Sustainability and board games - that doesn't seem to be a good combination at first glance: production in China, miniature games with plastic figures, oversized game boxes full of air, sometimes long transport routes for a mostly comparatively small print run - there are many starting points for criticism in the games industry. Author veteran Uwe Rosenberg, together with several publishers and the “Click a tree” project, wanted to send a signal: thousands of trees are being created in Ghana as part of the “Boardgame Road”. Click-a-tree founder Chris Kaiser reveals what is behind the idea.
You first have to understand what lies behind the idea of sustainability in the toy industry. This has been reinventing itself in this regard for several years: building block giant Lego wants to manufacture its products from sustainable materials by 2030, Mattel wants to have switched production to recycled plastic or even use bio-based plastics by the same year, and Playmobil also wants to do this Question about the future – there you want to focus on closed production cycles.
All three toy giants have one thing in common: they primarily use plastic to be able to manufacture their products. In the board game industry it is no longer possible to do without it - at least when you want to bring extensive miniature games onto the market at a relatively low cost. Depending on their core business, it may be easier or more difficult for board game publishers to place a clearer focus on the topic of sustainability in the future. Small publishers that are more ideologically dedicated to environmental and nature conservation issues than the well-known industry giants prove that it is possible.
Pragmatic: From games to forest protection to protecting forests
In the meantime, however, something is happening there too: the author legend Uwe Rosenberg had now initiated a project called “Boardgame Road”, in which 40.000 trees are to be planted over the next ten years and then sustainably maintained. The board game Atiwa plays a crucial role in this. The title, published by Lookout Spiele, puts a finger in the wound: game fans care about an ecological balance between the life of flying foxes and the management of a farm in Ghana. The worker placement board game also focuses on nature and forest protection. Now in the West African country of Ghana, the reality is that natural balance is to be helped with the “Boardgame Road”, an unpaved road along which 2.000 trees will be planted for each participating publisher.
Together with Chris Kaiser, Uwe Rosenberg is mobilizing game publishers to ultimately create 20 hectares of forest in the Ghanaian savannah. Participating publishers so far are: Amigo Spiel+Freizeit, Hans im Glück, Lookout Spiele, Skellig Games, Feuerland Spiele, Edition Spielwiese and a community of West German game publishers, previously Calderan, The Game Builders and Hall Games.
Rosenberg explains the idea for the project with Click-a-Tree and the game publishers as follows: “Of course, we game publishers also face our responsibility towards future generations. They should also be able to enjoy games – and need an intact planet to do so.”
Greenwashing? A clear no!
“Boardgame Road” is not a label fraud. Greenwashing? A clear no. “Greenwashing is when you claim to be more sustainable than you are,” says Chris Kaiser from Click-a-tree. “If you plant 1.000 trees and communicate it like that, then it’s something very positive.” The topic is one that hurts for committed environmental and nature conservationists. Because: Due to dubious labeling and the pure purchase of certificates, a lot of credit has been lost in the climate protection sector. In the worst case, this rubs off and acts as an obstacle for those who actually want to make a difference. There are quite a few people out there who run a company and would like to make it more sustainable, explains Chris Kaiser. “And, as I have discovered in numerous conversations, they often do not dare to take the first steps or to communicate their commitment openly. For fear of being accused of greenwashing.”
What specifically makes Click-a-tree different? Chris Kaiser explains it like this: “The important thing is, of course, that these trees are cared for and protected in the long term after they have been planted. And that's exactly what we attach great importance to at Click A Tree. I myself worked in intensive contact with elephants for five years. Our main motivation is to create habitat for animals. And animals live in a forest - that's why we put a lot of focus on ensuring that the trees we plant grow into a functioning ecosystem."
Control should be achieved through cooperation with external auditors. In Ghana, for example, the know-how and feedback from four different continents are now coming together, says Kaiser. And the “Boardgame Road” is being created in Ghana. The Click-a-tree employees are also regularly on site to evaluate progress.
Produce sustainably or plant trees? Both!
One question still comes to mind: Shouldn't publishers produce their board games consistently and sustainably instead of planting trees elsewhere? It's not that easy. Because: “Ideally, both things happen,” appeals Chris Kaiser. “Producing sustainably is definitely extremely important. At the same time, a lot of our planet needs to be reforested because we have already caused a lot of damage in the past decades.”
Ultimately, reforestation is not just about planting trees to bind CO2. “Planting these trees creates valuable full-time jobs for people in less privileged regions of our planet,” explains Kaiser. “In addition, forests provide habitat for animals and thus reduce species extinction. Water cycles are restored, land erosion and desertification are reduced, food is produced and much more. Overall, with our holistic, sustainable approach, we actually serve all 17 of the United Nations’ sustainability goals.”
In order to achieve this in the board game segment, the “Boardgame Road” was initiated as a joint project. “In the course of creating his game Atiwa, which is set in Ghana, Uwe Rosenberg came into contact with us and wanted to achieve great things,” says Chris Kaiser happily. “And that's exactly what we're doing now.” The location in Ghana was obvious because of the board game theme, but publishers don't have to limit themselves to that. Trees are needed almost everywhere in the world, says Chris Kaiser. “We choose our areas, among other things, based on reliable local people with whom we can not only plant the forests, but also maintain and protect them in the long term. Only if truly self-sufficient ecosystems emerge in the end will reforestation really make a lot of sense.”
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Couldn't one also reforest in Germany or the respective market countries? Basically yes, but: “We are currently planting in the tropics because the trees planted here have the most impact,” explains Chris Kaiser. There are also pragmatic reasons for this: the trees grow faster because they don't have a winter break. “This means they bind more CO2 more quickly,” says Kaiser. In addition, over 70 percent of all living things are at home in the tropics. “Planting trees here offers the greatest possible effect against the extinction of species,” explains the nature conservation expert. An important positive side effect: “The jobs created are usually much more urgently needed in tropical countries than here in Germany,” explains Kaiser. Climate change knows no national borders anyway, you have to “think globally,” appeals the Click-a-tree founder. You should reforest where you can have the most impact.
Climate protection is the biggest common point between Uwe Rosenberg and Chris Kaiser, but Kaiser also plays games: “The favorite changes regularly. King of Tokyo is currently very popular.” Otherwise, Skyjo, 6 takes, Skat, Doppelkopf and Lost Cities often end up on the table. And the wish list currently includes Temple of Terror – a communicative bluff and anger game from Schmidt Spiele.
The start with the first board game publishers should explicitly be exactly that: a beginning.
“A lot is always planned,” says Chris Kaiser. “And we are actually in discussions with other partners from the games industry. Ultimately, we want to continuously expand the Boardgame Road.” However, he is not allowed to name specific names at the moment, but only “as soon as the commitments are firm”.
If you are interested in getting involved as a publisher in climate protection and more sustainability, you can contact Chris Kaiser by email: email@example.com.
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