Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Former Member

Gamifying Sustainability @ SAP

It’s astonishing how your past can haunt you and drag you back into the realm of what you thought you have left long time ago. 14 years ago I had finished my Ph.D. in chemical engineering on a sustainability topic. My thesis’ goal had been to measure the different exhaust gas emissions for oil-fueled heating systems in my native country Austria (the one without the kangoroos). For months we visited around the country families, chicken farms, hotels, schools and even the labor union’s headquarter to stick our measuring tools into the chimneys, take oil samples, run it on a standardized oil charge, clean the systems, measure again, skip lunch, rush from one appointment to another, just to fall into bed in the evening, exhausted, dirty, smelling oily.

Of course, as the only guy on the team with academic background, I was eyed with deep suspicion, when I first went with the mechanics and engineers to do the measurements. Because – as you must know – they considered me as unnecessary ballast, a theoretician with two left hands, who wouldn’t do anything useful except trying to look smart. I never succeeded with latter one anyways, but having been used to get hands-on during my master thesis, swinging the wrenches and screw drivers, getting coated all over my body with different types of flour (that’s another story, and no, it’s nothing sexual), I had succeeded here to do the same, with the only difference getting constantly soaked in oil. And believe me: getting heating oil off of your body is not an easy thing.

In the end, the results in my thesis “Emission factors for light oil-fueled heating systems in Austria” served as the basis for the state of Austria’s emissions and were communicated to the carbon dioxide reduction goals that nations around the globe had committed to in international treaties like the Kyoto or Rio protocols.

To cut a long story short: I had already forgotten about all that, because I had moved into the (much cleaner) software business. And then enters Gamification. And the highest number of examples that I encounter in the first batch of serious apps using gamification came from sustainability. This topic wouldn’t let me in peace. It pulls me back into it’s realm. 

And the reason for that is that contrary to my naïve believes, the carbon dioxide emissions that nations around the globe emit are higher than ever. And given the increase in the past decade and the urge to do something here, has triggered a series of applications that aim at empowering users and organizations to understand and act on carbon impact, global warming and hot speeches.

SAP Carbon Impact Reward
The first concept for a serious app around sustainability was SAP Carbon Impact Reward, done by a team in Palo Alto. By interviewing more than 100 people, the team focused on exploring people’s attitudes and reactions to sustainability, identify key areas of concerns, determine what motivates people to take personal action and examine the language used and needed around sustainability. It was important for the team to focus on what users do, not what they say they care about. If their concerns are environmental degradation, oil consumption, wasteful consumer culture etc., you need to look at the actions they take in their daily life, like recycling, biking, buying organic food.

An important aspect here was how such an application would fit into the daily life of the users and ideally would not require the users to change their lifestyle. Don’t focus on the big picture, give them small steps fitting into their behavior. The design principles for such an application should motivate effectively. This can be done by an easy and fast calculation of the financial benefits, how the behavior benefits the next generation (aka their children) and by avoiding a blame game. If the app leverages community influence, like through friends or colleagues in social media and is not authoritative, teaching and finger pointing from above, the better. For all that you need to build trust. Facilitate sharing information and knowledge about sustainable behavior with your friends and let them easily understand goals and their status. The final principle adds rewards to it, promotes competition and sends users on missions (known as actionable but not general or obvious recommendations).

The team mixed all these ingredients and resulted in a variety of scenarios and mini-application. One of them was the Bike at Work Initiative. With a browser based desktop application and a mobile app, a user can view his and his friends achievements using the bike. In addition to bike-related messages – including a video of squirrels chasing each other at the handle-bar of the user’s bike – these interactions with friends add to the appeal of the initiative. Earning points, giving feedback, rating each other’s “news-snacks”, giving useful tips to your friends, seeing calories burned and more interesting and entertaining information motivate the user to participate.

Bike Initiative - Desktop
Bike Initiative - iPhone

Another app designed in that concept was the Vampire Hunter. A bloody matter for the serious challenge of identifying “vampires” – or less prosaic: “products that waste energy” – on the corporate campus. By joining a “vampire hunt” – a kind of scavenger hunt – colleagues walk through a certain area of a building to identify old light bulbs, equipment in standby mode, old surge protectors that keep charging devices even if they are fully charged and other energy suckers. They take pictures with their smartphones and report that to the “vampire headquarter”. For each vampire found a total of saved kWh is calculated and awarded to the members. The result leads not only to a reduction in energy consumption, lower costs and potential tax breaks, but also to a networking effect of previously unacquainted colleagues. Communication is improved and a welcome break combined with fun game leads to a useful outcome for everyone.

Vampire Hunter - MobileVampire Hunter - Mobile
Vampire Hunter - MobileVampire Hunter - Mobile
Vampire Hunter - Desktop

A similar concept with the focus on the private citizen is Seeds. In this mobile application users earn seeds that they can grow in virtual flower pots, when they do something good for the environment. An activity feed informs you about what good things friends in your social network did, like recycling 20 sheets of paper, that they carpooled today to work, that they exchanged an old bulb with an incandescent bulb etc. Each activityrewards you with seeds, and after a certain number of seeds and taking care of your virtual garden, you achieve status and new levels. Crowd funding larger green initiatives include the installation of solar panels on community buildings, helps you collaborate towards larger goals. And once you reach certain mastery, imagine creating new challenges for the users.

Seeds iPad
Seeds iPhoneSeeds Blackberry

Home Carbon Challenge
This Facebook app challenges users to be more green than their  friends and neighbours. The idea is that a users utility use would be used to measure the green footprint of the user. The app is connected to smart meters to read the consumption. This application can be used on facebook, by following the link to the Home Carbon Challenge.

SAP Home Carbon Challenge

SAP Carbon Exploration
This Facebook app allows users to profile their lifestyle around their carbon emissions. By selecting the appliances in your home and entering data around your lifestyle, users can get an overview of their carbon impact, which at least in my case was pretty astonishing. Who would expect that driving my car adds sevent-something percent of my carbon foot print? Try it for yourself and bend your mind: SAP Carbon Exploration.

SAP Carbon Exploration
SAP Carbon Exploration
SAP Carbon Exploration

Green Soap
If you are an avid online-shopper, then the Facebook app Green Soap is for you. This application adds a carbon value to the cost of shipping, and allows users to compete with friends to see who has the least impact. The app also offers the opportunity to buy carbon offset credits to reduce a user’s footprint.But be careful: you might start shopping less online and bike to your next local store, this way also burn some calories, get fitter and in hot shape.

Watch a demo video or use it directly with your friends on Facebook.


In 2011 SAP piloted at its German headquarters a mobile application for carpooling, called TwoGo. More than 10,000 employees work in the area between Mannheim, Heidelberg and Karlsruhe, with some colleagues commuting even farther.  Employees enter in the settings their home address and building number of their office location, and whenever they want to share a ride, they indicate the time and location, if they want to ride as passenger or offer a ride as driver. In addition you can set preferences: do you want to share a ride with non-smokers, do you prefer to have no conversation etc. The system then suggest available rides or passengers, which you can accept or not and off you go. If more colleagues share the same ride, each participant earns more points, and other activities will be possible. Think “this week ride with 5 different drivers and earn double points”, “answer questions about the work of your fellow riders on that ride”, “this weeks Formula 1 Grand Prix on the nearby Hockenheim Ring will attract a lot of traffic, so if you carpool this week, earn a special Formula 1 badge” etc.

Considering the special situation for SAP employees in Germany – pretty everyone has a corporate car, including the gas paid by SAP – some of the benefits for SAP, the employees and the environment become clear. First: SAP immediately is able to see the drop in the gas bill. Several hundreds or even thousands of cars less on the road also means less gas used. And that means less carbon emissions. It also means that SAP needs less garage-space on the corporate campus. And a less tangible but very important effect: colleagues network with each other in a way, that is nearly impossible otherwise. The opportunities to ride with colleagues from unknown departments and learning about their work will have a dramatical impact on understanding products, efforts and opportunities. Also don’t forget that less traffic in the immediate area around SAP means less stress and a better corporate citizenship with the communities.  And last not least maybe we increase employee satisfaction, create friendship opportunities, marriages, babies and … I think I should stop here. You can see that I am a real fan of this application and can’t wait to get my hands on that once it is rolled out to the SAP Labs Palo Alto campus. In Germany in it’s first two weeks more than 2,600 of my colleagues signed up and shared over 5,600 rides.


SAP Carbon Impact on Demand
The On Demand solution from SAP is already available. It includes many of the concepts mentioned above, including game mechanics to engage users. Watch the videos on

Useful Links
Here are some more reads about Sustainability @ SAP, with more facts and data:

And if you want to see what more of SAP’s concepts, prototypes and products use gamification, then read these blogs:

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Mark Finnern
      Mark Finnern
      Hi Mario,

      Great collection and story about your theses.

      A lot of cool things have already been done, wondering what the InnoJam teams will come up with in Madrid.

      Thinking about the space and what can be achieved within 30 hours I don't have an idea yet. Reading through these examples didn't trigger anything either, more a wow that problem space has been covered quite a bit already.

      Hope it is only me, Mark.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Another gamified sustainability approach:

      Simple Energy: How Gamification Might Just Save the World