Why coders, app developers have the best chance of saving the environment
You’re sitting on the couch watching TV when your phone dings. It’s a notification from the latest social app. Your friend just bought responsibly-sourced clothing. *Ding!* Your aunt is stepping up her recycling game. *Ding!* Your teacher from the fourth grade just organized a river clean-up.
On MySpace we found friends who liked the same music, and were further influenced to find new bands and share our favorites. And on Facebook we’ve created a space to bridge the gap between generations, culture, distance, and it has ultimately led to a fast-track of social change.
Peer pressure has a lot of influence. Say someone sends you a Candy Crush request. Just another game, you say. I don’t want to waste my time with it, you say. Then, suddenly, everyone in your social circle is sharing their scores and asking why you don’t play.
We’re more likely to do it if we feel there is some benefit (in this case, inclusion in a social activity).
But while Candy Crush is popular, it does nothing for the world around us (other than mediocre enjoyment, I’m assuming). What if we had a platform that gamified caring for the environment? And I don’t mean just virtually.
Gaming not only engages audiences, but the element of competition gives the user the incentive to do better. What if we could digitally quantify the eco-good we’ve done, and continue to do? What if constant challenge, between ourselves and others, could encourage us to pick up more trash, keep our energy use down, reduce waste, reduce meat consumption, reduce babies born (just kidding…sort of), and stop the cycle of continual buying that spurs our culture of excess? A social, game-like platform has the potential to encourage us to do more over an extended period of time.
Because that’s what we need. Not a one-time frenzy of picking up trash or a passing wave of reducitarian-ism.
The power of social pressure
Take my 2018 New Years Resolution to go without alcohol for a year. My migraines are sometimes triggered by my sinuses, which, incidentally, alcohol tends to congest. So I thought it’d be a fun (ha!) and cheap solution to a nagging problem.
I made this plan early in December, when I was still enjoying wine with my holiday festivities. Then, Christmas comes, and my husband got me a sleek electronic wine opener. It’s one of those tools that looks appealing in itself and you just can’t wait to use it.
I told him I intended to stay away from alcohol, but I would keep it because I would certainly use it in the future.
Fast forward to January 4, and I’m basking in the luxury of the wine opener’s smooth grip and the satisfying whir of pulling out the cork of a pinot noir.
We don’t operate on our best intentions over a sustained period unless we either have some sort of external support: a partner in your endeavor, a friend checking in on progress, etc.
Did I have moral support for this effort? No. My husband wanted me to use his gift. Also, my friends love wine. Did I have any sort of accountability for my goal? Also no. It was just me, thinking I was willful enough to stay away from my second-favorite liquid (coffee is never negotiable). And was my resolve strong enough to sustain me? Again, no. I am weak.
Having some sort of support can make all the difference in building new habits. Think about Fitbits. Before them, we didn’t know how many steps we took, nor was it a concern. But if we wanted to get more exercise, we just tried our best to get some movement in and didn’t have much in the way of measurement.
But then, lo and behold, Fitbit counted our steps. Suddenly, everyone could have a very measurable, easily-tracked goal. I aim to get in 10,000 steps, six days a week. If I want, I can share my steps with my friends and family on their app, comparing our steps, challenging them to do more, getting myself to do better.
We need something similar for going green: An accessible social space that challenges everyone to do better.
Social influence and pressure drive challenge. If enough people get involved, it makes it easier for others to feel it is worth their time. And fueled by social pressure, which is already a major driving factor among individuals “going green,” it’s likely we will do so, if not just to be seen doing the right thing.
We need something easy and accessible that anyone can do on a daily basis and something fun that people will actually want to open up and pay attention. We can set simple, measurable goals for ourselves, just like it was easy to set our goal at 10k steps a day. The app was ready to measure that goal for us. If a social app was ready to measure how many pieces of trash we picked up, or how many “green” products we swap in our household, we just might be setting ourselves up for success.
How do we get there?
Your average person can’t create an app on their own (or can they?) so I am calling on coders and app developers. Step up. Make something that will create another social space, but this time, one that does good for the planet. Make something that we can challenge ourselves and others to take steps to save the planet.
Next, I bet you’re wondering why haven’t I mentioned big companies who clearly do the most damage to our environment? I’m glad you asked.
Simply put, companies won’t change if the public won’t demand them to do so. Our elected officials won’t change anything unless the public demands them to make a change. In fact, we’ve seen a drastic backtrack in our environmental protections from the government in recent years.
Getting the average citizen involved in the green movement ups the stakes for big business, and in turn, it raises their expectations of the brands they frequent.
It isn’t a perfect equation, and it isn’t meant to let those big corps off the hook. But we stand with more to lose than they do if the environment continues to deteriorate. Therein lies our drive that big corporations lack.
And if we do create a facet of social media or gaming devoted to our personal eco-habits, we will have more skin in the game, to call out those big polluters and demand better.