Games and Utilities as Behaviour Change Tools

The CarbonCulture Platform


Once members have logged onto the CarbonCulture platform, they see a set of buttons, each leading them to a tool designed to help them save carbon. Different tools have different potential for engaging users and delivering carbon savings, and we specifically wanted to test a range of tools with a mix of benefits.

Key: 1 = Low, 5 = High
Scrunch OK Commuter Foodprints GO2
User Benefits Prompts you to go home on time (benefitting productivity), provides a comfortable evening work environment Fun to use, and lets you make witty comments about your journey to work Provides external will power: it helps you to sustain the discipline that you want Makes travel decisions that are more efficient, and helps you to spend less time on the road
Ease of Use 1 5 4 3
Potential Carbon Savings 4 2 5 4
Future Scalability 4 5 4 4


Scrunch has a high barrier to user engagement, but a high reward of carbon savings to match if used at capacity. Foodprints offers a medium barrier to engagement (everyone has to eat), and high potential carbon savings, although these don’t produce direct energy savings in the building. Finally, OK Commuter has a low barrier for uptake, but at present acts as a baselining tool. The substantial carbon savings available in this area would have to be accessed in a future development.


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Scrunch “Your comfortable evening working space”

Asking late night workers to relocate to a specific area of the office, allowing carbon savings by turning off the rest of the building.

STATS: DECC staff ‘scrunched’ 81 times, and used the ‘Going Home’ button 1561 times

DECC is a large building, and keeping the lights on outside of office hours in case people are working late is expensive and wasteful. Lights turn off periodically, so staff have to wave their arms regularly to keep them on.

Scrunch is an idea that can work in any office: reducing the ‘size’ of the office to the size of the workforce who are in the office outside of normal work hours. Evenings provide a great opportunity for saving energy if staff sit together and are able to switch off the rest of the building.

While the root of this issue is in energy efficiency, the savings are only achieved through a critical mass of uptake. Therefore, the focus must be on user engagement to unlock the potential savings.

The fact that Scrunch is an idea that came out of the workshops demonstrated that it was a real issue that people working at 3-8 Whitehall Place wanted to address, and suggested that there was high potential for user engagement. However, there must be barriers preventing DECC staff from ‘scrunching’ already. The CarbonCulture team sought to identify these barriers.

Barriers to Scrunching
– “I’ll only be here another 15 minutes, I promise”
—- “I have to shut down my laptop and restart it again, which takes ages!”
– “I’m comfortable here”
– “No one else is moving”

To address the first barrier (how much time it would take to move to a different floor), a differentiation was made between those members of staff who were finishing work and would be leaving soon, and those who would be working late. As in other interventions, identifying the audience who you seek to engage is key.

This identification was achieved through the prototype process of incrementally bringing the Scrunch start time forward. Each evening, members of the CarbonCulture team would walk around the building inviting people to Scrunch, and in the process had key user interaction around what was making each worker stay late. The level of human effort made by the CarbonCulture team to interact with staff at 3-8 Whitehall Place was specific to the prototype stage, and was necessary to develop ways that Scrunching could become habitual for staff working late.

An immediate learning from the prototyping process was that there was a technology barrier: the process of un-docking, and re-docking laptops. The approach to overcoming this barrier was to find a technological solution, and to present it to DECC staff in an easy to understand and encouraging way. This piece of communication provided a positive conversation starter that was initially aimed at Scrunchers but became a useful tool for all DECC staff.

Once the audience was identified and any material barriers had been addressed, there remained emotional barriers. There were two approaches to overcome these: directives and incentives. Behavioural theory suggests that ‘forcing’ late-workers to relocate would not receive positive reactions, leaving incentives as the key tool for getting staff to relocate.

The CarbonCulture team created a productive environment that they could incentivise staff to relocate to. This environment had to be better than the ordinary evening workspace. The incentives used to encourage staff to relocate were a space with continuous lighting that had already been cleaned, the provision of food and drinks, and friendly interaction. Announcements were made over the tannoy informing staff when the Scrunch area was open.

The approach of the CarbonCulture at DECC pilot sought to create lasting voluntary actions, and so it was important to encourage these actions through rewards (carrots) rather than directives (sticks) so that the action is seen as a choice and not something that is begrudgingly followed.

The CarbonCulture at DECC pilot sought to create lasting voluntary actions, so it was important to encourage these actions through rewards (carrots) rather than directives (sticks) so that the action is seen as a choice and not something that is begrudgingly followed.

Scrunching in particular is a carbon saving behaviour that may appear easy to implement through simply shutting down other areas of the office, so that people working late would have to relocate. However, from our research and speaking to staff, we decided early on that it was important to use the carrot rather than the stick.

It became clear to the CarbonCulture team once the online platform had been launched that a purely ‘working-late’ incentivisation scheme could be perceived to encourage people to work late. To combat this, we decided to equally reward the action of ‘Going Home’ on time.

Online Feedback and Interview Results — Scrunch

“Very pleasant experience. Made me feel comfortable, made me tea and offered me some food. Will definitely come again if I have to work late, thanks”

“First time scruncher – it was good. Promising website, tasty lemonade, what more can you want?”

“Delicious gingerbread man + tea, friendly atmosphere, nothing got lost when undocking laptop, setting up printer was really easy (30 sec) + you only need to do it once.”

Scrunch screenshot informing where tonight's Scrunch will be and allowing employees to record their actions of going to Scrunch or going home.


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Foodprints “Get into the habit of eating healthier lunches, and save carbon at the same time”

Encouraging users to save carbon by eating less meat and dairy at lunchtimes through a recording tool and pledge card system.

STATS: 2747 logged lunches, 110 cards registered

The food that an average individual consumes (or wastes) can be up to 20% of their personal carbon footprint. Carbon Trust (2006) The Carbon Emissions Generated in all that we consume; Sustainable Development Commission (2009) Setting the Table: Advice to Government on priority elements of sustainable diets; Lagora, R. & Sheane, R. (2011) Foodprint Calculator A quarter of this can be saved by eating less meat and dairy, which can also be healthier.

In defining the ‘audience’ for this tool, we identified a baseline intervention that would be applicable to all DECC staff, and would provide the opportunity for verifiable data recording through the in-building canteen at 3-8 Whitehall Place.

Foodprints provides the functionality for all staff to record what they ate for lunch. This is available through the online platform, and helps staff to visualise their eating habits. What an individual chooses to eat can be quite a personal action, so it was key to remain non-invasive, and to provide incentives for users to record their lunch choices in an easy to use process.

This was achieved through awarding fixed points for a user each time they logged their lunch, regardless of their meal choice. To keep people interested and engaged by the action of recording their lunch, the tool included some game elements. These allowed us to push levers according to what actions the user wanted to increase, and we added them to the advertising on the displays:

  • ‘Hidden Treasure’ – where extra points were hidden somewhere in the lunch recording tool for that week (pop up example)
  • ‘5 in a row’ – extra points for completing the recording for a whole week

Foodprints provides an easily accessible record of what users have already eaten that week, and the week before. This information may not get prioritised in the decision making process of ‘what am I going to have for lunch?’. Various factors, such as hunger, Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Allen Lane. Londonlow glucose levels, what friends and colleagues are doing, and what is being served may take precedence over what we normally assume to be a rational decision on lunch choice; based on what is healthy for you, and the planet. Providing a record helps to redress the potential imbalance caused by these competing factors, and allows users to change their habits based on this information.

This self-awareness and regulation has the potential for behaviour change, but it lacks the ability to incentivise changes through awarding points for healthier and less carbon intensive meal choices. This restriction exists because the information cannot be verified; if there were more points for registering a vegetarian meal, and those points lead to prizes, there is the potential for cheating and false data being recorded.

A ‘Pledge card’ provided two behaviour change functions. Firstly, the cards themselves were ‘pledges’, where DECC staff who used the in-building canteen could select one of three levels of commitment, based on the number of carbon intensive meals included on a 5-day card. The idea was that any user could start at any level, encouraging participation through low barriers to entry so that it was accessible to everyone. This could mean the people who loved eating meat and were reluctant to change, and the people who were already vegetarian or nearly vegetarian. Through making the choice of level themselves, they were more likely to complete the card because it was their own commitment.

The second behaviour change function was that the cards provided the opportunity for verifiable data collection through asking canteen staff to confirm the lunch choices. Through this, the CarbonCulture team could immediately offer different numbers of points for different meal choices, so that the decision making process included a record of one’s eating habits, and the opportunity to gain more points. An additional game element to encourage card completion was to offer ‘double point’ weeks if a card was completed that week.

Online Feedback and Interview Results — Foodprints

“I’ve been watching what I eat – it’s been helpful”

“I definitely ate less meat”

Foodprints screenshot allowing to record lunch or register a physical Foodprints card.


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OK Commuter

OK Commuter

OK Commuter “How was your journey today?”

A tool for users to record what transport type they took to work, providing a base for a creative description. The outcome is a calendar entry and a notification on the activity feed.

STATS: 2229 journeys logged

OK Commuter is usable by every member of the community. Travel, particularly the commute to work, also benefits from being a conversation point that Fox, K. (2004). Watching the English: The hidden rules of English Behaviour. Hodder and Stoughton. London.everyone loves to talk about anyway.

This first version of OK Commuter focused on establishing DECC’s baseline commuting behaviours, and adding a playful interaction on the CarbonCulture Platform that could increase and maintain engagement.

While this topic seems an obvious place to address CO2 production, the location and situation that it is implemented in affects the potential for behaviour change. For the CarbonCulture at DECC pilot in London, many staff were only able to travel by train, tube or bus due to the distance to work. Few people would drive due to external factors (parking costs, congestion zone).

However, there are still benefits from a recording tool for the commute to work in this setting, and behaviours may be changed. For example, there is potential if the individual has a few options to choose from, with one of them being healthier, cheaper or more environmentally friendly. One such situation would be if an individual could either take the tube two stops or walk instead. The action of recording the journey each morning, and the visualisation of the past four weeks’ travel can prompt different decisions in these instances as well as bigger travel decisions.

In addition to these influences on the decision making process, ego plays a role as a behaviour influence. Individuals may feel proud when they register that they walked or cycled into work in the rain or the snow, and this could drive competition between members of staff.

Certain changes in how people get to work require more than just awareness of the health and carbon benefits of a choice — such as cycling to work — since there are safety concerns to consider. Facilitating changes through producing ‘safe’ cycle routes, or group cycles, could be introduced in the future, after the audience is segmented into target groups.

OK Commuter is designed to be fun and simple to use — with a simple pull of being able to add a narrative to your journey. This is limited to 42 characters, and is intended to add a sense of community to the social proof. Individuals can view all the ways in which people have described their journeys that day, and see the statistics for how many journeys by each mode of transport were made.

OK Commuter let's people record their journey work and briefly describe their experience.


[...] CarbonCulture at DECC project, one of the most successful features (in terms of engagement) of the OK Commuter travel logging app was a question prompting users to describe that morning’s commute with a single word, which often [...] …

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All the tools in the pilot went through an iterative design and development process that involved prototyping and user testing at every stage.

GO2 was developed to a technical prototype stage; however, this pilot was not developed into a launchable tool. GO2 shows a lot of promise, and will be taken forward into future projects.

At DECC, as with other large organisations, the direct greenhouse gas emissions associated with business travel (particularly air travel) can be of a similar level to the direct emissions from the buildings themselves. The Sustainability and Estates team at DECC asked us to develop ideas for a tool that could bring down the rising trend in travel emissions.

Information about DECC’s transport emissions is not visible to DECC staff, who are thus unaware of the Department’s performance. The International Climate Change Negotiations team were surprised to find that the emissions from their flights made up a significant proportion of DECC’s total carbon footprint.

A variety of human incentives are likely to be at play in decisions over travel. For example, while many staff may see foreign travel as an inconvenience that impacts on family life, others may see it as a pleasure to be looked forward to.

The CarbonCulture approach was to complement existing processes, such as the approval of certain trips, by making travel data visible to staff at this stage, and by using gentle, social pressure to help eliminate discretionary travel.

The underlying principle is that establishing a new information flow is often a critical step in changing behaviour, and is particularly useful when reduction targets are also set. The concept for the intervention was therefore similar to the ‘Real Time Energy Displays’ that CarbonCulture created for DECC. In this case, the display showed emissions and costs associated with business travel.

Data about a journey were collected through an online tool at the time of booking and provided staff with instant feedback on the environmental impacts. Summary data could be displayed in interactive graphs and tables, allowing staff to explore and fully comprehend the impacts of their and their colleagues’ travel in terms of carbon and costs, and to monitor progress against reduction targets.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has a significant amount of international travel. Through working with this audience, we were able to learn some valuable lessons about how to integrate this type of tool with an existing travel booking infrastructure. These lessons have led to further developments of the tool, which we are very excited to test in the next CarbonCulture pilot.

GO2 Screenshot allowing people to request and record their business trips and mode of transport


You said "OPEC is likely cntuitg oil production by 2 million barrels/day. Doing the math, that equates to 740K metric tons of CO2e per day, or 270M tons per year. "Now, I don't exactly know the math involved but is 740K/day the result of cntuitg production of 2 million barrels a day or the result of *not consuming 2 million barrels a day"?I ask because there's a huge difference between the two.If the answer is the latter (not consuming), then we're not really saving 740K/day because we wouldn't be using less oil. In fact (assuming this is the case) the only thing OPEC has accomplished is keeping the price of oil from dropping even lower than it already has.On the other hand, if we are saving 740K/day by just not producing 2 million extra barrels of oil a day then that's definitely a good thing. Of course, this still affects the price of oil as supply will catch up with demand. …

Okay, I looked at the rrpeot. It had different figures than the ones I found. But the math still doesn't work. If we just take up through 2005 (as far as the rrpeot you cited goes), then the total amount of CO2 released above the 2000 level for the years 2001-2005 is 188 MMT, or 3.2% over the five years. If we assume that there was no further increase in 2006, then the current rate (according to the DOE) is 6008.6 MMT per year, while the 2000 rate was 5853.4, a difference of 155.2 MMT. The figure of 10.8 over 13 years in the CNN article is actually somewhat above the figure given in the original ACEEE rrpeot from which it was drawn, but let's give Rep. Markey the benefit of the doubt and use it anyway. 10.8 MMT over 13 years is .83 MMT per year. 155.2 divided by .83 is 187. Not the 3000 I said (turns out I was looking at global percentage increases) but still a lot more than 50. Interestingly, to get back to the 2001 rate would actually require more, nearly 300. And all this is predicated on the basis that the move to daylight savings actually reduces the total energy consumed by the U.S. by about 4% for that one hour. That seems quite high to me. Does the total U.S. energy expended on lighting amount to 4%? I don't know. But remember that some of the savings will be counteracted by increased energy usage in the morning and increased usage due to increased activity in the evening. …

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