Green Gamification Takes Root in the Big Apple

In my green lexicon, "gamification" gets a special prize: it's among the clunkiest words to enter the sustainability conversation, yet may just have some of the greatest potential to alter the behavior of consumers, employees and households.

Businesses are fast picking up on the promise. Gamification has unique synergy with green behaviors, with a knack for turning virtuous green actions -- such as carpooling or switching to CFLs -- from worthy but kinda joyless chores into tasks that earn rewards, gain recognition, and can turn ambivalent consumers into eager eco evangelists.

As part of Social Media Week's sprawling, 12-city lollapalooza of digital media events, the New York series included a panel entitled "Gamification: Combining Social Media & Game Mechanics to Promote Sustainability" that I caught late last week.

The panel brought together two recently sprouted startups with two established green brands.

Practically Green and The Mutual are both building businesses predicated on the power of gamification to alter green behavior, attract advertisers, and help organizations spur change.

Joining them were two groundbreaking companies, each born from innovative new approaches to recycling, Recyclebank and TerraCycle, each of which is increasingly using gamification to extend its reach.

Here's a quick run down of how these companies talked about how gamification is changing their businesses.

A Social Media Approach to Greener Behaviors

Practically Green helps organizations become greener by using technology and social networking to educate, motivate and reward people for making green changes to their work and home life.

Conceived in 2009, founder Susan Hunt Stevens took her inspiration for the Boston-based company from LEED, the exhaustive guide to designing and building greener buildings.

But instead of LEED's focus on building insulation or low-flow faucets, Stevens' approach tallies up over 400 green behaviors, from commuting by bike to buying local produce.

Speaking on the panel, Stevens described the program as "LEED meets Weight Watchers," for its blend of points and behavioral reinforcement through peer groups.

Next page: "Groupon for Good"