: “all things being equal”; this large group of people declared all topics of sustainability to be more or less equal.
White: follow a leader; these members did not have a strong opinion, or they were more interested to know how “everyone else” feels about various issues.
Perfect; we now have a wider spectrum of colors to help us break down sustainability but what will really help professionals define this growing industry?
Robert Pojasek, via GreenBiz.com, defined sustainability as follows:
“Sustainability is about behaving in a way that can be continued or sustained. To operate sustainably, an organization must act in a way that is consistent with and supports the well-being of the physical environment and all of the biological communities and economies of the locations where they operate.”
He didn’t mention ‘green’ once and defined sustainability in a way that people can understand, well most people; Pojasek’s definition may elicit a few blank stares as it is strongly intellectual.
I want to move away from the simplicity of green but still use common words that give a smart, but understandable definition. Then I came across and article by Tim Mohin titled “Less is More Obvious: Why Sustainability Is So Hard To Define.” Mohin put it as simply as this,
“It is an expectation that you treat people and our planet with respect.”
Amazingly well put. Society lives off this planet, we will affect it but we can control the repercussions by respecting the world around us.
What do you think? Is ‘green’ too strong and important of a buzzword to leave out or can we start to explain sustainability by using words such as respect and responsibility?
For many customers, green has lost a lot of its luster. Yes, consumers care about the environment. Yes, they reward good corporate citizens and punish bad ones. And yes, sustainable companies often outperform the general market. But mainstream America still has yet to embrace green practices as the norm. How do we revive mass-market sustainability now that the “green party” is over? How do we take green from niche to normal?
How to create behavior change:
Enter Gamification. As explained in the video below, “gamification is the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems.” In simpler terms, gamification takes the same reward systems that make games fun and applies them to real life actions.
Games are designed to push the little buttons in our brains that signal rewards for certain behaviors (which is also why they’re so addictive). If you can align your green product or service with that primitive desire, you’ll reap profits while we all receive environmental benefits.
So what does gamification have to do with sustainability?
Game mechanics can take an idea that is sometimes associated with guilt: green, and turn it into a competitive and engaging social activity. What if “green living” turned from a culturally divisive lifestyle choice into a friendly competition?
How would this look in practice?
For this illustration, let’s use a public transportation company. It could be a bus system, a subway; it doesn’t matter. What if this PT system successfully designed an online game where users competed against their peers to earn rewards by utilizing public transportation rather than driving places? Users would earn points by swiping their metro card, and by doing so, would achieve a higher status in their online world. They’d compete on things such as pounds of carbon saved, or gasoline saved, or something of the sort. Furthermore, they would be able to see the points and status of closely ranked friends, and the service would tell them how to “beat” the person directly above them, encouraging deeper engagement.
Of course there are environmental flaws in a system like this, but you get the point. Soon enough, riding the bus isn’t about saving a couple of bucks on gas, it’s about beating your friends and becoming the winner…for now.
Now, come up with your own ideas!
Our example is enough to get the point across, but you all probably have much better ideas. How would you use gamification strategies to drive your customers (or your employees) to green action? And for a deeper explanation of gamification and its opportunities, check out the video below. It might just make for the most interesting hour of your day.
Image used under Creative Commons from harrisonweber.