Game Changers Guest Post: The Beanstockd Project

NOTE: We asked each of our 2009 Game Changers Awards finalists to write about their projects, what they’ve learned along the way and what’s next. This essay is by Sandra Ekong, founder, COO & Creative Director of Beanstockd.

Changing the Game for Online Games and Environmentalism

Quick stats before we get started:

Who we are. Pop culturites with a taste for green. Trendy, tech savvy, socially conscious individuals. A team of dedicated, driven and visionary minds determined to revolutionize the way the world approaches environmentalism.

What we do. Harness the power of digital media, online gaming, and pure entertainment to raise awareness and drive a large scale behavioral shift in the mainstream population.

Why we do it. Right now more than ever we are deeply aware that our generation is living through several major crises including an unprecedented global environmental tipping point whose significance has only recently come to public attention. In 2007 the United Nations released a landmark report stating that if we continue to live the way we do now, our world will reach the tipping point of irreparable environmental damage within the next 7 years.

We are also aware that now more than ever it is critical for individuals to be conscious of their everyday choices, choices that directly impact the sustainability of our way of life for years and generations to come.

Beanstockd’s mission is to invent a system that will ignite and catalyze a major shift in the way that mainstream individuals live their lives. We have developed a thoroughly-researched and conceptually ground-breaking tool we believe will drive the future of the environmental movement, using entertainment as a vehicle to engage the mainstream population.
Using the power of online media, popular culture, gaming, and social interaction we believe we can change the way we live our lives – in a world that now requires it of us.

So now that you’ve got the basics, here are the juicy details.

Beanstockd rebrands environmentalism in order to make it engaging and accessible, then provides a venue and incentive structure to allow individuals to subscribe to an environmentally conscious lifestyle.

The Beanstockd Project has two components: Beanstockd Media (live) and the Beanstockd Game (currently in beta).

Beanstockd Media uses pop culture as a vehicle to deliver environmental information to readers not normally interested in green. It is an online news site where our witty, irreverent writers cover breaking pop culture news stories (from politics to celebrity gossip) and spin in a piece of contextually-related green information– such as a tip or fact—into every article. The Beanstockd Game, a natural extension of Beanstockd Media, is at the core of the Beanstockd mission: to provide individuals the incentive and the venue to act on their newfound environmental awareness. The Beanstockd Game was built around the founders’ theory that a lack of accountability and lack of incentive are two gaps in the existing environmental movement that have kept it from connecting on a mass scale.

The Beanstockd Game is a web application which allows players to log and track personal and community-wide environmental efforts for prizes and social recognition. The game is a multiplayer community-based competition in which players compete in teams to accumulate points through their daily pro-environmental actions. At the end of the month-long competition cycle, the team with the most points wins a grand prize, or the ability to redeem their points for environmentally friendly products—thus giving their environmental actions purchasing power. What sets the game apart is the key location feature: the Beanstockd game takes place in a closed, geographic community–such as  a college campus or office building—and is designed as such so that the virtual world interface extends into the “real world” game environment.

Alternate Reality Game authority Professor Jane McGonigal wrote: “I’m trying to make sure that a game developer wins a Nobel Prize by the year 2032.” We believe that entertainment, immersion and competition (as embodied by games in general) are powerful forces that can be harnessed to drive an individual or group of individuals to change the way they perceive social issues, to change the way they live their own lives, and to change the world itself.

Our Story

The Beanstockd Project was founded in 2007 by yours truly, Angela Antony and Sandra Ekong, during our junior year at Harvard after returning to the states from a study abroad trip to Paris. After just the first few months abroad, we found we had adopted daily habits of our European host families, such as air drying clothing, taking 5 minute showers, and always using public transportation. These consumption-conscious choices became second nature to us, and upon returning home, we were struck by the realization that in America we live in a culture of excess – we often leave lights and appliances on, many people still do not recycle, and disposable goods are standard.

Our experience in Paris made clear to us that it took less than 3 months for two non-environmentalists living in a lifestyle-conscious environment to change our quotidian behavior, making small habit changes that in aggregate could make a big difference. If there was a way to recreate this social pressure on a mass scale in America, we surmised, it could make a massive positive impact on the environmental movement here in the states.

These discussions led us to develop our hypothesis pinpointing the three major gaps in the environmental movement. These three gaps are:

1. Negative stigma –despite recent press, the environmental movement is still popularly perceived as uncool, a waste of time, or is mistrusted as a marketing ploy; the movement does not genuinely resonate with the young adult generation.

2. Lack of accountability – people don’t really know the extent of their environmental impact, and are not held accountable for the negative effects some of their actions may have.

3. Lack of incentive –no direct incentive exists for individuals to make an environmentally-conscious choice over a more convenient or economical option.

Beanstockd was crafted to comprehensively address these three weaknesses, using the power of entertainment and social interaction to reach our generation and the mainstream population. Here’s how:

1. Negative stigma: Beanstockd Media makes accessing environmental information entertaining and easy by delivering it through the current events stories people actively seek out.

2. Accountability and Incentive: The Beanstockd Game gives players a venue to monitor their environmental habits, receive positive social pressure from their contributions through public information to the community, and be pushed by direct incentives for pro-environmental choices: prizes, points, and social recognition.

Proof of Concept…

Beanstockd has resonated powerfully in the green and media spaces, winning the MTV and Knight Foundation Young Creators’ Award, receiving funding and support from incubator DreamIT Ventures, and developing close partnerships with the Harvard Green Initiative, Subway Restaurants, MTV, and Fox Music.

We’ve grown our team of dedicated volunteers from two to 23 in twelve months. Our writers, editors, graphic designers, actors and videographers are located all over the country in New York, San Francisco, Tucson, Boston, Philadelphia, and internationally in Sydney, Australia and London, England. Our entire team has contributed to the constantly evolving and improving content featured in Beanstockd Media.

But most significantly, our success is measured in our loyal and growing reader base, leaping in size by 150% each quarter. Tens of thousands of readers visit Beanstockd weekly to immerse themselves in our smart, witty content and we’re excited to introduce all our visitors to the game in 2009.

There are some questions and challenges ahead…

We will most likely face our greatest challenge in 2009 when we launch the Beanstockd Game publicly and start receiving player feedback. Some of key questions that we will have answered are:

•    Will players find the game engaging? Will they play for a sustained period of time?
•    How will players respond to the larger concept? Are rewards and competition incentive enough for an individual to change his or her lifestyle habits permanently?
•    When a player leaves the game community, will they sustain the environmentally conscious habits they took up during the Beanstockd Game?
•    How will players react to the User Interface?

Answers to these questions will allow us to further improve upon and develop the Beanstockd application.

In the past two years we’ve learned a lot …

As first-time entrepreneurs the past two years have served as the most intensive learning and growing periods of our lives.

We’ve learned that a solid, innovative concept is only a concept until it is executed by a strong, passionate, and driven team. Luckily we’ve also learned that a novel, relevant idea and unwavering belief in its potential will attract incredible, well-qualified talent to the team, almost organically. Finally, we’ve learned that the best product is built through endless iteration, and that no versionis ever perfect but comes closer to perfect than the last; each iteration reveals new possibility.

The Gameplan

Our next steps are the following:

•    Continue growing our reader base for Beanstockd Media
•    Launch the Beanstockd Game at 3 top tier universities (to be announced)
•    Launch the Beanstockd Game at the Arthur H. Wilson elementary school in New Orleans – the first model green school in the United States built by Global Green USA.

As we move forward we are thinking about…

The Beanstockd concept is exceptionally relevant now as our world moves into an era of economic distress. In the United States and across the globe, individuals, households and corporations are acutely aware of the need to eliminate unnecessary consumption—now more than ever these environmental and cost-cutting tactics are a necessity for survival.
Environmentally conscious action not only catalyzes the reduction of waste and but also encourages responsible consumption, on the individual level and the enterprise level. Another goal of Beanstockd is to bring corporate responsibility to attention by an unbiased party, and to provide an incentive for consumers to purchase products which support socially responsible companies. We believe this incentive has the potential to drive corporate responsibility from the ground level up.

We are inspired by…
Muhammed Yunus, economist and Nobel laureate. Yunus’ Grameen Bank served the spark and a model for the initial structure of the Beanstockd game. The Grameen Bank is built on the theory that community development can be sustained and powered by social pressure; this theory inspired the Beanstockd game model and determined its key features: team-based play and competition on the local geographic level.

GLiving, a “next generation” lifestyle network which successfully changes the way we perceive green living today. GLiving’s outlook on the relationship between the environmental movement is relevant to our generation, emphasizing the trendy and as well as utilitarian side to green living, making it appealing to those whose lifestyle decisions are not driven by social responsibility.

Jane McGonigal, game design expert and alternate reality game guru. As a female and leading authority in a  traditionally male dominated space, Jane McGonigal is a serious role model to women innovating the tech space. McGonigal has served as such a role model for us since day one.

In closing…
We launched Beanstockd with the mission to make environmentalism accessible and appealing to people like ourselves, young adults or professionals who have not yet genuinely connected with green movement.

Our goal is to successfully combine the elements of very disparate ideas (environmentalism, pop culture, online gaming, and financial profitability) to create an innovative new information source and technology that functions not only as a successful business but as a revolutionary model for social activism.
We are changing the game for the environmental movement. By bridging the gap between entertainment and environmentalism, Beanstockd channels awareness into real-world social action and makes green relevant and rewarding for anyone and everyone.

More about Beanstockd here…
Beanstockd on PBS Mediashift Idealab
Beanstockd on Stage (video)
Beanstockd in Entrepreneur Magazine
Beanstockd Knight News Challenge Winners

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