Part 1: Introduction to Sustainable Societies

5. Sustainability Game

Students role play in a game that demonstrates to them the personal importance of making sustainable decisions in real life


      • Choose a Sustainability Game. The following two game options introduce students to the concept of sustainable decision-making. The first activity is preferred because of its simplicity as well as likely time constraints and the novelty of the concept. The second activity may be more interesting for students who already understand the concepts well.
      • Gather materials needed for the chosen game

In Class

Option 1: Drain or Sustain?


      • a large number of small pebbles (candy or coins can also be used though pebbles are preferred)
      • an opaque bag for each group of student


    1. Divide the students into groups of four and explain that each group represents a community
    2. Place 16 pebbles in a communal pile for each group of students
    3. Explain that the pebbles represent some renewable resource that is familiar to students, for example, fish stocks or irrigation water
    4. Explain the rules of the game:
        • In each round, each player may take as many pebbles from the pile as they wish
        • To survive to the next round, each player must take at least one pebble
        • One student in each group will record:
            • the number of pebbles taken by each member every round
            • the number of pebbles remaining in the pool after each round
        • At the end of each round, the instructor will replenish the pool by adding a number of pebbles equal to the number remaining in the pool

    5. Play three or four rounds, pausing after each round to find out if any community members did not survive
    6. Play one final round, then ask each group of students to share what happened in their communities:

        • Did everyone survive?
        • If the game continued, will there always be enough resources?
        • What strategies did the community use?

    7. Find out, out of the whole room, who amassed the most pebbles? How did he or she accomplish this? Did this keep others from surviving?
    8. Ask students to propose other real world situations that the game could model. Write a list of suggestions on the chalk board. Ask students to identify instances where players in these real world situations use either competitive or cooperative strategies for resource management.

*Adapted from “Drain or Sustain?” in McKeown, Rosalyn. Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit, Version 2, Center for Geography and Environmental Education, University of Tennessee, July 2002.

Option 2: Understanding Perspectives, Building Consensus


      • Paper and pens for participant groups


    1. Divide your students into groups of 5-7 people, preferably strangers, with various backgrounds.
    2. Assign each person a role in the game: parent, head of a local industry or business, teacher, banker, graduating teenager, elderly person, municipal service provider (e.g. policeman), and/or medical professional.
    3. Situation: Discuss what skills and knowledge children of today will need in order to be productive members of our society as adults. Situation: What is the largest sustainability problem in our community?
    4. Start small group discussions of the situation, with each participant bringing up points appropriate to the role he or she is playing. For example, the "business owner" might complain that young adults do not have good enough language skills to work as salespeople. Groups should determine whether or not there is a problem.
    5. Groups should strive to arrive at consensus (30 minutes).
    6. Ask one person from each group to state the group's answer to the entire room.
    7. Lead a discussion of the process by which each group arrived at consensus.

Note: Many issues are complex and cannot be defined in 30 minutes. In these cases, the desired learning outcome is understanding the complexity of an issue, not identifying a solution.