Who knows sustainable food best? Here’s a game where you can prove your mettle

sustainable food game

Are you the kind of person that enjoys a bit of good, friendly competition? Do you rub it in when you destroy your friends at Scrabble? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Competition is human nature. But have you ever wished you could put all that food knowledge you have to work (and then rub it in when you whoop your friends at it)?

GBO Hawaii, a sustainability-themed board game, showcases an economy in transition. It’s set in the beautiful island state of Hawaii, which just so happens to be the most unsustainable state in the U.S. Ninety percent of Hawaii’s electricity comes from burning foreign oil, on which the state spends $8 billion a year. But that’s just the beginning. Hawaii’s great weather and rich soils mean that the state could produce all the food it needs locally. With 2500 miles separating Hawaii from the nearest port, you’d think that local food production would be at a maximum.

Unfortunately, 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, and most of it is processed, unhealthy, and/or genetically modified, while most of Hawaii’s agricultural land is used for export crops. It used to be sugar cane and pineapple, but now it’s mostly a testbed for Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer to create GMO seeds and export them.

In the game, events and public policy affect your investments in sustainability. If this card comes up, and you’ve been investing in local food production, you’re hosed!

Crazy? Without a doubt. But here’s where it gets good! The opportunity and the political will are growing in Hawaii to transition the economy to one of self-sufficiency. With ample sun, plentiful geothermal activity, consistent tradewinds, and the aforementioned great soils and perfect climate, the state has the opportunity to become a hotspot for global sustainability.

GBO Hawaii encapsulates all this and more. In the game, you’re an investor, kind of like Monopoly. In Monopoly, of course, you build at all costs, drive everyone else bankruptcy, and spend time in white collar prison, where you lose none of your assets and end up bribing your way out. Right…and we wonder why we ended up in the financial mess of 2008?

Investing in sustainable food businesses is way better than investing in Marvin Gardens!

Conversely, GBO Hawaii is the first game that quantifies a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) return on your investments in the game. By investing in an organic farm or a community supported agriculture (CSA) business, for instance, you not only make a small dividend, you create green collar jobs, and help the state reduce its dependence on imported food. (Or “FOOD”, as it is called in the game). In other words, Monopoly = the old way. GBO Hawaii = the new, better way.

At the end of the game, you add up how many green jobs you’ve created, how much money you’ve made, and your eco-credits for offsetting barrels of oil, dumptrucks of waste, and cans of processed “FOOD”. Whoever gets the best triple bottom line return on investment wins…and may proceed to dance around the room lauding their sustainable food expertise.

Have friends who are into other aspects of sustainability, and also have a little bit of a fun competitive side? Check out the clean tech, investment, and ecotourism angles of GBO Hawaii.

GBO Hawaii is for ages 13+, 2-4 players, and is 2-games-in-1. It can easily be modified to be played as a card game, then if you want a longer and more complex game, you can quickly shift to the board game.

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up!

About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on