Future Skills for employees: raising sustainability awareness with game elements

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Many of the companies we work with are currently asking themselves one or more of the following questions:

  • How do you create an awareness of sustainability among employees in order to be able to produce in the most energy-saving, resource-saving and emission-free way possible?
  • How do you help employees work in a more agile, creative and collaborative way?
  • How do you support employees in identifying and developing new market opportunities?

This also applies to our customer ABB Deutschland. As part of the new “Future Skills” initiative, the technology corporation identified several areas of knowledge that will be of great relevance to its approximately 8,500 employees in Germany in the future and worked with us to develop learning modules on the topics of sustainability awareness, as well as collaboration and innovation skills.

We would like to use the topic of sustainability to show you how we approached the matter.

How do you convey an interest in sustainability?

Sustainability has been a topic at ABB Germany for a long time: the internal sustainability project “Mission to Zero” was the foundation. In 2019, ABB built the first CO2-neutral and energy-autonomous production site in Lüdenscheid for its subsidiary Busch-Jaeger. But passion and motivation cannot simply be prescribed. So the question remains: how do you spread interest in sustainability among as many employees as possible?

Our answer: with games.

Games have gained massively in importance in recent decades: like no medium before, they allow people to try out actions and techniques and thus become better and better. Whether it’s chess, card games, or online games like World of Warcraft. Millions of people of different ages play games often and regularly, on computers, smartphones or in the classic way with boards. Games create a space for experimentation that makes it possible to reliably try something new. The research area of game design helps develop techniques or “patterns” which ensure that participants can play fairly and with equal opportunities – and thus maintain the motivation to keep playing.

What games can teach us

Philosopher C. Thi Nguyen considers games as the art form of agency (“Art of Agency”): just as the art form of painting helps us develop our vision and perception, the art form of music helps us understand sounds and beats to create impact, or dancing teaches us to enjoy the beauty of movement.

Games help us understand what action (“agency”) does and what consequences decisions can have. They create and simulate spaces in which we can try out actions. And the fascination that comes from being able to try something out for ourselves, to explore and experience, has a lot to do with the success story of games; for some years now, more revenue has been generated worldwide from video games than from movies.

Games can help people deal with complex issues: in games, we experience the “as if” situations in a defined, delineated, safe framework. We filter information, form hypotheses, assess probabilities, exchange ideas, make decisions. And our feelings are always involved: we are excited, we burn and we spurred on by failure. And we experiment, try things out, step by step, game run after game run. And we keep at it.

To intensify our engagement with the topic of sustainability and improve long-term motivation, we use techniques and methods from the field of gamification.

How to experience and shape sustainability by yourself

  • For Bettina Meyering, project manager at ABB “Future Skills”, the initiative is a matter of the heart: “People learn best when you’re in the driver’s seat and can decide for yourself how to approach the subjects.”

The sustainability teaching block consists of two modules: “CO2” and “Green Tech”. Their primary aim is to create awareness and interest in the topic. Subsequently, the interest is directed towards implementation options. The topic is highly emotionally charged due to its currentness, importance and urgency, but at the same time it is very complex, we use playful elements and game techniques to provide participants with a pragmatic hands-on experience. We invite them to engage with sustainability issues on their own, to use what they have learned to complete the tasks set by us or the participant, either together or individually.

Find unique ways to reduce CO2

The “CO2” module is aimed at individual participants and can be played individually. The game principle is based on the concept of the so-called “walking simulator”: the players walk through a virtual world and encounter challenges that they can face. They can transfer the game tasks into their everyday lives and can discuss their progress in network meetings or with other players.

  • “It was important for us to focus on the personal approach to the topic: since every potential participant has a different interest and life situation, we offer as diverse a selection of tasks as possible so that every participant can choose the tasks that best fit their own situation. It increases motivation,” says Tim Struck, Agile Learning Consultant at QualityMinds.

If the players have completed their task, they receive an award (“badge”). Their own successes in the company are made visible and are shared with others. The awards have a second function as well: the badges can be displayed in the employee profile or, for example, via MS Teams, and thus make the game better known in the company and invite people to participate and complete tasks.

Developing Green Tech in the team

The “Green Tech” module is designed for teams of three to five participants. It is based on the concept of exit games or an Educational Escape Room: a group enters a virtual or real game room in which various tasks must be solved together. Over the course of several sessions, the players acquire background knowledge and use it to complete progressively more complex tasks. At the end, they receive the unlocked material and can adapt it to their requirements and ideas. While developing the concepts, we took special careto ensure that the games can be play either remotely or on site.

  • “To intensify the game experience, we made sure that the game principle is constructively aligned with the content. Keyword: constructive alignment. Therefore, the game concept and content form as homogeneous a unit as possible,” says Tim Struck. “For this reason, we selected a scenario for the Green Tech Game that fits well into the participants’ everyday working lives. In addition, the tasks are designed to provide interesting and useful insights that the participants can use to complete the task.”

Workbook helps with further implementation

During the concept phase, we quickly realized that generating attention is not enough: after all, we don’t want the interest to fizzle out. A well-known phenomenon that could reduce the positive effect of the teaching module is the so-called “Mean Monday”: returning to the familiar environment after a workshop or training event and the disappointment that follows. Ruts and daily routine, existing work processes and established structures make it difficult to maintain enthusiasm and put new ideas into practice.

To counteract this, learners in the sustainability teaching module are provided with a workbook to help them put the learning from the teaching module into action. The players are invited to share their ideas and experiences with peers in existing learning communities or communities of practice and thus exchange ideas with other Future Skills Initiative participants.

How to successfully use playful elements and gamification

The integration of playful elements and gamification techniques can be an effective tool within professional development and training when used sensibly and in a targeted manner. From our point of view, game mechanics should rather be used as an additional drive and motivational boost and not as an end in itself. Otherwise, there is a risk that the players will remember the game, the tasks and the mechanics afterwards – but not the topics that you actually wanted to convey. It also helps to use proven and familiar game concepts and mechanisms that carry the content and fade into the background themselves: this way, the themes conveyed by the game are the surprising and exciting element – and therefore remain more strongly in the memory.

Another challenge lies in the simplification that a game entails: games necessarily simplify complex issues and thus make them “playable” in the first place. However, this can give the erroneous impression that there are simple solutions to complex problems. We recommend addressing the complexity of the topic in reality by means of reflection questions. This way, you can take away the participants’ fear of a topic and at the same time show that it is perfectly okay to work with simplifying models – as long as you are clear about which aspects the chosen model does not perfectly capture.

  • The most important point for us: games are a great way to get started on a topic. They can kick-start something and spark interest. But if you want to have real results and impact, you should also build an appropriate environment that helps channel the enthusiasm into productive channels. And that’s something we at QualityMinds are happy to help with.

Creating these gaming concepts was a great experience. We are very excited about the further development and will keep you up to date.


You can find out more about agile teaching and agile learning here: https://qualityminds.com/quality-learning/

If you would like to learn more about gamification or the use of games in teaching and learning environments, get in touch with us: learning@qualityminds.de


Future Skills for employees: raising sustainability awareness with game elements

written by

Tim Struck