/ 24 July 2015

Rewarding good behaviour

App screen with completed house and money saved
App screen with completed house and money saved

Research has shown that we have a chemical reaction to social media and gamification (applying elements found in games, like point scoring, to other activities): every time you interact in this way, your brain signals the reward system and dopamine flushes through your body — whether you have done something rewarding or not.

In 2013, Ekoguru founder and chief executive Wynand Goosen did an MBA in San Francisco and was involved in an IBM programme where the fundamentals of gamification and enterprise systems were analysed. “I returned to South Africa and realised that there was a gap in the energy market. There wasn’t a way to make to make energy-efficiency more fun and engaging, a way to keep people on track and involved.” 

Goosen conceptualised Ekoguru and, together with design company Refresh Creative Media, was up and running in nine months. 

Working off the above insights, Ekoguru aims to use gamification and social engagement to encourage people to reduce the amount of electricity they use in their homes and in their daily lives. It’s done this by designing a system that works off feedback loops that positively reinforce a habit-forming emotional reward system. The system uses money — in particular, savings — to show users how well they are doing.

“First, it’s free for users, so subscribing doesn’t cost anything. You load information about your appliances and how many hours you use them for, and Ekoguru calculates how much energy you are using in rands. When you start to cut down, for instance by turning your geyser off for just a few hours a day, you can immediately see how much you have saved.” 

Once you have figured out how to mange your electricity consumption better, Ekoguru calculates the size of the solar panel system that will work best for your house or business. 

The site also has a market place component where energy-efficient product owners and operators can promote their product, demonstrating how much the consumer saves if they install, for example, a solar panel system.

“Because you pay upfront for solar, it can be hard to people to understand the cost saving benefits.  This [system] calculates when you will break even. Previously, people would ask ‘is it actually worthwhile?’ Now they can see that the cost is justified, especially with the electricity price hikes that will be taking place in the near future,” says Goosen.  

The data from engagement is being used to better understand South African consumers. Strategies can then be developed to figure out the way we use and save electricity and the quantified impact this has on the environment.

The project is also being piloted at schools and for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). “We’re building lesson plans to educate students on the environment and to get them to motivate their parents to get involved. 

“We’re also offering this as a useful platform for NGOs — they can calculate electricity consumption, but also share the information about Ekoguru and spread the message about being sustainably aware.”