3 ways IT can support greener behaviors

Since the smart energy target group is broad, a single reason will not appeal to everyone. For greens, the reason could be global warming. For mothers, the motivation could be clean air to reduce asthma. For some, energy independence is appealing. For the small business owner, reduced costs are often compelling.

Yet a long list of potentially conflicting benefits may be ignored. My recommendation is to use IT to understand more about the energy consumer and then present each with the appropriate benefit.

The methods of high tech masters should be studied and exploited to sell energy smart behaviors. The retailer Target uses sophisticated data mining to find and then engage customers, as reported recently by the New York Times. Other companies use website traffic to determine values and interests.

3. You are a Winner: Use IT to provide frequent, simple and personalized feedback

Just sharing information periodically has proven to change energy use. The next level in providing information and feedback is making the process into a game. The game approach combines the best change management practices -- define the rules, provide a clear goal, make the score visible -- that hooks the player.

An early adopter of games is Cool Choices, a NGO that is using a gaming platform to make reducing one's carbon footprint fun.  Kathy Kuntz, executive director at Cool Choices, explained that when done well, a game will motivate the players to put in extra effort to win more points.

Cool Choices worked with Miron Construction, a firm whose business strategy was based on sustainability with its focus in LEED building. To encourage participation, the founders were deeply involved and reinforced the message that energy conservation was part of the firm's core beliefs.

Top management support is critical to get people to try the game, but it is difficult to maintain enthusiasm for long periods unless the game is easy, fun and pays dividends.

The player selects from a variety of actions and depending on the impact, points are rewarded. There were bonus opportunities for sharing activities and influencing others to help build a community.

Kuntz emphasized that points were used rather than dollars, kilowatt hours or carbon savings to maintain the gaming culture. When describing activities and benefits, Kuntz's team ensured there was "no geek speak."

The results are promising. Seventy-five percent signed up and 67 percent played. Prior to the game, less than 20 percent of the participants made a significant effort to save energy. After the game, more than 70 percent were making a significant effort.

As a frustrated captive forced to watch poorly acted videos, the failed HR attempts to make other types of training "fun," my advice is to remember that the investment and skill required to produce green games that are as engaging as commercial games should not be underestimated.

Conclusion: It's the System, Not the People

The environmental missionary, Paul Hawken pointed out that "ninety percent can do little. Our choices are very constrained." Hawken asked us to consider "A thousand who care deeply about climate change and a thousand who think it is hogwash. Compare footprints."

Hawken's analogy reminded me of the "85/15" rule first posited by Total Quality Manager guru W. Edwards Deming. Deming's research found that 85 percent of the participant's effectiveness is determined by the system and 15 percent by the participant. Likewise when there are inefficiencies or failures, 85 percent of the time it is due to the system.

IT has the potential to help reduce system challenges as we undertake greener behaviors. Technology can act as our servant and take care of repetitive behaviors such as turning off the lights. Technology can be our guide by directing us to information that resonates based on personal values and interests. Technology can be our coach with tailored feedback to keep us engaged.

To review the presentations referenced in this article and others from the recent symposium, visit Garrison Institute.

Photo of light switch via Shutterstock.com