Playing games for a circular economy

I had the opportunity to organize a game seminar for international master students in business administration to set focus on critical materials and the transformation to a circular economy. The game we played is called “In the loop”. In the game, teams of players take on the role of manufacturing companies, producing such things as e.g. mobile phones, electric toothbrushes and wind power plants – i.e. commonplace products in today’s society, some of which might also be important in transforming the energy sector to a become free from fossil fuels. However, as the players will soon realize, this is no easy undertaking since many of the products incorporate critical materials, the supply of which is not endless. Adding to that, events which might affect the business takes place on a more or less regular basis, e.g. the government might decide to subsidize companies which produce fossil free energy. Companies respond to the finiteness of resources and the events by adjusting their actions and strategies. Hence, in quite a few respects, the game constitutes a good model of reality. You can learn more about the game and try it out here.

One of the students, in her reflection upon the game seminar, wrote: “At the seminar, we got in touch with concepts related to critical materials, such as definitions, utility, rarity, in which countries some of the most valuable materials are found and what are the social, political and environmental implications about extracting, transforming and producing these materials. In addition, we learnt about ways to avoid resource waste and how to develop circular economy into a more sustainable society using cooperation between different actors and chains. In the end, the most potent message was about responsibility. For us as citizens, as strategists, as users, as decision-makers and finally, as humans. There is no way back, but there is choice. Responsible choices for our blue planet and future generations”. Another student commented: “The main conclusion about the game-seminar is the urgency that is needed to change consumer behavior and [the way in which we] manufacture products. It is also relevant to consider the policies that governments around the world need to do to protect the natural resources and guarantee a decent life quality for all beings on earth. The circular economy and other solutions need to be followed by all organizations especially considering the process of product design, use and reuse to stop overusing the natural resources”.

From comments like the ones above, it follows that students have not only learnt important lessons but also felt engaged when playing the game. The importance of engagement is also emphasized in learning for sustainable development. E.g. Vare and Scott (2007) has shown that knowledge about sustainability problems is not enough for taking action to solve them. Instead, a pluralist and critical education where different values and perspectives are made explicit and hence debated, and where students are engaged in active learning, is needed. Game seminars offer such active engagement. Moreover, in the debriefing session which followed the game seminar, international students with own experiences of living in countries where for example conflict minerals are extracted or where child labor is extensively used, added value to the discussion on the importance of transforming the economy into a more sustainable one.


Cecilia Enberg,

Universitetslektor IBL & pedagogisk utvecklare vid Didacticum

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