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The Dinner Game

Originally appears in the Fall 2005 issue

Most of us know that we should purchase environment-friendly products and choose environment-friendly packaging when we go shopping. However, agreeing that this is a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean that we do it. Often, we base our consumer choices on the prices or packaging of products, unaware or unmindful of their environmental impact. If we want to change our consumer patterns, we must change our minds. The Dinner Game is an activity that I use to teach students about the environmental impacts of food systems and to challenge them to rethink their consumer choices in an engaging way.

The Dinner Game underscores the idea of environmental consumerism and introduces an economic instrument — environmental tax reform — that could be used by governments in developing sustainable environmental policies. The general principle of an environmental tax is quite simple: the production of any product has some negative environmental effects, and these environmental costs should be accounted for in the price of the product. A tax based on the environmental impact of products would create multiple benefits. First, environment-friendly products would cost less than conventional products, so that consumers would prefer buying them. Second, producers would work to implement environment-friendly technologies because of the market advantage of doing so. Third, governments would collect additional revenue that could be used in implementing other environmental policies. Of course, there are challenges and questions: for example, how do we calculate the monetary value of the environmental impact of a product? how could governments be persuaded to implement such a tax? how could citizens be persuaded to accept it? These are questions that may be provoked by the game.

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Jan Cincera is an instructor in the teacher education program at the Technical University of Liberec in the Czech Republic. He developed The Dinner Game in collaboration with colleagues Josef Sedlbauer and Alena Mejstrikova.