Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sustainability in Schools Simulation Game


The Sustainability in Schools Game is a fun way to expose teachers and administrators to Education for Sustainability, the process of integrating sustainability into schools and uncover opportunities for the school. It helps schools identify sustainability-related practices (e.g., that save energy and water, reduce waste, or improve student health) that have the best return on investment, the biggest bang-for-the-buck or time invested. 

Educators are dealt a set of cards from a deck of 45 Sustainability Project Cards (covering waste, water, energy, purchasing and food).  They identify the practices or projects that make the most sense for their school and organize them into a two-year plan.

This game focuses on operations because implementing sustainability can, if wisely done, save the school money and engage the community. However, players also explore how these sustainable practices can be woven into classroom instruction.

This game really helped us uncover what was already happening in different classrooms and what the teachers wanted to work on next. We set priorities and we all left inspired to embed sustainability into all our work with students.
—Lisa Hirsch, Sedona Charter School

Teams are scored on their ability to pick sustainability-related projects with the lowest net cost and the biggest sustainability benefits. The game and debrief take approximately 2 hours so can easily be used for professional development during in-service training.

The exercise itself is intended to exemplify student-centered learning and provide ideas for project-based learning. It can also be used with Middle- and High School students.

Watch this video to see how the game works:

Watch this video for detailed instructions for running the game:


Participants are broken into teams and given a stack of cards which have sustainability-related school projects with associated sustainability benefits and costs (time and money, along with projected cost savings). Participants have a budget and must choose amongst the project options to build a two year Sustainability Project Plan. Teams are scored on the Cost-Benefit of their plan. Participants also examine ways to use their projects as learning opportunities, identifying where they can be inserted into the curriculum. The game can be played at several levels of challenge, including creating a 5 year plan for a fully-sustainable, net-zero-everything school.


  • Teachers and/or administrators who want to begin integrating sustainability practices into school operations and use those practices as learning opportunities. K-12.
  • Sustainability coordinators at schools
  • Professors of Education and their students at teachers' colleges who want to understand how to integrate sustainability into their careers.


A basic familiarity with the term sustainability

An interest in integrating it into the school system

Learning objective(s)

  • Explore how sustainability practices can be applied in schools
  • Assess the appropriateness of various sustainability operational practices in terms of costs and sustainability-related benefits
  • (Optional) Reinforce and apply The Natural Step System Conditions, a systems- and science-based framework for understanding sustainability
  • Identify ways to use those practices as learning opportunities for students
  • Select ideas that are worthy of consideration for implementation within 12 months at the participants own school.
Click here to DOWNLOAD the game files:
  • PowerPoint to plan and facilitate the activity
  • PDF of the cards (4-up; print one set per team of approx 6 people and then cut) 
  • MS Word Worksheet (print one per team of approx 6 people)
For more information about the framework upon which the cards are built:
  • The Natural Step (main site; look for principles or system conditions)
  • Sustainability Illustrated (short videos)


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