EXCLUSIVE: With 169 targets and 232 indicators across 17 large-scale sustainability challenges, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are often seen as a communications challenge due to their scope and scale. But by using gamification, Bournemouth University has managed to engage the majority of staff with the vast SDG agenda.
Bournemouth University made headlines last year when its vice chancellor John Vinney signed the Sustainable Development Goal Accord, committing the entire organisation to align its cross-departmental 2025 development strategy with the Global Goals. The move, Vinney said, was taken to support the sustainable development of the region as well as having a “positive impact worldwide” on key environmental and social challenges.
Given that numerous recent studies have found that companies across the private sector are failing to embed the SDG agenda within their strategies and actions – and to engage stakeholders such as staff, consumers and boardrooms with this global challenge – you’d be forgiven for assuming that the University would struggle with these same issues.
But according to the University’s sustainability manager Neil Smith, combining information on the SDGs with a gamification scheme that tracks and rewards positive action has “empowered and enabled” more than half of its staff to incorporate actions which directly contribute to the SDGs into their daily routines.
Last year, the University opened up the JUMP behaviour change scheme to all 2,000+ of its direct and Student Union employees after a successful six-month pilot in 2017. Operated by employee engagement firm Green Rewards, the app-based initiative rewards staff for taking part in activities that support one or more of the 17 Global Goals – such as travelling sustainably, minimising their plastic waste output and reducing their water use. Crucially, participants are told which SDGs they are contributing to every time they use the JUMP app.
Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of his appearance at edie Live 2019 next month (scroll down for details), Smith revealed that more than half of the University’s staff are now engaged with the scheme, with participants having mitigated the use for 970kg of single-use coffee cups, prevented the emission of 99 tonnes of CO2 and travelled 240,000 sustainable miles to and from work during 2018.
This progress is logged via JUMP’s digital app, which rewards participants with “points” for positive actions before ranking them in department leader boards. The University then rewards the winning participants with a donation to a charity of their choice every six months – something which Smith claims has been “instrumental” in driving unprecedented engagement.
“Staff engagement is quite a tough nut to crack, not only in terms of catching people’s attention in the first instance, but in keeping them engaged and interested in the longer-term, particularly with something as broad as the SDGs,” he said.
“What we’ve found is that a lot of staff are quite competitive, and by bringing that competitive spirit out, we keep the interest going. We haven’t achieved anything like this before and believe gamification is a key part of its success.”
Two (thousand) can play that game
In addition to the JUMP scheme’s bi-annual prizes for sustainable behaviour change, Bournemouth University also runs monthly “sprints” via the app, encouraging staff to focus on a different area – such as reducing plastic use when eating and drinking on-the-go, or purchasing Fairtrade products – every month.
Points are awarded for all activities as usual, but double points are given for the focus activity. At the end of each sprint, the University awards the top three teams with personal prizes.
According to Smith, this model, which provides frequent rewards and the consistent opportunity to get involved in a competitive game with colleagues, has proven far more effective than schemes which solely provide information or punish “negative” behaviours alone.
“The great thing about having a digital platform is that it gives us the ability to shape people’s choices and form new habits,” he explained.
“Instead of saying ‘we’re going to tax you for that’ and therefore enabling them to continue what they’re doing in a slightly more expensive way, we can then get them on board with the platform and into a community where they are rewarded for good behaviour of all kinds.”
The University still displays SDG-related information on its website and across its campus and charges a 20p levy for every disposable cup purchased at its food and drink outlets but for Smith, JUMP has helped make the SDGs more “real” to staff.
He explained that while some staff have always been engaged with the global sustainability picture and others have had to be told about the personal benefits of environmental actions before taking them, the scheme has “empowered” both groups by enabling them to track their individual and team progress towards the Global Goals.
In a bid to drive SDG engagement beyond staff who use the JUMP app, the University has begun badging its internally distributed news stories and other internal communications with the relevant SDG logos. These are sent to staff and students and receive a 65% engagement rate among staff.
The SDG graphics are also being placed next to “sustainable” food and drink offerings at campus outlets, such as products which are certified as Fairtrade or vegan.
To ensure its commitment to the SDGs also impacts the research it puts out into the wider academic community, the University is additionally asking researchers to explain which Global Goal their project is contributing towards at the point of application. Academics from all departments are then encouraged to partake in the organisation’s Education for Sustainable Development Awards, which recognise those who are either undertaking research to drive the SDG agenda or incorporating the Goals in the way they communicate and collaborate with students.
“Progress so far has been really heartening – we’re now working on getting the SDGs properly embedded into the way that we operate, so that making positive contributions becomes second nature,” Smith concluded.
Bournemouth University at edie Live
Bournemouth University’s sustainability manager Neil Smith will be appearing on the circular economy theatre at edie Live next month (21-22 May 2019), as part of a panel discussion on driving internal engagement on resource efficiency. Taking place at 12.45pm on Day One of the event, the debate will see Smith joined by experts from Hubbub, EY and Costa Coffee, who will explore how solving the engagement challenge can help whole industries become circular.
The session is just one of many taking place across four theatres during the two-day show, which is edie’s biggest of the year and a highlight in the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals. Under the theme of “turning ambition into ACTION”, we will be bringing attendees the inspiration and solutions needed to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their organisation.