Board Game for the Environment


by Yixiu Zheng*

It has been roughly seven months since my first blog post entitled ‘A Portable Environmental Economics Lab,’ which illustrated my idea on developing an educational board game about water pollution trading. This idea came from a concept of environment economics, property rights, and I wanted to develop a game that could help students understand how permit trading works.

Since then, I have developed the game and made several improvements to my original concept. In early September, I took the game to Stockholm, Sweden and exhibited it in Idea’s Marketplace of World Water Week 2013 where I received a considerable amount of requests for follow-up information about my game. Interested groups included non-profits with environmental education purposes; students and professors who were interested with water quality trading; and governments. A delegate from U.S. government who was responsible for aiding developing countries said she was interested in my game because it might serve to help educate people in developing countries on how to use property rights as a water managing tool.

Here is a brief introduction of my game through Q&A, which includes questions that I was frequently asked during my time at World Water Week:

1. What made you think of inventing the game?

The board game idea was a result of a class I took, “Environmental Economics.” Through the course, we learned about the Coase Theorem, which implicates that by defining private property rights, decentralized bargaining can produce efficient levels of environmental quality (Field & Field 2010, 202-203). I found the concept difficult to understand, which is why I invented a game that could help me and other students better understand Coase Theorem.

2. How does the game work?

This game focuses on the Clean Water Act, which condemns any unlawful to discharge any pollutant into navigable water without a permit (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2013). A player starts with money and permits for water pollution. Each player is then able to buy factories that generate revenue, but also produce pollution. As the game progresses, a portion of permits that each player owns will be reclaimed through various concepts and thus, each player would need to negotiate with other members to regulate pollution and stay within the limit while continuing to acquire revenue. The player at the end with the most wealth wins.

3. What makes this game stand out compared to others?

Most environmental board games are question and answer based whereas this game is not. Thus, players with varied knowledge of the Clean Water Act will be on an equal playing field in the game. This game does not aim to serve as a test of environmental knowledge, but rather tests the player’s decision making process while balancing profits and regulation compliance. Moreover, this game mimics corporate activities and relies heavily on Coase Theorem, simulating a real-world situation.

4. What is the purpose of this game?

This game will be used as an educational tool. Since it requires the ability to negotiate and calculate, the target audience would be high school students or above. The overall goal is for the game to become part of course work to help students like me, who are at the learning phase of environmental economics, better understand complex concepts. This game can be used further as a resource tool to help simulate corporate decision making under environmental regulations.

5. How can you get involved with this game?

I welcome any feedback regarding your opinions, suggestions, or interests in cooperating! If you are interested in learning more details about the game, please contact me at zhengyix [at]

Updates of this project will be provided. Please stay in touch!

This project is supported by Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL), Leading by Wharton School of Business, and supervised by Prof. Femida Handy with School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, U.S. It is now under revision and examining opportunities for implementation.


Barry C. Field & Martha K. Field, 2010. Environmental Economics—An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. “Summary of the Clean Water Act.” Last modified July 26.

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

2 responses to “Board Game for the Environment

  1. It would also be a good idea to make a mobile app for your projected board game, you would certainly have an opportunity to reach more people especially your target audience of high school students. We all know that mobile phones are the order of the day so it should be of interest to many people. Good luck with your project

  2. wonderful information, I had come to know about your blog from my friend nandu , hyderabad,i have read atleast 7 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your website gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a ton once again

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