Gamifying Campus Resilience: Shifting the Planning Conversation

Authored by Elizabeth Turner, September 14, 2016

As campus planners, we design across scales of place (5 acres to 500 or more), time (5 years to decades), and discipline (Auto Mechanics to Fine Arts to Math) that can seem daunting. Our stakeholders include faculty, staff, administrators, and students that bring very different perspectives and demands. Campus sustainability can seem like an add-on that we just don’t have time to integrate while balancing so many other factors in our task of planning educational and support facilities for the next several decades. However, achieving goals such as carbon neutrality become more feasible and less costly when campuses are thoughtfully planned to consume less, rather than compensating for poor planning with expensive solutions in the future.

Campus planners at LHB believe that taking a holistic approach to environmental, economic, and social sustainability is absolutely fundamental to creating flexible campus plans that meet the needs of campuses now and well into the future.

Toward Resilience and a Hopeful Future
Resilience is a term increasingly applied to campus planning. For an excellent summary, see Arlen Stawasz’s blog post. When we talk about resilience, the conversation shifts from preserving the status quo to becoming nimble in response to an uncertain future. Though we may acknowledge a feeling of desperation as we attempt to stave off inevitable climate change, we make the conscious decision to move forward with hope instead of fear. We focus on preserving the values most critical to our identity as we work to improve our environmental impact.

For Higher Education, resiliency is broader than climate change, infrastructure failure, and extreme weather; it encompasses threats such as changing economic and political climates, demographic and technological disruptions, and shifting perceptions of the value of a college degree. Campus plans that stand the test of time will address all of these issues holistically, making campus resilience an excellent unifying framework for guiding planning discussions and decision-making.


Collaborative Gaming
Can your campus achieve the unifying (and game-winning) goal of carbon neutrality, but do so while preserving what matters most? This is the premise of Campus Resilience, an educational and collaborative campus-building game, where participants work in teams to achieve institutional carbon neutrality while maintaining resilience: campus academic, cultural, environmental, and financial vitality.

Players must support the student experience and balance funding of sustainability projects with operations and deferred maintenance, mimicking the real competition for dollars that campuses face, described in this recent article in the Atlantic. The game abstracts complex decisions and forces players to examine their priorities by facing tough decisions. Renovate a historic residence hall before it descends into disrepair or build that wind turbine? You may not be able to do both. Campus Resilience provides a framework through which campus stakeholders:

  • Develop a holistic understanding of the interconnected issues impacting resilience, from facilities and curriculum to policy and affordability
  • Explore resiliency decision-making from diverse stakeholder perspectives, developing empathy
  • Experience at a condensed scale the complex decision-making process a campus undertakes when making planning decisions
  • Have fun and learn something new, regardless of level of expertise

Example strategy card including initial cost, financial payback, and reduction in carbon emissions.

Building off Innovative Practice
Incorporating elements and data from several industry-leading resources and tools, the game educates participants on replicable and successful strategies:

  • Average campus carbon emission data through Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment (formerly ACUPCC)
  • Strategies from the AASHE Sustainability Tracking and Rating System (STARS)
  • Cost-benefit data for campus sustainability strategies from the Sustainable Endowments Institute Green Revolving Investment Tracking System (GRITS)
  • Resilience-specific strategies from the RELi Checklist
  • Holistic, integrated approach to design from the Living Community Challenge
  • Professional experience from many volunteer playtesters
  • A portion of this game’s development was supported through the Perkins+Will Innovation Incubator when Elizabeth Turner was with Perkins+Will and is now used with permission.

 umn-finalPlaytesting the game with University of Minnesota faculty, students, staff, and administrators.

Play with Us!



  1. Arlen Stawasz says:

    Great post!

    Thanks for the shout-out Elizabeth!

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