April 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM ET
Apparently, the chance to win nearly $1,000 in kitchen appliances is all it takes to goad students to study in the dark, wash dishes by hand and shutdown their laptops when they sleep, according to a new study.
Those are the types of steps taken by teams of students in the Netherlands who participated in the "Energy Battle" game. On average, they cut their energy use by 24 percent. The winning team trimmed household energy consumption by 45 percent.
To play the game, teams are provided an energy meter and access to an online platform that allows them to monitor their energy usage and see how other teams were performing. As teams trimmed consumption, they earned credits to buy blocks they could use to build a virtual structure. Prizes were awarded for the best structure and the team that cut their energy usage the most.
While the energy savings achieved during the game are impressive, it was the chance to win kitchen gadgets, not trim energy bills or save the environment, that compelled the students to be energy thrifts.
When the "Energy Battle" ended, consumption levels in all monitored homes crept back up to just below where it was before the game started, the research team from the Delft University of Technology recently reported in the Journal of Design Research.
On the bright side, some of the habits players developed during the game stuck – such as turning off lights as they exited a room – demonstrating that the game can change behaviors. One goal, the researchers say, is to figure out how to convince students to keep saving even more energy in the absence of prizes.
Another goal, they note, is to tailor "Energy Battle" for other target groups, such as families with children.
--Via Fast Company
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.