18 January 2023

Sustainability: A dirty game


Sustainability is a concept that can be hard to understand and even harder to implement. What if you could play your part, by quite literally playing a boardgame? A team of five young researchers from four European universities have together developed a free, fun and factual boardgame to demonstrate the role of soil systems in overcoming challenges of the future in a sustainable manner.

Board of the game
Soil game board

The soil, a thin and fragile skin covering our planet, produces 95% of our food and feed, cleans 99% of our freshwater, and stores 75% of our global carbon. The United Nations’ sustainable development goals depend heavily on healthy soils, and yet soil quality is fast deteriorating. Soils may seem dirty, but their unsustainable use is really the dirty matter!

In an ambitious outreach project, this diverse team came together to develop a novel way for the public to learn about the sustainable development goals and their dependence on healthy soils. Print and virtual media offer limited means to truly understand complex environmental relationships.

- “But our educational game is designed to highlight these often-overlooked links, feedbacks and trade-offs that exist between soil and sustainable development, in a playful and social way”, points out Dr. Tanvi Taparia, a soil microbiologist from the Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who worked on the game mechanics and design.

The European Soil Mission, launched in 2021, acknowledges the massive importance of soil literacy and stakeholder engagement in research and decision-making.

- “Sustainable soil management has to be implemented by transdisciplinary collaboration on the global front, and as mirror to the real world, our boardgame forces the players to interact and agree on a joint strategy to preserve socio-economic needs as well as soil health” explains Dr. Michael Loebmann of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, an expert in sustainable soil management and co-creator of the game.  

This soil board game helps players to not only understand soil multifunctionality, but also utilize the diverse soil functions to mitigate the associated challenges. Presenting these relationships between soil functions and sustainable development in a board game scenario enables the easy transfer of rather complex knowledge in a range of situations from workshops to classrooms, playgroups and living rooms.

- “For land managers, it also offers a risk-free setting and a useful learning tool to explore diverse management practices to promote soil health”, continues Dr. Taparia.

Understanding these intricate soil systems is a stepping-stone towards a sustainable future. “Dirty Matters” is a fun and interactive game, that creates awareness on soil health and its importance for human wellbeing. So go ahead and download this freely-available board game for use in social engagement events, as a teaching aid, to foster public curiosity or just for a fun evening. Remember to play your part in sustainability, literally. 

You can download the soil board game at

You can read more about sustainable soil management at

This project is a collaboration between Dr. Tanvi Taparia (Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Dr. Nicolas Beriot (Wageningen University, Netherlands), Christina van Midden and Dr. Emma Burak (Cranefield University, United Kingdom) and Dr. Michael Loebmann (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Germany). It was funded by the British Society of Soil Science, Interdisciplinary Grants for Early Career Researchers and Professionals in 2021. 


Dr. Tanvi Taparia
Department of Biology
Universitetsparken 15, Copenhagen 2100
Email: tanvi.taparia@bio.ku.dk
Tel: +45 6090 5515

Helle Blæsild
PR & Communication
Department of Biolog, UCPH
Mail: helleb@bio.ku.dk
Tel: +45 2875 2076


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