A Portable Environmental Economics Lab

by Yixiu Zheng*

I started working on this project last semester, while taking a course in environmental economics.

As a subfield of economics, environmental economics draws on both microeconomics and macroeconomics[i], but it also has unique concepts of its own. I have seen that students who have never studied economics before can find terms like “property rights” and “marginal abatement cost” overwhelming. While scholars of economics often use historical data and experiments, environmental economics is a relatively recent discipline, developed first in 1950s in the U.S.[ii] There aren’t many experiments to build upon; for instance, the water rights trade doesn’t have a large scope of application, except for some arid areas like California and Australia. So how are students supposed to fully understand and apply these concepts in the real world?

I learn best through direct experience. This type of teaching doesn’t seem boring to me. And in fact, it is suggested that people do have a better memory when they put teachings into practice, for example, by trying to cook a meal rather than just reading its recipe. This is why I want to create a game about environmental economics.

The game I am developing is an educational tool that allows students to better understand environmental regulation. It also provides an insight into a corporate manager’s thought process when addressing environmental compliance and business sustainability by using economics tools to manage resources, control pollution, and maximize profit margins. With the help of several advisors at the University of Pennsylvania, I have been able to add more details to the game to better depict real-life environmental issues and regulation, such as by including provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Through this game, students can practice and apply environmental economics concepts as if they were learning about physics and chemistry in a lab. But my “lab” is a more convenient and portable board game, allowing students to play anytime, anywhere, with anyone. Most importantly, this game may motivate students to think more in-depth about environmental economics. Perhaps even inspire them to develop new strategies and applications.

I am currently developing this board game with the supervision of Professor Femida Handy of the School of Social Policy & Practice at University of Pennsylvania, and with guidance and support from the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL). Other professors at Penn have also been of tremendous help. To learn more about my project, please follow the IGEL Blog or contact me at zhengyix @ sas.upenn.edu.

Yixiu is a candidate in the Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with a concentration in Water Sustainability. She received her bachelor degree in Water Resources in Sun Yat-sen University, China.


[i] Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field, Environmental Economics—An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2009), 2.

[ii] David Pearce. “An Intellectual History of Environmental Economics,” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 27 (2002):57–81.

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One response to “A Portable Environmental Economics Lab

  1. Pingback: Board Game for the Environment | IGEL @ Wharton

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