A sustainable lifestyle boardgame to save the Earth

What if the result of a board game could influence the Earth? It could be possible with a new game where the goal is to save the emissions-sick planet. 

As part of its European Green Capital year 2021, Lahti worked with the think tank Demos Helsinki on what citizens can do to achieve the 1.5-degree lifestyle. The same idea was also executed in two other Finnish cities, Tampere and Oulu. 

Lahti intended to trial the game with players that embodied the city’s diversity of types. A famous punk-rock drummer, a representative of the city council and member of the Finnish Parliament, one student and one midwife played the game.

The experimental game

We have acknowledged that we need the behavioural change of citizens in this matter
— Elina Ojala

“In the beginning, their carbon footprint was calculated,” explains Elina Ojala, Environmental Director of Lahti. Right after considering aspects such as nutrition, housing, mobility, purchases, services and leisure, the countdown to 2025 began. To reduce their previously measured footprint in the climate puzzle, players had to choose among a large variety of actions.

Citizens playing the game. Image credit: Lahti City Council

It didn’t come as a surprise that participants were unwilling to reduce their emissions from their leisure time or holidays, being far more willing to change consumption patterns and food-based decisions. For instance, switching to a vegetarian diet or changing their electricity contracts to green options turned into more accepted choices.

Not all choices are possible for everyone, but there is no unique path to a 1.5-degree lifestyle. When not enthusiastic about giving up on some pollutant lifestyle patterns, players could select more convenient actions throughout the game and end up with an adequate footprint reduction.  

If driving to work turns out to be impossible to avoid, other sustainable actions are always available to compensate. Perhaps giving somebody a lift, moving into more vegetarian choices, or even buying second-hand clothes.  

A wide range of lifestyle changes  

Lahti demands a new population mindset to meet its 2025 carbon neutrality goal successfully. More than a game, this experiment is meant to be used as a communication strategy. “We have acknowledged that we need the behavioural change of citizens in this matter,” admits Ojala.

Citizens playing the game. Image credit: Lahti City Council

The citizens of Lahti can get inspired now by the published players’ takeaways. Plenty of options were on the table to cut their carbon emissions so that the citizens could think of the most agreeable: recycling their waste, eating vegetarian food, moving sustainably, picking local tourism, reducing their energy consumption, obtaining second-hand clothes, fixing electronic devices instead of buying new ones, and so on. 

We have this carbon neutrality target ahead of us, and we are by far not ready. We need to continue with the environmental work and the citizen engagement
— Elina Ojala

However, avoiding telling people what to do is also essential. Citizens may take the footprint reduction measures as an intention to diminish one’s freedom and quality of life. Ojala explains that when the discussion goes to, for instance, private cars or other personal choices, sensitivities can be delicate.

In order not to get bad reactions and refusals, the strategy requires diplomacy. Rather than telling citizens what they can or cannot do, Lahti communicates the offers of sustainable solutions so that the entire city can achieve the aimed for 1.5-degree lifestyle.  

From coal-based to a 1.5-degree lifestyle commitment  

A few decades ago, Lahti was a coal-based Finnish city dealing with pollution at Lake Vesijärvi. A long and profound transition took place through a commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2025. Awarded as the European Green Capital 2021, Lahti is now the leading green city in Finland.

Lahti © Juha-Pekka Huotari / Lahden kaupunki

Ojala declares that the municipality is delighted by the recognition. However, it’s not ready to rest on its laurels. “We have this carbon neutrality target and some other targets that are ahead of us, and of course, we are by far not ready. So, we need to continue with the environmental work and the citizen engagement.”

The global warming challenge requires not only institutions and companies’ involvement but also citizens undertaking significant changes in their lifestyles. On average, every current Finn’s carbon footprint – 10 tonnes- should decrease by 25% by 2030 to achieve a sustainable level. 

In many cities, even if they are front runners in environmental work, the behavioural change is still something that needs consistent work
— Elina Ojala

Introducing lifestyle changes in meat and dairy production, fossil-fuel-based energy, car use and air travel does not come painlessly. Therefore, the administration’s support becomes essential. The city intends to avoid residents feeling guilty for not complying with the recommendations by offering sustainable solutions regardless of age, social status or economic level.

Young players for the future 

“In many cities, even if they are front runners in environmental work, the behavioural change is still something that needs consistent work,” says the Environment Director. 

Lahti © Lassi Häkkinen

Since not everyone in the Finnish city has an environmental mindset, the climate puzzle can add visibility to the climate issue and give ideas to citizens about reducing one’s carbon footprint. 

When well-informed, new generations come with a new mentality and contribute to the lifestyle switch needed to save our planet. All the 15-year-olds in Lahti play this game at ‘Junior University,’ a collaboration between the school and the local university. 

“And then,” Ojala adds, “they go home and ask their parents ‘why don’t we recycle well?’ or ‘why don’t we buy leftover food?’, so they educate their parents, and you get more effectiveness.” 

The fact that the climate puzzle can help influence older generations through the youth becomes crucial as the climate threat is imminent. The planet needs quick actions. Earth needs us.  

It is more important than ever not to end up with a ‘game over’.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
in numbers:
  • 10

    tonnes are every current Finn’s carbon footprint, that should decrease by 25% by 2030 to be considered a sustainable level. 
  • 4

    citizens played the game and shared their take aways