How digital technologies can transform nature conservation engagement (commentary)

  • At this crucial time, a digital leap can provide an opportunity to drastically improve individuals’ engagement in nature conservation by addressing the gaps in the current customer experience preventing more people from getting involved.
  • Our market research indicates that 82 percent of donors do not fully know where their money is going or whether is having an impact. Donors get frustrated by their inability to track the impact of their donation and select the specific location, project, or wildlife they would like to support. This limited user experience lags behind digital norms and makes it particularly challenging to compel more people to get involved.
  • People should not have to sacrifice transparency and ease-of-use to reap the benefits of supporting nature conservation. With advanced consumer demands and technology trends, there is an opportunity for improved engagement models that address the current gaps.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Nature has never been more vulnerable than it is today. Despite gaining $125 trillion of value from nature every year, we have lost 60 percent of wildlife populations, 50 percent of rainforests, and 33 percent of protected land, making us more susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Yet, people are not compelled to contribute enough money towards wildlife and habitat conservation. The United Nations estimates that there is an annual gap to maintain biodiversity of $100-400 billion.

At this crucial time, a digital leap can provide an opportunity to drastically improve individuals’ engagement in nature conservation by addressing the gaps in the current customer experience preventing more people from getting involved.

Limitation of the current nature conservation engagement model

The most common ways for people to directly fund nature conservation efforts is through charities and donations. In 2017, individuals in the US contributed $390 billion in annual charity donations, yet only $9 billion went towards environmental causes, with low contribution levels from younger audiences. Let’s explore some of the factors driving these behaviors:

Isle of Skye, United Kingdom. Photo by Joshua Earle.

Nature loss has become a statistic

The environmental issues in front of us are so significant and systemic that it is easy for individuals to feel like they cannot intervene and have an impact. This is especially true under the current donation-centric system where most donations are commonly pooled into a general donation bucket. This approach does not break these issues into more consumable, bite-size opportunities that people can engage with.

In addition, modern life does not provide a natural connection to wildlife and natural habitats. Habitat and wildlife conservation often involves supporting remote locations and species, which few people can experience or have limited exposure to.

Lack of transparency and personalization

Existing donor engagement models lack transparency, personalization, and follow-up. This was one of my motivations in founding Zooterra. Our market research indicates that 82 percent of donors do not fully know where their money is going or whether is having an impact. Donors get frustrated by their inability to track the impact of their donation and select the specific location, project, or wildlife they would like to support. This limited user experience lags behind digital norms and makes it particularly challenging to compel more people to get involved.

High engagement with the right experience

The lack of engagement is particularly noticeable among younger generations, which are large untapped markets when it comes to funding environment conservation. For instance, 51 percent of Millennials see nature destruction and climate change as the most serious global issue, but conservation organizations struggle to engage this segment. Yet, this population segment is a major contributor to the $103 billion per year spent globally in digital gaming. Different video games often reach 50 million or more unique users each month. The spending and user base in the gaming industry show that a more engaging experience can drive higher engagement from this younger audience.

Shibuya Crossing Intersection, 渋谷区, Japan. Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash.

People should not have to sacrifice transparency and ease-of-use to reap the benefits of supporting nature conservation. With advanced consumer demands and technology trends, there is an opportunity for improved engagement models that address the current gaps.

Using digital technologies to power a new experience in nature conservation

Digital technologies can transform the existing user experience by directly addressing these gaps. Those most successful in the digital age have worked backwards from the customer needs to create personalized experiences that delight their customers.

An example of the digital transformation is Netflix. Netflix appealed to Blockbuster’s core customers by providing more content with an on-demand, all-you-can-watch, and convenient approach. Their business model focused entirely on growing the subscriber base, not viewing figures. They took full advantage of digital by creating a personalized experience and by doubling down on their core value proposition. By fusing technology with nearly every aspect of Hollywood, Netflix has become the world’s TV service and video store.

For people who want to support nature conservation efforts, digital could provide:

Ownership and gamification through digitization and tokenization of natural areas and conservation interventions

Transparency by providing a window into the communities and projects supported and helping visualize them through geolocation

Demonstrated impact through project updates and using satellite imaging to show forest conservation

Personalization through a unique experience for each user based on their interests

Giraffes in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photo by Harshil Gudka.

Through these and other mechanisms, digital technologies can create a new experience by more directly connecting consumers to natural areas and wildlife. This breaks the degrees of separation between people and nature and creates the opportunity for more meaningful engagement and to generate more funding for conservation.

Only by leveraging the tools and methodologies of the digital age to create a modern user experience will we be able to engage more people in nature conservation, at a time when it needs it most.

CITATIONS

• Jones, K. R., Venter, O., Fuller, R. A., Allan, J. R., Maxwell, S. L., Negret, P. J., & Watson, J. E. (2018). One-third of global protected land is under intense human pressure. Science, 360(6390), 788-791. doi:10.1126/science.aap9565

• WWF. (2018). Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland. Retrieved from: https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1187/files/original/LPR2018_Full_Report_Spreads.pdf?1540487589

Julio Corredor is the Founder & CEO of Zooterra, a platform enabling a transparent and personalized experience in habitat and wildlife conservation.

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