(List #50) Eco-simulations

Sustainability games and simulations to use in the classroom.

(List #50) Eco-simulations
Photo by Fredrick Tendong / Unsplash

This week’s List is a bit late because I have been busy playing games…serious games. These games introduce students of all ages to some of the complexities inherent in sustainability and sustainable decision making and are being used in the classroom.

(Thanks Zoe and Emil for this request).


The World Climate Simulation is a free role-playing game developed by Climate Interactive, the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, and the U-Mass Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative. In this simulation, students take on the role of UN delegates at an emergency climate summit. Their task is to limit global warming to below 2°C by 2100. The delegates must agree on three decisions. First, the delegates must decide when their region’s greenhouse gas emissions will peak, stagnate, and finally decline. Second, they must decide how much they decrease deforestation and promote afforestation. Third, they must determine whether their region contributes to or requests payments from the Climate.


Dr Matt Offord and Alison Gibb at the University of Glasgow have developed a course based around a simulation by Cesim in Finland. The course, Delivering Performance, sees students operate a small phone company that they must steer to success while competing against other teams. Over ten weeks (ten years in the simulation), students must wrestle with hundreds of questions, many of which touch on each of the SDGs. For example, students can choose to invest in CO2 scrubbers in their factories and put in place data protection or diversity politics, decisions which are intertwined with the rest of the game. The module also allows students to run a triple bottom line which moves their thinking away from a profit-only strategy.


Students from Esade, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the Barcelona School of Design have participated in the Challenge Based Innovation (CBI) programme in collaboration with The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The programme brings together university students to address societal challenges in the spirit of open science and open innovation, inspired by technological ideas that come from instrumental development or basic research at CERN. Students work directly with CERN researchers to create innovative solutions in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).


PHUSICOS is a multistakeholder partnership focused on demonstrating how nature inspired solutions can reduce the risk of extreme weather events in rural mountain landscapes. A collaboration between several European universities, including the University of Vienna and the University of Napoli Federico II, the game aims to simulate the complex governance setting in which stakeholders with various interests and often opposing worldviews and goals make decisions on and implement nature-based solutions.  Players have the opportunity to prioritize problems, plan and implement solutions, and solve conflicts via negotiation and dialogue. The game is designed for 7-40 players


“You are the charismatic founder and chief executive of FlexBird…” The Trade-off is a free simulation developed by the Financial Times that draws on reporting and case studies of companies that had to make trade-offs between profit and purpose. The game is inspired by the work of professors Rudolphe Durand, Olga Hawn and Ioannis Ionnou to outline a general model of how organisations respond to normative pressures. Your goal is to keep both your investors and stakeholder happy. Over four rounds, you are asked to allocate limited resources across four areas: meeting short term targets, social responsibility, the environment, and long-term investment. Based on your decisions, the approval level of your investors, stakeholders or both will go up or down. Here is a lesson plan by Garima Sharma who uses this simulation in the classroom at Georgia State University.


Fishbanks is a free multiplayer web-based simulation developed by MIT Management Sloan School in which participants play the role of fishers and seek to maximize their net worth as they compete against other players and deal with variations in fish stocks and their catch. You can play as an individual or play as part of a class (teaching video and notes are available).  C.B. Bhattacharya, Professor at Katz Graduate School of Business, who has been uses this simulation in the class for many years, writes in this article for AACSB “The result is always the same: The ocean runs out of fish every time”.  Even though participants are aware of the dangers of overfishing, they continue to buy more ships, “in Monopoly someone has to win. There are no winners in Fishbanks. Everybody loses. Every time. Participants remember the key lessons for a long time.”


I have a put together a list of sustainability themed games, organised by SDG, that can be used in the classroom.  A few new additions include Plasticity, a free game created by students at the University of Southern California exploring plastic waste. EarthGames puts you in the shoes of a politician, trying to hold on to a narrow lead in the polls and having to make decisions around climate positions. If you are a fan of Shaun the Sheep (as I am) you can help build a healthier city with Shaun here in multiple languages. Thinking of creating your own? Enter it into the Green Game Jam put on by the Playing for the Planet Alliance, a collaboration between UNEP and key players in the gaming industry to use gaming to raise awareness around the SDGs.