Greening the Corporate World With Social Networking 0

Rachel Nuwer | Thu Jun 21 2012

The startup Practically Green is on the vanguard of a movement to bring sustainability to social platforms, pitting friends against each other in friendly competition to make their lives “greener.” Now, the Boston-area startup is seeking to bring the spirit of green competition into the workplace.

So far, over 11,000 users are registered on Practically Green’s site, with thousands more participating through their companies. Sixteen companies have signed up for Practically Green’s offerings, including NBC Universal, Kendall-Jackson Winery in Sonoma County, a global entertainment corporation and a smart-grid company, says Sarah Finnie Robinson, a founding partner and head of social at Practically Green.

There’s evidence that having simple, employee-centered sustainability initiatives can help companies attract top recruits. A survey last year of workers under 25 by the consulting firm Mercer, cited in CNN Money, noted that a company’s reputation is the fourth most important draw and sustainability is an increasingly component of reputation.

“Potential employees coming into a company know that organization is sustainably-minded, which adds value since this issue is on graduates’ minds these days,” Robinson says.

Gaming green

Practically Green works by creating small, sustainable tasks for individuals and businesses. New participants begin by taking a quiz to rank their baseline “green” score. From there, they earn points by completing any of the over 500 listed actions on the company’s site, which are broken down into categories (Health, Water, Energy and Stuff).

For example, unplugging your exercise routine earns 10 points, while building or buying an LEED-certified home earns a whopping 600 points. There’s also a section designed solely for greening the office, and businesses signed on with Practically Green can make their own personalized plan by selecting which actions to present to employees. The site provides ideas, ways to implement them and easy-to-understand explanations for why those actions help the planet.

The incentive to participate in Practically Green builds upon the power of social networks. The site is offered on Facebook, and users can challenge their social media-using friends to green competitions. New achievements are displayed on participants’ walls, inviting comments from other friends. An active Twitter following is constantly trading ideas and clearing up questions as well, like whether or not fluorinated toothpaste is a good idea.

Building corporate sustainability

Practically Green launched on Mother’s Day in 2010, and it soon attracted the attention of NBC’s Green is Universal campaign.

“For us, it’s important to communicate the message to consumers that small actions add up to make a big difference,” says Maggie Kendall, senior director of marketing and partnerships for NBC’s corporate social responsibility department. “We wanted a way to be positive and actionable rather than preaching or telling people to completely change their lifestyle, and the Practically Green platform aligned so closely with that.”

Practically Green creates newsletters and private news feeds within the companies so co-workers can see where they stand on the green competition and comment on each other’s actions. For NBC, they even designed an app called One Small Act. It challenges users to fill a digital garden by translating real-life actions, like taking shorter showers, into garden earnings, like a fishpond.

Robinson works closely with chief sustainability officers, a new leadership position that’s popped up in 29 of the 500 Fortune 500 companies and is responsible for keeping their organization focused on green goals. Practically Green organizes conference calls between all of their participating CSOs so they can swap ideas and discuss strategies for getting employees to recycle cardboard, or set up a compost bin in the office kitchen.

“People want to start greening up their lives,” says Practically Green’s Robinson. “This is their go-to resource for making those decisions confidently and in a way that they can share with their friends and colleagues.”

Top image: Screen shot from NBC Universal’s One Small Act app.