How Blue Shield, Sabre Holdings & SunPower Use Gaming for Good

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Sustainability professionals across the board will tell you that engaging employees or consumers is a fickle affair. What may work for one audience may fall flat with another, which is no fun for anyone.

There is one approach, however, that seems to be rearing its head more frequently in the sustainability context: Gaming. Just last month, for example, I reported that SunPower kicked off a Facebook contest to demystify solar energy for consumers, complete with a flashy grand prize of a solar energy system worth up to $25,000.

The contest is still underway, but early results are impressive. Within the first three weeks of the game's launch, SunPower’s Facebook community grew by 67 percent.

I learned yesterday how three other companies are using gaming in the name of sustainability. Blue Shield, Sabre Holdings, the parent company of Travelocity, and RideSpring, an outsourced alternative commuting service, joined SunPower in lifting the veil on their respective gaming-driven programs during a workshop held by the Business Council on Climate Change, a Bay Area organization of which GreenBiz Group is a member.

A quick look at the programs:

Blue Shield of California's Shape Up Shield program promoted employee wellness. Workers joined 130 teams and competed to walk the most miles, eventually logging in more than 200,000 miles.

Sabre Holdings' introduced an online tool to encourage volunteerism and sustainable practices. Use of the tool grew from zero to a 4 percent penetration rate during the first challenge period, which focused on volunteerism, and to a 26 percent penetration rate during the second challenge period, which incorporated sustainability.

RideSpring offers companies an outsourced program that offers employees the chance to win high-value prizes by opting for alternative commutes, such as bike or public transit. One participating law firm saw a quarter of its employees regularly use the service every month.

It was interesting to see companies use gaming platforms targeting entirely different facets of sustainability. A few key themes emerged:

• Beyond the desire to do good, a little healthy competition is a powerful draw; people just plain want to win, or at least just beat their co-workers. "The motivator was they could all see with regular check-ins how the other teams were doing," said Leilani Latimer, Sabre Holdings' director of sustainability.

• Games can be more effective than pledges, where workers commit to a certain type of behavior. "It's moving away from 'suffering' for the environment, to something that is fun and engaging," said Paul McGrath, RideSpring founder and CEO.

The honor system is alive and well. While many games don't have any verification systems in place to ensure participants are doing what they say they are doing, the panelists suggest they aren't needed because in a sense, they would be ripping their co-workers off, not necessarily their boss or company. "In our experience, particularly with social media initiatives," said Bryce Williams, Blue Shield's Director of Wellvolution, "you would be amazed by how willing people are to self-police one another."

For more on the methods companies are using -- including innovative techniques like gamification -- to make sustainable innovation happen, check out our upcoming GreenBiz Innovation Forum, October 11-13 in San Francisco.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Walt Stoneburner