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SaveOhno's proven gamification model will engage thousands of MIT students & alumni to leverage MIT’s technology and reduce campus emissions



There is a critical missing factor in MIT’s work on climate change: the full engagement of the wider campus in the demonstration and implementation of MIT’s world-leading technologies. This lack of full engagement reduces the impact of work emerging from the labs, and from the Climate CoLab. As a result, MIT’s goal of at least a 32% emissions reduction by 2030 over a 2014 baseline, and the global goal of staying under 2oC warming (IPCC, 2014 p10) are not being fully served by MIT’s innovation.

SaveOhno provides that missing factor. We use the science of engagement to create a positive, growing, and enthusiastic tide of change in climate action. Appropriately for MIT, this is not the usual ‘points and badges’ approach. Instead, SaveOhno uses advanced gamification to engage users and spur action beyond clicks and petitions. Our platform is designed from the ground-up for engagement, using input from the world-authority on gamification, Yu-Kai Chou.

At the 2015 CoLab, SaveOhno was honored as Judge’s Choice in the “Shifting Attitudes and Behavior” category. With MIT’s endorsement of our idea we moved to a full-scale pilot at Babson College this March. During that single month, at a relatively small college, we generated 45,000 page views, 4,500 petition signatures and 1,500 individual climate actions. These actions spanned an enormous scope of activity including; attending events; enrolling in climate-model grid computing; learning about law and economics of climate; making personal changes, learning new skills; and supporting our various non-profit partners in many ways.

We can use the same approach to engage the whole of MIT in this contest’s two priorities: 1) MIT’s own 32% emissions reduction and 2) the implementation, testing, and promotion of MIT’s ground-breaking research.

What actions do you propose?

MIT’s “Plan for Action on Climate Change” (Reif et. al., 2015)  identifies the importance of ‘personal responsibility’ and the inclusion of ‘everyone’ in the solution:

Given the Institute’s mission, history and capabilities, MIT has a particular responsibility to lead. Yet addressing this global problem will take deep societal change, and that means there is a role – and a personal responsibility – for everyone: every nation, every sector, every institution, every firm, every individual human being.

SaveOhno was founded on this principle. We recognize that the greatest current gap in achieving climate success is not the creativity and the energy of the few, but the widespread adoption of solutions by the many. At least two in three Americans say that they themselves (67%) should be doing “more” or “much more” to address global warming (Leiserowitz et. al., 2015). There is clearly a very great disconnect between what Americans believe is necessary and what they themselves are currently doing. Other countries have similar, if not as great, disconnects between intentions and behavior (ibid).

This pent-up need for action is leveraged by SaveOhno to release enormous reserves of effort, action and creativity.

MIT also proposes wider education and leveraging the power of the community:

  • Improve our understanding of climate change and advance novel, targeted mitigation and adaptation solutions
  • Accelerate progress towards low- and zero-carbon energy technologies
  • Educate a new generation of climate, energy and environmental innovators
  • Share what we know, and learn from others around the world
  • Use our community as a test bed for change

Section III: “How will MIT intensify its impact?”

SaveOhno creates an engaging competition and associated suite of actions that will achieve many of these aims by leveraging those actions across all of MIT.

The SaveOhno Competition.

“It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than to think yourself into a new way of acting”

This is explicitly a competition, but the gamification goes much deeper than is obvious to the user, and through user engagement we not only tap into their efforts and resources we also help change their learning and behavior. Ours is not a game in which you can focus only on the rewards and fail to engage with the issue.

Following on from our success at Babson in Spring 2016 we will create a custom competition for MIT students and faculty. Users will be enrolled in voluntary self-organizing teams through clubs, societies, greek organizations, sports and others.

Each team of 30 will be eligible for a grand prize of an embroidered Patagonia fleece jacket for each team member. These are highly desirable articles on campus, especially as winter approaches, and serve as great motivators for getting teams on board

To win, a team needs to accumulate the highest number of points through various actions. SaveOhno parses out the actions in a controlled way to keep attention and motivation high. We also ensure a variety of media and action types. As each action is taken the user and the team’s statistics are updated and displayed on a leaderboard. Some actions will have limited duration or availability, increasing attention and engagement with the platform.

Actions necessary to launch the competition can be divided into four main categories:

  • Identifying appropriate CoLab proposals and other opportunities for user actions in the competition
  • Identifying critical issues for achieving the 32% emissions reduction goal and crafting relevant user actions
  • Competition execution
  • Competition lessons learned, extension, and follow-up


Identifying opportunities

Actions will include a review of previous CoLab Competitions and the gaps between projected and actual impact of relevant projects. For many projects the critical missing factor is engagement - the failure to fully implement promising ideas is due not to a lack of innovation, technology, expertise, or feasibility, but to the degree of widespread understanding and engagement. This analysis of past CoLab proposals will provide opportunities to be incorporated into the competition.

Identifying emissions reduction issues

In MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change there are many plans and technologies that will be brought to bear on the 32% reduction goal. The opportunity we see here is to pave the way for those technologies, to remove the barriers and roadblocks to their implementation. The barriers may be; developing critical mass, reaching new resources and skills, changing policy, increasing awareness, better communication, and changing user behavior around new technology. SaveOhno can give them the audience of thousands of talented students for feedback, testing, and support in an effort to break down these barriers.

Assuming that solar, combined heat and power, smart HV/AC, and the many other relevant technologies proposed by the other collaborators exist and are accessible to MIT then identifying where the technology is NOT being implemented is the priority. We focus action on bridging those gaps, on addressing implementation issues, on achieving wide adoption.

Competition execution

Actions are based on our Babson 2016 experience, and will leverage MIT’s resources, partnerships, and impressive level of ambition. In Babson 2016, 26 student organizations generated 4,500 petition signatures and 1,500 actions with our 15 nonprofit partners in just one month. To create the right program for MIT, we will work alongside and lead you in the following:

  • Define objectives, scope, and outcomes
  • Create governance structure
  • Set up student administration team
  • Improve technology infrastructure of SaveOhno
  • Refine materials and content
  • Recruit users
  • Recruit partners
  • Recruit sponsors
  • Run first competition
  • Process results
  • Plan next steps in the program


This program is based on our experience with the Babson 2016 competition and our 20 years experience in organizational change. A few of these critical steps are expanded below:

Set up administration team

Create the small group of internal experts and motivated individuals to lead and administer the first competition in the MIT program. Actions include:

  • Recruit student team
  • Train team in SaveOhno concept and philosophy
  • Identify changes and additions for MIT competition
  • Assign roles


Recruit users

This critical phase ensures the maximum exposure of the initial competition, with promotion of the prizes and recruitment of group leaders. This will require significant support from MIT communications, and individuals well networked with the MIT community. Actions include:

Identify potential groups of competitors

  • Other
  • Alumni
  • Business partners
  • Departments
  • Clubs and societies
  • Greek groups
  • Sports teams


Talk one-on-one with group leaders to explain concept and outline plan

  • Pitch at group-wide meeting if necessary to get a ‘yes’


Engage group/ team leaders in a group training and launch session

Recruit partners

SaveOhno has existing partners who have already volunteered to be part of future competitions, and will be very pleased to work with MIT. In addition we will increase this number with a limited selection of additional partners - which may include those with existing relationship with MIT. Actions include:

  • Approach existing partners
  • Generate leads for new partners based on competition theme/goals
  • Prospect, reach out, and meet with leads
  • Define actions and contributions to competition


Process results

SaveOhno generates large volumes of highly detailed and relevant user data. Analysis of this data is an important part of ensuring the maximum value from the competition and the improvement of the program for the future. Data and reports include:

  • User engagement and activity
  • Results by activity, sponsor, partner, department
  • GHG reductions
  • Rewrite user and admin materials and guides
  • Lessons learned


Plan next steps in the program

For MIT we believe that there is a greater opportunity than single or even annual competitions, as planned elsewhere. MIT has a high level of ambition, existing work on climate response, and a unique sophistication and expertise. Because of this, and to support the CoLab objectives we will extend SaveOhno well beyond a single, one-off competition.

Who will take these actions?

There are two sides to the SaveOhno platform: 1) one side that needs action to be taken. At MIT it’s the labs and other sources of innovation that need publicity and implementation, and also the campus that needs problems solved to achieve the 32% reduction; and 2) the side that takes action; the students, alumni, and partners of MIT who will be engaged through the competition in taking the necessary actions.

The platform itself is provided by SaveOhno online. SaveOhno will customize and administer the competition, with a team of student leaders performing much of the execution. We have a standard set of contributions that are designed to familiarize all with the competition and platform including: filling out surveys, signing up for email lists, social media interaction, attending action meetings, volunteering, and creating original material. Most significantly we will gear the rest of the content towards MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change, and also the goal of increasing the diffusion of MIT innovations. Example actions could include having students reduce their personal carbon footprints for SaveOhno points, or even helping Climate CoLab proposal winners move their proposals from idea to reality. The MIT student body could volunteer their expertise for CoLab winners and gain SaveOhno points for their competition team in the process.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

The two best sources for technology and innovation are 1) MIT itself, and 2) the entire CoLab competition. We will leverage the whole of MIT: to address MIT’s own footprint issues, and to popularizing MITs technology in the wider world.

We believe that true engagement of the wider population is the “last mile” of implementation for CoLab and wider MIT labs. The impact of improved learning, feedback, testing, adoption, and dissemination of the many existing technologies available will have a much greater impact than adding a few more technologies.

We therefore measure impact by a shift in the 32% goal. By using a committed and thoroughly vetted and researched approach to engagement and persuasion through competitions we believe that 10,000s of person-years can be added to the most critical issues and opportunities available between now and 2030. In which case a 10% increase in performance appears reasonable: 0.10 x 0.32 x 213,428 MTCO2E give approximately an annual ~7 MT reduction.

What are other key benefits?

MIT's GHG footprint covers Scopes 1 and 2, and some Scope 3 emissions: existing buildings account for 97% of emissions. SaveOhno can impact additional categories, such as business travel, student travel, food consumed and grown on campus, purchased goods and services, and capital goods.

In addition;

  • Non-technology climate actions can be taken; political action, social action, societal awareness -  through petitions, letter writing, volunteering, social media, and other means.
  • Large volumes of user data can be analyzed to reveal trends, drivers, profiles and other insights necessary to maximize the impact of this and other change programs
  • Business partners can be more tightly integrated into the MIT community by engaging them in SaveOhno - as sponsors, users, co-owners.
  • Students can also be engaged through SaveOhno on other environmental and social issues

As shown above, the flexibility of the SaveOhno platform allows the delivery of benefits not initially imagined when starting a program.

What are the proposal’s costs?

To run the first competition at MIT during the 2016/2017 year, we project the cost to be between $5,000 and $10,000. The cost estimates incorporate reward/grand prize costs, paid student internships, server and database costs, marketing costs, a 15% cushion, and small levels of revenue we can generate as cost offsets. The actual numbers for each estimate were reached by forecasting through primary data, based off our pilot competition at Babson College. We are very confident in our projected user and customer counts and the dollar amounts associated with them because we have primary data to support them. The assumptions have already been tested.

Later years will incur higher costs as the level of ambition increases.

Additional costs incurred by MIT will include electronic and physical communications and manpower, much of which may be volunteer.

Time line

Year 1: Implement competition as described above. Develop lessons learned.

Year 2-3: Repeat and enhance competitions and increase ongoing engagement. Develop insights from competiton/ user data. Add additional technologies/ issues to the mix. Expand competitions to include business partners and suppliers.

Year 4-5: Redesign approach based on experience. Launch continual innovation and contribution outside of competitions. Increase size of actions to include department-wide collaborations.

Years 5+: Continue development of approach, expansion of partnerships and scope, increase level of ambition.

Related proposals

We believe our competition-based approach creates a much larger user-base, a much higher level of engagement, and greatly improved success rates and deliverables than that which these other proposals would otherwise enjoy.









SaveOhno was established to attack the ‘wicked’ nature of the climate crisis:

  • it is not one group's responsibility, and
  • it is socially charged,
  • it is dynamic
  • it is complex,
  • it produces results decades after action is taken

SaveOhno redefines this ‘wicked’ problem by making  action on climate simple, personal, impactful, and immediately rewarding.  It does this by translating your climate action today into its impact on your fictional granddaughter, Ohno, who lives in the future.

John C. Camillus Strategy as a Wicked Problem Harvard Business Review (May 2008) Retrieved from

Coral Davenport & Marjorie Connelly, Most Republicans Say They Back Climate Action, Poll Finds.  New York Times, (Jan 30 2015)  Retrieved from :

Ted Greenwald, Compulsive Behavior Sells MIT Technology Review (May/June 2015)

IPCC, 2014: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Rosenthal, S. (2015). Climate change in the American mind: October, 2015. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Available at

Michelle Parks Why is it So Hard to Tackle Climate Change? Decision Strategies International (Dec 8 2014) Retrieved from

Chris Reidy Climate change is a super wicked problem, Planetcentric (May 29 2013) Retrieved from

L. Rafael Reif (et. al.), MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change, (Oct 21, 2015) Retrieved from

Barry Schwartz, “More Isn’t Always Better” Harvard Business Review (June 2006) Retrieved from

Monica Vendituoli, Students fight climate change, cite personal reasons USA TODAY (Oct 3 2013) retrieved from

Jane Weaver, College Students Are Avid Gamers, (July 16 2013), Retrieved from