Tomorrow is Earth Day. Or depending on where you are in the world, it could already be today. Or if you’re reading this post tomorrow, then it’s also today for you. Let me start again. Earth Day is April 22 and it’s a day where we are meant to honor this humble planet we call home. You may be aware of all sorts of initiatives, like how you might be able to get a free cup of coffee if you bring your own reusable cup or how some places might turn off all their lights for an hour.

The thing is that so many of these initiatives are inherently fleeting. They’re meant to make you feel better about yourself, temporarily relieving some of the guilt associated with our modern standards of living. Turning off the lights for one hour, one day a year doesn’t make much of a difference if you drive a gas guzzler 50 miles to work every other day of the year.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Believe me, I’m no tree-hugging hippie, but I do recognize that we should all be treating the environment better. Reusable is better than recyclable, which is better than disposable. There’s a growing market for all sorts of eco-friendly products and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

A big part of the challenge, as I see it, is that most people see global climate change and related concerns as some far-off problem. It’s something that future generations can deal with, so we can just keep kicking the can a little further down the road. But that’s not at all true; we just don’t see the impact of our choices right away, so we try to skirt the responsibility.

The hope is that Earth Day can remind us of such considerations, motivating us to make changes throughout the year to take better care of our planet. But then we forget and we regress to our old ways, only to put in another token gesture next year so we can feel better about ourselves. How can we break this cycle?

The Power of Positive Change

Despite how you might feel about some of its business practices and how it handled that whole smart meter fiasco, BC Hydro is at least doing a couple of things right. For those of you from elsewhere in the world, BC Hydro is main electric utility in our area.

We’re fortunate in that our electricity is generated through hydroelectric dams (hence BC Hydro’s name), which is generally preferable over more harmful alternatives. That’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, look at the screenshot below.

Power consumption comparison

While there are no trophies to be won or characters to level up, BC Hydro leverages the power of gamification through its online interface. Not only can you track your daily consumption for any given period (and how you did compared to the same time last year), but you can also compare your consumption against your neighbors. It looks like I am doing pretty well. You could say I’m winning.

Every Day Is Earth Day

I’m positive that BC Hydro did not create this tool on its own; they’re probably licensing a solution from a third-party provider. I’m also reasonably confident that other utility companies provide a similar interface to their customers. As demographics shift away from baby boomers and more toward tech-savvy youngsters, gamification could play a bigger and more effective role in environmental decision-making.

Do you know what I would like to see? An anonymized leaderboard listing similar homes nearby, so long as people can choose to opt out. I can already see that I’m consuming less electricity than other typical homes in my area, but am I the best?

Inquiring minds want to know… because I want to win.