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Virtually green – Greenpeace is using virtual reality to bring its campaigns to life. But does it work?

Greenpeace are adopting virtual reality to engage and inform their supporters. We reflect on how well it works and the future of VR in the charity sector.
Aisling Buckley

Greenpeace virtual reality

Figure 1: Greenpeace’s Spring 2017 issue of Connect magazine, Source: Blippar.com

The environmental charity Greenpeace added a virtual reality aspect to its Spring 2017 magazine. Using the virtual reality app Blippar, supporters could scroll over a page to “see it come to life”. As someone who is new to virtual reality, I downloaded the free app straight away.

I scanned the cover of the magazine, which is a picture of pieces of household objects floating deep in the ocean. The app brought me to similar photographs by Mandy Barker and the story about how the plastic debris entered the ocean after the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. With more scanning, I found out more about Greenpeace’s ocean plastics campaign, watched selfie videos and explored the newly discovered Amazon reef.

Greenpeace connect spring issue

Figure 2: Greenpeace’s Spring 2017 issue of Connect magazine

Some charity newsletters have repeatedly asked me to donate. But with Greenpeace’s magazine I felt I could get involved without just giving money, which appealed to me as a lapsed donor who is still interested in the cause. Our research found that the single biggest reason why regular donors stopped or decreased their charitable donations was a drop in pay or increase in financial responsibilities. Readers can feel part of the organisation’s work by signing petitions and sending “burning questions” for Greenpeace to answer, even if they are unable to donate for personal reasons. I could share a campaign video on social media, or watch a video informing me about what actions I could take to help save the Amazon from destruction.

For readers that did choose to give, the donation form could be scanned and sent to Greenpeace’s online donation page. For someone like me who regularly makes online payments but rarely posts letters, being reminded by the magazine to donate and then being sent to the online donation page with one click would be really useful. However, the Blippar app was sometimes slow to respond and I became frustrated and gave up trying to scan some pages. Our research has shown just how impatient the public are on their phones, with 43% of respondents stating that they would give up on donating online or by their phones if it took more than 5 minutes.

Other charities have also used virtual reality for various aims. The National Autistic Society used a virtual reality headset to help people without autism to understand what it is like to live with autism on a daily basis. Trinity Hospice in London is giving patients the opportunity to enjoy experiences they may not be able to during palliative care. However, it’s not yet clear if these new experiences increase donations. I haven’t donated to Greenpeace since the magazine came through the door, but I did write a personalised message for their petition on this issue, and I can’t remember the last time I did that for Greenpeace.

What are your thoughts on the use of virtual reality technology in the charity sector? Please tell us what you think by leaving a comment in the comments section located beneath the social sharing buttons.


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