When it comes to environmentalism, we usually have the best of intentions. We turn out the lights when we leave a room, use public transit, buy environmentally-friendly products, and attempt, in numerous ways, to cut down our ecological footprint. But what about those late nights coming home from work when we need just a few things from the store and can’t be bothered to run home for the reusable bag? While one plastic bag here and there is relatively harmless, many of us have a shamefully large stash crammed in the corner of some dark pantry, and we seldom, if ever, have to face the consequences of our own apathy. So how do you encourage a sustainable lifestyle within the boundaries of a society that places such a high value on convenience? Bennu believes that it can be all fun and games.
Bennu is a company that builds green campaigns for businesses through a combination of gamification – the practice of applying game design principles to non-game settings – and social media marketing. It was founded in 2010 by partners Kevin Ng, Sayaka Eto and Ashok Kamal because they were, “disturbed by the amount of pollution and waste being generated by society,” Kamal explained. “The world we live in today is not sustainable in terms of the rate that we’re depleting natural resources and damaging ecosystems, in comparison to the planet’s ability to replenish
“At the same time, we felt that sustainability presented a growing business opportunity for companies to innovate and differentiate, while solving environmental problems,” he continued. “We identified social media marketing as an ideal channel to develop and communicate green initiatives. So we created Bennu to make business sustainability more engaging, fun and profitable.”
But how effective can green social media campaigns truly be, in modifying the daily behaviors of individuals? “The rubber hits the road when online engagement translates to offline actions,” Kamal began. “We have to leverage cloud computing to reduce emissions among clouds in the sky – otherwise we’re just creating noise. We’ve found social media to be effective in educating and encouraging people to change their behavior. The key is creating informative and supportive community that recognizes and rewards progress.”
Kamal pointed to their partners at Greenbean Recycle in Boston as an example of a company successfully driving green engagement through social media and good old fashioned competition. Students on the MIT and Harvard campuses “compete to increase the recycling rate and get rewarded with bragging rights and discounts. Greenbean’s social media channels are used to highlight leaders, provide real-time status reports and share achievements with friends. As a result, schools have experienced up to a 40% increase in the recycling rate.
“The goal is to make sustainability a game based on challenges and rewards,” said Kamal. “Most people play games to socialize and achieve. Most people participate in green activities out of a desire to be part of a community and feel good about improving the world. The bridge between gaming and greening is fun; if you can make going green more fun, you can accelerate the curve.”
While the effect of green campaigns toward changing individual’s behaviors is measurable, why should companies care? “Bennu’s goal is to position sustainability as the greatest competitive advantage for the 21st century and beyond,” Kamal replied. “Whether looking at the benefits toward risk management, employee engagement, cost reduction, product innovation or brand equity, sustainability is good business.”
And at the end of the day, isn’t any good business concerned with its own sustainability? Now, if only we can get them all to go green…