Two months ago, I posted an article posing the question: Are our games–as in, Stonemaier products–eco-friendly?

Of course, that wasn’t the first time I’ve asked myself that question. My parents raised me to treat nature with respect and take climate change seriously, and the environmental impact of producing over 4 million units comprised of cardboard, wood, and plastic has increasingly weighed on me.

I’ve occasionally poked our manufacturer, Panda, about pursuing more eco-friendly options over the years. Panda has been responsive and helpful, but this summer–inspired by folks like Andrew of Earthborne Games, Tiffany of HABA Games, Jona on YouTube, environmentalist Derric, and others in the Green Board Games Facebook group, I decided it was time to take an in-depth look at how we’re doing at Stonemaier Games and work with urgency towards a more environmentally sustainable approach to board game publishing.

Even working with urgency, though, I’ve found that making large-scale changes takes time. We have made a little progress in the last 2 months, though (details below the chart). The previous version of the chart is archived here.

Updates

Biodegradable Plastic Bags: All of our new and currently reprinting products have replaced all of their plastic bags with biodegradable bags. These bags are fully functional–they’re not going to disintegrate or get all goopy. Their core features is simply that unlike other plastic bags, they won’t still be here after hundreds of years. This has been a surprisingly expensive change, and as a result it’s been a good opportunity for me to examine how many plastic bags we really need in our products–I’ve reduced the quantity in many of them without interfering with storage viability.
Recycled Cardboard Boards, Mats, Boxes, Tiles, and Inserts: Games typically have two types of cardboard: cards (a single material that’s printed and cut) and coated cardboard (components with multiple layers that are combined after printing on one of those layers). The latter, we’ve found, is mostly recycled cardboard–around 75%.
Recycled or FSC Material for Cards: This category replaces the “repurposed wood” category, as I just don’t think that’s viable from our research. However, cards are a big part of most games, so I think they deserve their own category. The good news here is that Panda’s greyboard uses 100% recycled material and their ivorycore (a fancier material that we usually use) is made from FSC certified materials.

Questions and Other Categories

Cardboard Pulp Inserts: I was really excited about the prospect of cardboard pulp inserts (instead of plastic), as 9 of our 12 games have plastic inserts. After researching them, my excitement is somewhat diminished by the cost (both the mold itself and the per-unit cost), the design/detail limitations, and the inability to secure a loose insert with a tight cardboard top. It’s probably the last category that is the most concerning for me–what’s the point of investing in a nice insert if the components can’t stay in it? We’ll need to consider this on a case-by-case basis.
Recycled Plastic Inserts: Not every game needs an insert, but for games that do, I’m talking to Panda about using recycled or plant-based plastics. Panda currently doesn’t use those options for quality and health concerns, but they’ve told me that they’re “actively looking into the use of bioplastics such as PLA or starch-based films, but will take a few months to get there.” I’ll revisit that in the next update.
No Exterior Shrinkwrap: Inspired by games like Tim Eisner’s Canopy, I asked Panda about the prospect of gift-wrapping games instead of using shrinkwrap. Currently there’s no automation at Panda for this, making it very labor intensive–personally, I don’t feel good about asking Panda’s workers to gift wrap tens of thousands of games by hand. However, Panda is looking into machinery that can handle the gift wrapping for games of various sizes, and they’re optimistic about the prospects.
No Interior Shrinkwrap: On the surface, this seems easier than the exterior, but it’s actually much more complicated! Panda has extensively testing ways to make paper bands work instead of shrinkwrap, and a myriad of issues have arisen: If the deck of cards is too big, the cards curl after a few weeks. If they’re in a black plastic insert, the edges of the cards turn black. But if they’re not in an insert, the cards can slide out of the packaging and get damaged. The front and back cards are particularly vulnerable, and you can add blank cards to protect them. We’ve managed to make these bands work for one specific upcoming expansion, and beyond that we’re looking into wider bands, tuckboxes, and
Wood Sources: We’ve had some really interesting discussions with Panda and in the Green Board Games group about FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) regarding wood sources. Panda is trying to find a sustainable, reliable, ethical, and not-too-distant source for wood, but this is a work in progress. They currently get most of their wood from New Zealand.
Biodegradable Bubble Wrap: I approved the samples Panda sent me, and we will use this type of bubble wrap whenever we prepackage games in China for preorder fulfillment. Remember, though, that it’s exceptionally rare that you can put bubble wrap in the recycling bin–if you do, it will clog the machines that process recyclable materials!

Other Notes

If you’re a publisher and would like to use this chart format on your website, I’ve uploaded the InDesign source files here. If you do, feel free to post a link in the comments below.

This is absolutely a work in progress, and I want to learn, grow, and improve on an ongoing basis. I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments below. If you have any examples of publishers implementing creative, eco-friendly measures, I’d love to hear about them!

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Also read: Exploring an Alternate Future of Manufacturing and Wood vs Plastic: The Facts About Custom Tokens

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