‘Choice architecture’ and wider behavioural economics can help people to think differently, and make different decisions about the things that they already do. But in order to stimulate the adoption of new behaviours, we need to make these behaviours more attractive, and design them so that people will enjoy repeating them.

Games make behaviours enjoyable by arranging activities into structures of rules and stories, providing their users with learning, challenges and rewards. These activities might not be too interesting in themselves (for example, just kicking a ball), but when structured into a game (such as football), can become fascinating to millions of people. Deterding, S., et al. (2011) Gamification: Using Game Design Elements in Non-Gaming Contexts. CHI, Vancouver.Gamification is the process of applying game-design to everyday non-game activities to drive uptake or increase their impact.

One of the most pressing public policy issues facing the world is the need to cut our energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. Behavioural economics and gamification could be powerful instruments for tackling this.

CarbonCulture is an initiative set up to investigate how digital media, gamification and behaviour change theory can make it easier and cheaper to help people and companies save energy and carbon. Our ambition is to investigate and test whether modern design-for-behaviour-change approaches and digital delivery techniques can produce savings at higher speed and lower cost than is currently possible.

This approach, if successful, would help people and businesses to cut their energy bills. The tools used in this approach have huge potential to reach wide audiences at minimal costs. Unlike the linear cost of scale associated with most carbon saving measures, the cost of scale associated with delivering behaviour change through digital tools and online spaces could be near to zero – engaging a million people could cost only marginally more than engaging ten thousand people.

Delivering savings on this kind of scale could play a significant role not only in helping individual users and businesses save money and carbon, but could help to meet the UK’s national carbon reduction targets.

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