Climate Change Needs Behavior Change

Organization Name: 

Entry Overview

Climate change needs behavior change, but as individuals, we often don't know where to begin. Our mobile app platform, JouleBug, breaks sustainable behavior down into simple actions that anyone can complete throughout their days and puts them right in the palm of their hands. Using friendly competition, social sharing, and rewards, we help our users become more aware of their resource use and encourage them to improve their habits. Organizations have adopted our platform, adding their own customizations and incentives, to inspire their team members. Collectively, individuals' small sustainability actions add up to make a big impact. Changing behavior is hard work. JouleBug aims to add fun to the drudgery with rewards, friendly competition, and social sharing.
General Information
First Name: 
Last Name: 
Organization type: 
  • Corporation
Email Address:
2029 Nancy Ann Dr
27607 Raleigh, North Carolina
United States
35° 48' 39.006" N, 78° 41' 57.7176" W
Sectors impacted: 
  • Food and agriculture
  • Energy and transport
  • Land use and ecosystems
  • Material consumption
Community type: 
  • Urban
  • Suburban
  • Rural
Population impacted: 
50,000 people
Context Analysis
Describe the context in which you are operating: 
JouleBug is a platform that encourages and rewards sustainable behavior. Users earn points when they complete any of hundreds of bite-sized eco actions that conserve energy/water, reduce waste, reuse resources, etc. As actions become habits, badges and trophies are earned. Adopting sponsors can add customized action content unique to their organization. Periodic Challenges, competitive or goal-based, are easily and routinely conducted for individual communities and motivate individuals to take their habits to a new level. Challenge themes vary from overall sustainability to focused activity, such as energy, water, recycling, transportation, diet, etc. Adopting sponsors can further incentivize their community with Challenge prizes, whether for community goals reached or individual/team winners. Joulebug has conducted hundreds of challenges with sponsors like Delta, Pizza Hut, Experian, IKEA, Skanska, City of Austin and Boston University saving more than 80MM pounds of CO2.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt: 
JouleBug encourages users to make small changes in their behaviors in all aspects of sustainability. By organizing actions into easily recognizable categories that users can access throughout their day, we motivate users to: conserve energy and water; to reduce their resource consumption and when shopping, to choose sustainable products; to recycle and reuse when possible; to reduce emissions by using public transportation, carpooling, walking, cycling, and trip-chaining; to seek out local and fresh foods/drink and less meat, etc. In general, our solution is to provide a friendly and fun way for users to learn about sustainability and encourage others through their actions.
Type of intervention implemented (category descriptions)
Select all that apply: 
  • Emotional appeals
  • Social incentives
  • Choice architecture
Describe your behavioral intervention: 
JouleBug aims to make people more mindful of the things they can do every single day to reduce resource consumption. JouleBug's large selection of Actions is inclusive for users of all lifestyles and locations, and delivers sustainable options for home, work, and play. JouleBug also aims to make users aware of the good things they already do, so they feel good and continue to practice these habits. JouleBug aims to ensure adoption by providing a visually appealing, interactive, and mobile app platform where users interact with others, gain inspiration, and easily see the positive impact they're making with their behavior change.
As needed, please explain the type of intervention in more detail.: 
Emotional appeals: JouleBug has encouragements, badges and other achievements throughout the app. That, along with a top score on the leaderboard, makes people feel proud of what they have accomplished and the positive changes they are making. Social Incentives: The social aspect of JouleBug encourages users to bring in friends, and get inspired by what others are doing. Seeing those around you making positive changes is great motivation. Choice Architecture: Challenges can encourage specific behavior change at certain times, e.g., water conservation in the summer, supporting local food harvests in the fall, saving energy in the winter, etc. These featured themes encourage users to focus their behavior change on a specific initiative.
Describe your implementation: 
JouleBug started out as a tool to encourage people to save energy in their homes. All the actions were centered around this. We realized that in order to make the app more social, interactive, and engaging, we needed to include more aspects of sustainability. We wanted users to take photos of what they were doing, share with others, and gain inspiration from seeing what their friends and followers were up to. We believed opening things up to what we can do throughout the day and away from the house would help this. While the additional actions made for better photos, users still weren't staying as active and engaged as we hoped. To make the app more engaging and keep users coming back, we introduced Challenges. Users join Challenges periodically, and compete against others. Each time they complete an action they earn points, and can watch the Challenge activity with a leaderboard and feed updating in real time. Challenges have evolved over the years to include teams, themes (water focused, transportation focused, energy focused, etc), and goals, where users can work together to achieve something as a group. Prizes for top scores or raffles are optional but provide another great way to keep users motivated and playing to win. These aspects of JouleBug, as well as the flexibility to allow customers and organizations to localize and customize the app to fit their initiatives, have been our main tools for attracting and retaining users.
External connections: 
City of Austin, TX successfully engages businesses city-wide in an annual challenge for the Austin Green Cup, designating the greenest business. Boston University uses the JouleBug Platform for a variety of Challenges for their students and faculty (e.g., fall kick-offs for sustainability@BU, Dorm energy competitions, Reusables week). Many corporations conduct one to several challenges a year for employee engagement, Earth Day initiatives, or to train workers (e.g.,Skanska construction workers - how to better recycle job site building materials). A few are using the platform to encourage their customers to become more sustainable, awarding winners with company product gift cards. We have conducted challenges from a handful to 10,000s.
Who adopted the desired behaviors and to what degree?: 
Cities, universities, large multinational corporations, small start-ups, and even a zoo have used the JouleBug platform to engage their communities in reducing resource consumption through behavior change. A longtime customer who has used the platform internally and externally is IKEA. They started with a Challenge for co-workers in one store in Houston, then expanded to North American stores, co-workers, and customers. They host Challenges and award IKEA merchandise as prizes. They customize the platform to highlight their sustainable business practices, sustainably sourced food/beverage products, and other reusable products to reduce resource consumption, (e.g., reusable water bottles, containers, rechargeable batteries). The Denver Zoo promotes their custom JouleBug platform to every visitor that comes through their gates. Their customized content engages visitors to be aware of how behavior change can have a positive effect on animals in the wild and their habitats.
How did you impact natural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions?: 
The vast majority of JouleBug's eco actions have an impact on GHG and resource consumption. Our scoring system is related to GHG emission reduction, based on studies from the EPA, DOE, etc. Each action has an info page so users can see its specific impact on the planet. The major assumptions for each action are explained on its info page. The platform keeps a tally of all the actions each user has performed and their cumulative GHG emission reduction. In addition, we calculate the savings for all of a user's friends (followers) and for everyone using the app. This makes it easy for users to see how very small actions done repetitively by a large number of folks adds up to a huge impact. As of the time of writing this, our users have collectively saved over 80,000,000 pounds of CO2. In addition to showing numbers, we also storytell by providing meaningful equivalencies, (e.g saving 374 acres of forest, shutting down a coal power plant for 3 days, flying around the world 96 times, etc.)
What were some of the resulting co-benefits?: 
On top of the impact from conserved resource use, JouleBug encourages a sense of community among participants. Organizations find out who their "green leaders" are, by seeing them succeed in Challenges and how they encourage others. These leaders become point contacts for future initiatives and their enthusiasm brings more people onboard. The social aspect can have a huge effect on the resources conserved. The more people dedicated to making meaningful behavior change, the bigger the impact.
Replication and Scale
The JouleBug Platform has evolved over several years of angel investment as our product and business model was developed. More and more communities and organizations are realizing that sustainability is a valuable community (students, citizens and employees) engagement opportunity. We charge communities and organizations for subscriptions to our platform, which enables them to create customized content and challenge their community to improve their sustainable behavior and align with their initiatives. They benefit by engaging their community, enhancing their initiatives and demonstrating they care about more than the bottom line.
Return on investment: 
A sizable investment has been made in the JouleBug Platform. Many of our leading customers (City of Austin, Boston University, IKEA, etc.) have renewed subscriptions for more than four years. Corporate accounts (Delta, Pizza Hut, IKEA) are an area of significant revenue growth. JouleBug has recently become cash flow positive, enabling our growth and expansion into new markets around the world.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 
According to, almost one third of the world's population currently has access to a smartphone. That adoption rate is projected to grow to almost 40% by 2020. JouleBug launched in the US, but our free app is available to all users with a mobile device and an internet connection. Once downloaded, users have what they need to begin learning and practicing climate friendly habits. JouleBug's platform is flexible and easily adopted for organizations that want to customize it for their own community members. Using our web-based dashboard for administrators, a variety of cities, universities, and businesses have made the JouleBug platform their sustainability engagement tool.

Contest Partners

conservation international logo
the nature conservancy logo
UNDP logo
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Contest Sponsors

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Humanize Institute