More than a year after their gamified learning program, Vattenfall NL’s employees are still actively thinking about sustainability in their life.
A frontrunner project. That's what PHI Factory calls the gamified learning program The Sustainable Games ran for all employees of European energy supplier Vattenfall. Under the product name PHI Accelerator, the consultancy has been developing online learning programs on sustainability through gamification since 2018. For six weeks, all employees participate in an online program in which they learn, collaborate, carry out assignments and engage in mutual conversations. Tailored to the objective of the respective organization. In Vattenfall's case: a fossil-free life within one generation. In the spring of 2021, the game went live: all employees in the Netherlands participated with their teams in the online learning program 'The Sustainable Games'.
A fossil-free life in 6 weeks
The Sustainable Games consisted of 6 weekly challenges on fossil-free living with each week focusing specifically on a theme: a fossil-free life, sustainable living, good food, conscious shopping, wasting less, and traveling smarter. The challenges mainly provided useful information for Vattenfall employees' personal lives, such as information on the impact of holiday travels by plane and they gave suggestions for tasty vegetarian dishes.
In the three months before going live, PHI Factory and Vattenfall developed the content of the challenges together. PHI as the expert on sustainability and content writing, and Vattenfall as the expert on the energy transition. Because of this collaboration, the quality of the content was high and the quiz questions and actions perfectly matched the daily work experiences of the Vattenfall employee.
Success through attention
During those three months, the project team also prepared the success factors for going live: some 13 enthusiastic colleagues signed up as community managers. Each community manager was assigned a couple of teams for whom they became the point of contact and motivators. Senior management also gave a commitment to the program during online live sessions with the entire organization. According to Mathijs Boonstra, International Project Manager Customer & Solutions and part of the Sustainable Games project team at the time, this commitment was one of the key success factors for the success of The Sustainable Games. “Everything you give attention to grows. And that also applied to The Sustainable Games. That attention was everywhere. From the management who promoted the program and gave employees room to participate, from the community managers who motivated people bottom-up, and from the team captains who organized team sessions: you couldn't avoid it.” Participants also appreciated that they received work time for the game: this allowed everyone to participate.
The enthusiastic and self-organizing role that Vattenfall itself took in this project paid off: as many as 96% of all employees participated in The Sustainable Games, on a voluntary basis. Because of the spring holidays and in order to avoid a high workload, the program was split into two 3-week periods, one month apart. PHI Factory: "This was the first time we split a program into two periods. We were curious to see the effect this had on participation rates. But we saw no major differences from the programs running 6 weeks without an interval. Besides the 96% participation rate, we achieved an overall participation rate of 58%. That group of employees played and completed all 6 challenges. More than half of the organization thus completed the entire program. So, we consider that group really activated to think and act sustainably."
Working with the whole team
The various organizational departments participated as teams in the online learning program. Participants Mieke and Gerlies from team Training, Quality and Capacity (TQC) say that they did the challenges weekly in an online session with the entire team. They smartly worked together to answer the quiz questions correctly and earn as many points as possible. The actions were also done together. Mieke works as a trafficker for customer service and said, "It was a fun way to engage with each other about something other than work. The action that stayed with me the most was the CO2 footprint calculator. It was very interesting to compare and discuss the results. You get to face the facts together."
In the beginning, some colleagues were a bit skeptical about an online game for the whole organization. "But you participate anyway because everyone participates. And then it was actually quite fun," says Gerlies.
According to Mieke and Gerlies, the success formula of The Sustainable Games was that it was easy to participate and that it was fun because you could encourage each other and there was an element of competition. It was fun to work together as a team on the challenges and you are introduced to simple, useful information that can make a personal impact for you.
The participants both noted that The Sustainable Games mainly led to interesting conversations among colleagues. In their own team, but also with colleagues from other departments. There already is a large focus on sustainability within Vattenfall: they offer a lot of internal communication, there is an e-learning program and there are regular knowledge sessions about the energy transition for employees. But this challenge went a step further: it was much more about personal actions. "With customers, we talk about saving energy, but not about how many times you wear your jeans before you throw them away. Discussing personal examples about consuming, living, eating, and traveling with colleagues really raised awareness."
One year after The Sustainable Games: are Vattenfall employees still active in thinking and acting sustainably?
More than a year after The Sustainable Games ended, the challenges are still well in the memory. Mathijs Boonstra: "When I received your message for this interview, I thought: gosh, has it been a year already? Because to my feeling, it hasn't been that long at all. So I think that's very positive, that it's still fresh in your memory." Gerlies and Mieke have not forgotten the Games either: they give all kinds of examples of conversations they had and actions they did. The conversations lead to four developments that even now, a year later, are the effects of 6 weeks of gamified learning with The Sustainable Games at Vattenfall.
- You become permanently aware of the impact of your own actions
By engaging so intensively with the five topics of living, eating, consuming, wasting and traveling during the gamified learning program, the colleagues also took a critical look at their own behaviour. And that stuck. Mieke explains that a few months after The Sustainable Games, she took a plane for a holiday to Curaçao. She chose it consciously, but it still didn't feel quite right. In the weeks after her holiday, she compensated for the impact made by flying by living more sustainably: eating less meat, taking shorter showers, and turning on the dryer a bit less often at home.
- It has become easier to have conversations about sustainability
Although sustainability is already talked about a lot from a cultural perspective at Vattenfall, the conversations are mostly about the energy transition. But during and after The Sustainable Games, people talked to each other on a completely different level: about personal examples, dilemmas, and behaviours. This created a new sense of connection among colleagues that is much appreciated in current times of individualism and crisis. Towards customers, too, colleagues notice that it becomes easier to have a conversation about sustainability. For instance, if they are unable to further help customers with saving energy, it now is easier to start talking about other ways of sustainable living.
- The challenges provide the knowledge to drive the conversation
In an increasingly polarised society, conversations about sustainability can be heated. Gerlies' daily sustainable choices are praised by friends and acquaintances, but her (air) travel does not fit into that picture for everyone. And that leads to heated discussions. The facts and figures she learned in the quiz questions gave Gerlies the right knowledge to start the conversation and discuss that sustainable living does not have to be 'all or nothing'.
- You keep your sustainable resolutions by sharing them with your team
In one of the actions, participants in The Sustainable Games were tasked with setting their own sustainability goals. Because the Vattenfall teams did the actions together in the online sessions, they shared the goals with each other. This not only provided inspiration but also mutual support to achieve and maintain the goals.
By participating in the gamified learning program as a collective of employees, Vattenfall reached a collective deeper level of knowledge about sustainability, which resulted in a lasting increase in a sustainable mindset. Working as a team and having conversations with each other have had the greatest impact on lasting change at Vattenfall.
Jorissa Neutelings, who was back then Director of Digital Development at Vattenfall, saw the same development after The Sustainable Games: "What surprised me enormously was the conversations we had with each other in the team afterward. Because of the Games, it was suddenly normal to talk to each other about sustainable behaviour and to share tips. That awareness changed our behaviour."
PHI Factory still looks back on The Sustainable Games with pride. "We proved with this project that it is possible to take the sustainable mindset in a large organization up a to a higher level. And that gives us confidence for the future."