Practically Green – motivating sustainable living using gamification

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Over the last 2 months I have been taking my first online education class via Coursera.  The course is on Gamification and is taught by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton Business School.  It has been an overall positive experience.  I encourage others who are interested to check out the course options.  Truly Coursera, EdX, Khan Academy and others like them are transforming education.  But that is a topic for another time.  One of the gamification course segments was on the use of gamification in social impact settings.  It was through this section I came to learn about Practically Green.  Practically Green is an online platform which is adopts gamification tactics to inspire people to embrace healthy and more sustainable choices at home, at work at in their communities.  It is a cool company, that recently was named as a finalist at the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) Innovation Awards.  Read on to find out more.

WHAT IS THE BUSINESS ABOUT? 

Practically Green is a mobile and web platform which allows users to measure and track their choices and how they contribute to environmental and healthy living.  The site provides a suite of tools which use social and games mechanics to allow users to keep track of things such as water and energy use, CO2 emissions, etc.  in a transparent and fun way.  The way I like to imagine it is a dashboard of your personal contribution to energy-saving and its impact on society.  Originally started as a consumer product it now targets primarily corporate clients which allows them to let their employees track the environmental consequences of the day-to-day decisions they make in the office.  Some of its current clients include Unilever, MGM Resorts International, NBC Universal, Sony and eBay.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

The overall goal is to raise consumer awareness about the amount of energy, water and other resources they use to encourage them to reduce consumption to a level that is sustainable.  They measure impact of individual users by comparing their consumption choices with that of the conventional alternative.  So for example if you chose to use public transportation to get to work rather than a car, the energy and CO2 savings you get compare the public transportation contribution vs. that of driving alone.  All data comes from third-party sources.

HOW DID IT START?  

It was started in 2006 by its founder whose son had food and environmental allergies.  In an effort to understand the impact of different choices she was making for her son she grew frustrated by the lack of available information.  Around the same time she discovered LEED®, a system from the US Green Building Council that evaluates and recognizes designers and developers for incorporating green features into buildings. The idea was born.  Although it didn’t become operational until 2010.  That same year it raised 750K USD in seed funding from CommonAngels.  

WHAT IS THE SOCIAL NEED IT ADDRESSES?

The social need it addresses is the lack of information consumers and employees have about the impact their choices have on the environment and their own bodies.  Ultimately it hopes to reduce the environmental footprint of a consumer driven culture.  Using point systems and games it allows people to track and compare their performance to improve over time.

WHAT IS THE BUSINESS MODEL?

  • Value Proposition – For customers it allows a fun way for them to track their environmental footprint.  For companies it offers and existing plug and play application to allow them to help employees to make smart choices and reduce their energy consumption, both good for the environment as well as for electricity and water bills.
  • Customers/Channels – This is a B2B business, which sells a license to corporations to gain access to the platform.
  • Revenue Streams – I am assuming that revenues come from the sale of the license either on a per user or on a per time period basis to corporates and companies.  For the time being it is free for individual consumers.
  • Cost Structure – It is a 100% online platform so costs are minimal.  The office is based in Boston, MA and I assume the team consists mainly of developers, marketing professionals.  So costs are low.
  • Key Partners/Resources/Activities – Academics who help develop the measurement methodology, current customers.

WHAT ARE SOME CONCERNS I SEE WITH THE MODEL?

  • Engagement – What makes this site different from other similar platforms which tries to get consumers to measure their environmental footprint is the use of games; points, badges, leader boards, social media etc.  However even still I wonder how much or for how long consumers will stay engaged.
  • Superficial metrics – The key ingredient here is reputation and the ability of consumers to truly believe in the numbers. It seems it would be very hard to come up with detailed numbers that could be applied to the entire consumer population.  A lot of assumptions would have to be made putting at risk the value of the service or at the very least making it less meaningful.
  • Scaling – It will not be easy to scale the model from one geography to another.  A lot of the system was designed thinking about the United States.  How easy will it be to scale this to other countries? Types of consumers?
  • Barriers to entry – It seems there are not a lot of barriers to entry for competitors to build similar platforms.  The secret sauce is the so-called calculations to estimate impact and the games within the system.  My guess is that if the model proves successful others will copy and improve upon this model.  Nonetheless it seems pretty cool and I wish them much success.
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