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“Save energy or the bear gets it”

Virtual Polar Bear

TellEmotion’s polar bear is a fan of butteflies.

Anyone who has spent anytime considering environmental messaging will have noticed that the polar bear frequently being used as a symbol of the impact of global warming on the animal kingdom. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that eco-feedback designers might be interested in leveraging the concern that many people seem to have for the iconic giant white bear into a tool of persuasion.

TellEmotion has developed a system that builds a relationship between energy use and a virtual polar bear. The system is conprised of three basic components: digital meters, a server, and a web-based display. Real time energy information is sent to the display, which seems to be available in a variety of feedback modes, one of which includes the use of an animated polar bear. When energy use is low, The bear is doing cute, happy-bear type things. As energy usage rises,  her health and happiness are endangered – which, honestly, no one really wants to see. They suggest that over an extended periods of time energy use drops by an average of 10%, as people aim to keep the bear in a happier place.

The video below demonstrates how the tool might be used and installed.

This design reminds me of one presented in the paper “Motivating  environmentally sustainable behavior changes with a virtual polar bear,” by Tawanna Dillahunt, Geof Becker, Jennifer Mankoff and Robert Kraut at Carnegie Melon University‘s HCII. In the paper we are introduced to a virtual pet as encouragement of environmentally responsible behavior. The researchers work with the understanding that caring for animals has been shown to  inspire conservation behavior in individuals, and they sought to understand if a virtual animal might elicit the same response.  Seems the Polar bear is still the go-to animal to elicit a sense of environmental concern.


T. Dillahunt, G. Becker, J. Mankoff,  and R. Kraut. Motivating  environmentally sustainable behavior changes with a virtual polar bear.  Pervasive ‘08 Workshop on Pervasive Persuasive Technology and Environmental Sustainability 2008.
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