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Decrease local VMT's, improve health, & increase local spending with app featuring social engagement, gamification, and community currency.


Summary / Résumé

Cupertino is committed to reducing its carbon footprint to 1990 levels by 2020. While the City has accomplished significant reductions by offering carbon-free electricity throughout Cupertino, transportation emissions need to be addressed to meet our goal. Residents view traffic as Cupertino's most pressing issue—school traffic in particular—yet, vehicle miles traveled continue to increase. Gridlock around local schools worsens air pollution and endangers children, but 50% of students still arrive in single-family vehicles.

To make it easy and fun to do the right thing, we will create an app featuring social engagement, gamification, and community currency to incentivize sustainable behaviors. Users posting qualifying behaviors will be rewarded with community currency to spend at participating local businesses. Sharing actions on social media will spotlight these behaviors, increase visibility, and influence others to adopt them. In-app challenges, achievements, and other gamification features will encourage continued participation and uptake. Data gathered from the app will help guide policy, investment, and infrastructure decisions to remove barriers to sustainable behaviors.

Our pilot will reward families who walk, bike, or carpool to school instead of driving alone. For example, imagine biking to school and being rewarded with a credit you use at a local boba tea shop, who then uses the credit to pay for green cleaning products from another local market, who rewards customers with the currency for walking to their store due to limited parking. The currency continues to circulate, local traffic and air quality improves, local businesses flourish, and individuals are inspired to continue reducing Cupertino’s carbon footprint with additional actions.Thanks to the community currency aspect, we will not only incentivize and reward green transportation but also promote local economy as well as businesses and products who are contributing to a circular economy.

What actions do you propose? / Quelles actions proposez-vous?

Our solution to excessive school commute trips taken by car is to reward green transportation through a social engagement platform that gamifies behavior change using community currency.  This system will transform school commute patterns away from single-family vehicles.

Currently, there are more than 4,000 community currencies around the world which work in parallel to regular money. We will create our own community currency using blockchain technology to guarantee security, transparency and trust; which is why technically we call it "cryptocurrency". This kind of currency circulates up to five times more than regular money, and will only work inside Cupertino. We will use this currency to reward the green transportation of community members and promote products, services, and businesses that care about the protecting the environment and improving their community.

With our idea, families who walk, bike, carpool, or take transit to/from school will be rewarded with our community currency through an app that they can freely download and join. The system will track school commute trips and convert miles saved to emissions reductions achieved, and reward users with this currency accordingly. It can do this by connecting with other transportation tracker apps that log trip data. All the transactions will be tracked and secured with blockchain technology. Users will be able to post their point totals, currency earned, and positive environmental impact on their app profile page to show other users and will enjoy additional City recognition for their sustainable actions.

As we mentioned before, perhaps most importantly, users will be able to spend the currency they earned from their actions at participating local businesses who will accept the currency as payment in exchange for in-app marketing, the ability to use the currency at other participating local businesses, the ability to pay for City services, and the option to exchange the currency for US dollars at a one-to-one ratio with the City. This participation in socially celebrated environmental change combined with a financial incentive will entice community members to use the app and shift their commute patterns. This program pairs well with some of our City's already planned public works projects that encourage active transportation, such as adding separated bike lanes, wayfinding signage, and off-street trail networks, all which will be implemented in immediate years.

We will break this program down into three phases- test phase, pilot phase, and launch phase:

1) In the test phase we will create and define user test groups composed of various stakeholders and build our app.  The main stakeholders will be Cupertino students (middle and high school), Cupertino parents, the Chamber of Commerce, local business owners, and Cupertino community groups including Rotary and Walk- Bike Cupertino. These test groups will provide feedback about how our reward system and spending program will work and how we can strengthen our ideas to make the app and program more applicable to our community's needs and user-friendly for our residents. As feedback is being gathered we will contract with our partners from Spiral (Karla Córdoba Brenes, Ranulfo Paiva Sobrinho, Rosa Casitoz and Deepak Ashwani) to build and modify our app platform using blockchain technology. This app is key in ensuring program success as it houses all data on the currency (Green Bucks) that residents earn and spend at local businesses

2) After gathering feedback from these user groups and modifying the app, we plan to roll out a pilot phase to families in all 14 Cupertino schools and local business owners. We will use our marketing resources at the City of Cupertino and leverage our relationships built through our Safe Routes 2 School program to present our program to families in all of our schools. We will recruit a pilot group of local businesses to join, with the incentive of being able to exchange local currency they accept from residents as part of our program with our City for dollars at a one-to-one ration. With this phase, we aim to test how participation and circulation of currency works, and track how many sustainable travel actions our app is actually causing. We will also continue working with our contractors to provide feedback and modify the app with necessary changes.

3) If the pilot phase proves successful, we would begin working through our user groups, City media outlets, and community group relations to launch the app and program to all residents and those who travel within Cupertino. We would look to large Tech Companies, like Apple, to partner with us in funding and encouraging participation in the program as they too will benefit from the reduction of cars on the road.

We predict that as a result of our program, in three years a majority of families will have shifted their school commute mode from single-family car to walk, bike, carpool, or bus every day, virtually eradicating school car commute traffic while strengthening our local economy and improving air quality. We will strengthen our sense of community by engaging residents in the vehicle emissions reductions goals outlined by our Climate Action Plan and traffic reduction goals outlined by our Safe Routes 2 School program. Apart from that, we estimate an increase in purchases of local and green products by 35%. 

Which types of stakeholders are involved, in which way? / Quels types de parties prenantes sont impliqués, de quelle façon?

This project will involve Cupertino city staff, App development team at Spiral, Cupertino parents, and students, Cupertino community organizations, and Cupertino business owners and staff.

To engage these stakeholders we will host stakeholder workshops and user group meetings to get answers to critical questions about reward levels and logistics of the currency exchange. We will meet at least monthly with outreach champions from groups like Safe Routes 2 School, the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission, student leadership, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club to effectively ensure the two key factors for a successful implementation: excited users and engaged businesses. We will also solicit feedback and engagement through the app. 

We will leverage our strong Safe Routes 2 School (SR2S) program and communications department to spread news of our idea. Through our SR2S network of students and families we will reach our targeted user group and teach them about this idea through regular user group meetings, tabling at school and community events, targeted social media posts, school communications, flyers, banners, and word of mouth. We will identify champions in each school, such as PTA members and student club leaders, to creatively spread information to their peers, perhaps using chalk on school campuses or temporary paint on carpool vehicles. We will use our TV channel, radio channel, and newsletter mailed to every residence to ensure the larger community is aware of our program. While we will target school trips initially, we will invite the entire community to help envision future app versions.

Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce and a business working group will meet regularly to increase circulation of the community currency and help additional businesses come onboard.  We will engage with local companies, such as Apple, and ask for sponsorship. 

How could the actions be scaled up at the neighborhood or city level? / Comment serait-il possible d'augmenter la portée des actions à l'échelle des quartiers ou de la ville?

Our project pilot has been written to be launched with all 14 Cupertino schools and their families, with cooperation and participation from as many local businesses as possible. We'd like to start smaller with this audience to test if the app and gamification strategies we employ will actually work to incentivize behavior change and change school travel behaviors. In this sense, it is already written to be scaled at a neighborhood level, as our schools are neighborhood-based schools. We are targeting 14 different neighborhoods with our project.

This program could eventually be scaled up to include more residents in Cupertino by opening up the app to more users and onboarding more local businesses to participate. We would do this primarily by working through our different user-groups to help us market and spread the word to their respective networks. We would incentivize these folks to help us spread the word by rewarding them with points and currency in the app, further strengthening our own program.

The more residents that participate in the program and demand acceptance of local currency at local businesses, the more local businesses will join. As more businesses join, more currency circulates in the system and more places and opportunities to spend the currency arise, thus making it more appealing for residents to earn currency through their own sustainable behavior changes. The program continues to grow and circulate locally!

What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change? / Quels impacts auront ces actions sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre et l'adaptation aux changements climatiques?

In Cupertino 80% of adults drive alone to work, 50% of students arrive at school in single family vehicles, and annual vehicle miles traveled has increased by 6% from 2015. The average passenger vehicle emits 411 grams of CO2 per mile, so these trips are a significant source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in our county.

Even if everyone drove zero-emission vehicles, there is simply not enough space on roadways to accommodate the demand for single occupancy (and single family) vehicles. Urban sprawl, a housing shortage, inconvenient transit systems, and a lack of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure have created a system where driving alone is the default mode. Additionally, tech companies who have tried to mitigate the impact of traffic on their employees have circumvented the inconvenience of public transit systems and undercut them with their own private mass transportation. If unaddressed, it is likely that jobs and people will relocate from the region to find cheaper housing and living costs and traffic and reckless driving on local roads will worsen as the economy grows, school enrollment increases, and desperate commuters try to circumvent clogged freeways.  We will continue to see a rise in obesity rates and a decline in public health. We need a new system.

Our program has the potential to significantly reduce single vehicle trip miles taken to and from school while increasing local spending. It has the potential to help at least 40,000 students, parents and school staff, as well as commuters, by reducing the number of cars on local roads. In addition to reducing traffic delays, this will create safer, less stressful environments for students walking or biking to school, while improving air quality, reducing emissions, and improving quality of life of residents. When fully implemented, all 100,000 people commuting in and out of Cupertino will benefit from this normalization of sustainable behaviors through our gamification and local currency. 


What are the other environmental, economic or social benefits? / Quels sont les autres bénéfices environnementaux, économiques et sociaux?

Our program's multi-faceted approach to climate change mitigation, traffic reduction, and circular economy will yield multi-faceted improvements for our community.

We believe that our project will cause a majority of families to shift their school commute modes away from single-family cars towards active transportation. This will dramatically reduce school car commute traffic and improve safety on roads while strengthening our local economy and improving air quality. Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) in our area through active transportation encouragement will help our City to increase the physical activity of residents, improve upon the mental health of residents (as increased physical activity correlates with improved mental health), and reduce community chronic disease levels, which are all serious problems we face in this era of the car.

This program will strengthen our sense of community by engaging residents directly in the vehicle emissions reductions goals outlined by our Climate Action Plan and the traffic reduction goals outlined by our Safe Routes 2 School program in a transparent, app-based platform. It will increase social cohesion by bringing community groups together to solve common community problems, linking the public sector (schools and City), the private sector (local businesses), and non-profit groups (Rotary, Walk Bike Cupertino) in a way that's never been done before. Reducing the energy intensity in our local food systems by promoting local spending will increase resilience in our community, as well as improve air quality and rates of certain diseases. 

Lastly, the physical safety of all road-users will improve as cars are removed from local roads and cyclists and pedestrians will no longer need to fear for their lives due to cars when traveling from point A to B around town. This will mitigate stress-levels of individuals as they move about their daily routines, making our community a more pleasant and healthy place to spend time in.


What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach? / Quels sont les aspects novateurs et les principales forces de cette approche?

Most climate actions plans highlight a need to change behaviors. Several cities have built web-based tools to give people resources and recognize actions, but their reach and impact is limited. Our idea combines the convenience of smartphone apps and the security of blockchain technology with low barriers to entry (easy actions) and immediate rewards. All users will have the opportunity to earn recognition and currency by modeling a sustainable behavior, such as carpooling to school or providing data like answering a survey about barriers to sustainable behavior. Our idea references the latest psychology research to most effectively change both individual behaviors and community norms. We will also leverage open data to guide our policy and infrastructure development.

Community currencies successfully circulate in a few communities where private or nonprofit groups have created a medium of exchange to support local business or incentivize a social need. Our digital community currency would be the first of its kind to be directed and led by a City organization to incentivize sustainable behavior while supporting small businesses. We also aim to expand this currency and reward system beyond our city boundary for maximum impact and behavior change, whereas other community currencies have intentionally limited their reach.

What are the proposal’s projected costs? / Quels sont les coûts projetés de la proposition?

Our City agrees to match the grant award of $10,000 if selected (for a total of $20,000).

Phase 1: UX-UI App And Program Design - $6,000

Phase 2: App Development and Support - $10,000

Phase 3: User Testing- $4,000

Total: $20,000

All costs above encompass the cost of working with our contractors, building user groups, running user group meetings, and marketing/launching the program in our community.

What are the potential challenges or obstacles? / Quels sont les défis ou les obstacles potentiels?

The greatest challenges we foresee to the success of the community currency and engagement platform are reliance on community participation, technical feasibility, and cybersecurity.

Without participation or circulation of the currency our idea will not work, so stakeholder engagement and community input will be crucial to understand what will motivate parents, students, and businesses to join in this effort.

Technical feasibility is also a risk involved as the app/platform concept and features are ambitious. To combine blockchain technology, a social engagement platform, a marketplace, and gamification into a secure, user-friendly community currency app may prove challenging. We will need to engage multiple experts and developers to create our platform, while engaging stakeholders in order to refine the end product.

Concerns regarding security and safety may be barriers to use. The app/platform will need to have security protocol in place to protect sensitive information as well as the currency itself from potential theft or misuse. Users may also have safety concerns with participating in certain incentivized behaviors such as biking and walking due to routine road hazards. These issues will be thoroughly explored and vetted to determine how to mitigate concerns.

About the authors / À propos des auteur(e)s

Chelsea Biklen is the coordinator of Cupertino's Safe Routes to School Program. Cupertino Safe Routes 2 School is committed to safeguarding community members of all ages as they go about their daily lives, which frequently includes accessing a diverse network of roadways, bikeways and walkways. To ensure this goal is achieved, this program is working to expand beyond a historical infrastructure and enforcement-approach to traffic safety by teaming with local school districts, schools, parents and students to form a true community-led Safe Routes 2 School program.

Karla Cordoba-Brenes and Ranulfo Sobrinho are co-founders of the Sustainability School and are researching how to use community currency systems to encourage socio-environmental change. Ms. Cordoba-Brenes and Mr. Sobrinho are also co-founders of Siral with Rosa and Deepak. With Spiral, every community can design their own currency on blockchain based on their goals and priorities; Spiral has an unique platform on blockchain.


References / Références


1) Karla Córdoba Brenes 

Sustainability School & Spiral Co-Founder | | 

+55 19-98247-3917 (Brasil) | +506 8892-5566 (Costa Rica & Whatsapp)

2) Ranulfo Sobrinho

Sustainability School Co-Founder & Spiral Co-Founder| 

3) Chelsea Biklen

Safe Routes to School Coordinator- City of Cupertino \ (408) 777-7609

More Information

1) The Sustainability School- 

2) Cupertino Safe Routes 2

3) Spiral - Your community. Your goals. Your


1) CDPH Climate Change and Health Equity Program:

2) California Air Resources Board