Eco Inspirations: Greenista Chat with Scott Cooney

When temperatures begin to dip, one of my favorite things to do is host Board Game Night with family or friends. Though we have fun and dependable standbys that we turn to again and again, like Settlers of Catan or Top Secret Spies, it’s always exciting to bring a new challenge into the mix. Enter: The Green Economy Board Game.

Describing itself as a “coopetition,” where cooperation blends with competition, this Green Business Owner project puts players in the role of impact investors in Hawaii working collaboratively to develop a green economy.  With a Monopoly-esque feel, players develop, buy and sell enterprises like geothermal plants, farmers’ markets and green construction companies.  Merging entertainment with intellectualism, the game aims to spur creative solutions for some of the biggest problems our world faces through play.

Current Prototype of the Board Game

Scott Cooney, the board game’s developer and author of “Build a Green Small Business,” talks about what inspired him to build the game and the impact he hopes it will have on real-world communities in the latest Greenista Chat below.

What personally inspired you to create this game?

I thought there was a critical missing element in sustainability education that really showcases how much fun sustainability can be. I saw some people playing board games one night and saw how much strategy they were learning and thought, “If they had to strategize about sustainable development, they’d be learning so much about sustainability and doing it in a way that makes them a fan of the subject,” and that’s really what we need…more people understanding that policies, dollars and entrepreneurship are going to drive us out of global economic and environmental meltdown and toward a healthy and sustainable future.

How did you come up with the various scenarios in the game?

I’ve spent a lifetime reading green business blogs, books and magazines, and following various people who are real changemakers in the world. One, for instance, is Shanah Trevenna, author of “Surfing Tsunamis of Change.” She is an engineer, educator and energy efficiency specialist who is working for Johnson Controls designing curriculum for Hawaii’s higher education. Her story is remarkable, and events from her past, which showcase how Hawaii can move forward on sustainable economic development, are in the game. Other occurrences are also based on real life events, such as Hawaii approving a feed-in tariff, which helps propel the solar industry. This happened recently, and it’s in the game. But a lot of it is realistic yet hypothetical and attempts to teach sustainability in a fun way, like the freak storms that shift oceanic circulation patterns and deposit plastic trash from the Pacific Gyre all across Hawaii’s beautiful beaches. If this happens, it would decimate tourism; so in the game, if that card comes up, ecotourism and hospitality businesses suffer. My hope is that the game reaches a lot of people who don’t even know what the Pacific Gyre is, and as a result of this, they reevaluate the plastic world that we live in.

How do you see the game’s model applying to other countries facing climate change challenges?  Why did you think Hawaii was the best test case?

The island state of Hawaii appears to be a metaphorical canary in a coalmine for the broader world economy. The state relies on oil for 90% of its electricity, imports 85-90% of its food, and has an economy largely dependent on tourism and the military. The resulting service industry jobs don’t provide the living wage that the state’s residents need, and the high cost of energy, food and housing leaves many people out of options. How the state transitions away from fossil fuels, landfills and imported food will be a tremendous learning opportunity for nations and people around the world.

There’s always the debate between what is better for society: government policy or private investment.  How does this game address these differing, but critical, viewpoints?

We need all hands on deck, and both of these models have their place. The state incentivizing solar installations makes sense on a lot of levels, but most importantly because it keeps money here in Hawaii, rather than shipping it offshore to Saudi Arabia or another oil company. For our state and county governments, that means job creation and economic development, which means more tax revenues. But the game really relies on private investment as the primary vehicle for advancing clean tech, sustainable food and green building. Policy in the game just affects these things’ profitability and viability a little…as it should.

Can you please give us some additional details on the game?

Green Business Owner (GBO) Hawaii has a short version (once around the board) and a long version (twice around the board), so the play time can range between an hour and two hours. The game can be played with 2-4 players and each time you play varies greatly. There are 50 different green businesses you can start, dozens of Chance Cards and Event/Policy cards, plus the chance factor of the dice, all which contribute to a wide variety of ways each game can go. We have play-tested this game many, many times, and each time has been different than the last. But it’s never been dull!

How long was the process for creating the game?

We have been developing GBO Hawaii for the last year and we are still hard at work! The game will be printed, published and ready to ship in the next couple of months in time for the holidays.

When and where can we buy the game?

The game is available for pre-sale via our Kickstarter campaign ( or via our website (

**If you’re itching to start playing, there will be a live online demonstration of the game tonight at 6pm PST (just enter as a Guest)!

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