All posts for the month March, 2016

Conceptual framework

The Great Acceleration 

A cooperative game that illustrates the sum of our planet’s interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes and how these contribute to an existential risk to life on earth.

What needs to be researched

  • looked into various board games
  • went to a game store
  • settled on the “pandemic” model

What needs to be built 

  • a test model of the game to do play testing

What needs to be tested

  • the mechanic and scenarios of the game during play testing

Material gathering

  • acrylic(markers for the “acceleration”)
  • dice, 3×5 index cards (for various attributes and scenarios)
  • butcher paper(game board)
  • coins or more index cards for money(?)


  • find a printer who can articulate all of the aspects of the game

commit to a final articulation

  • at least two rounds of the game

After some email tag, We were able to work out a time to have a conversation about the paper industry, and Sonoco’s role as a leading company in that industry.

In preparation, Mrs. Rowell sent me an informative sustainability pdf that details all of the things about the varied approaches Sonoco takes toward its environmental impact.

We talked specifically about the sections that I highlighted in the literature, some of the corporate coalitions in which Sonoco participates, specific methods that the company is utilizing to mitigate their impact on CO2 emissions, and products that they offer to clients that lessen impacts on landfill.

To begin with we discussed with we discussed how I came to know about Sonoco and my interest in the company’s practices and how they related to the Great Acceleration.  I stated my concern, and my previous unawareness of the impact that the packaging industry had as a global contributor to The GA.  Laura conceded that the paper industry as a whole had this type of contribution to CO2 emissions and directed me to the recent switch to a more closed loop system that the Sonoco is using to cut their emissions by 65% in the last five years at their Hartsville SC plant and exceeding their global goal of 15% to 24% of greenhouse gas emissions.  They have accomplished this through refitting their energy production from two coal fired boilers to a highly energy efficient biomass cogeneration facility, that utilizes the waste (limbs and stumps) from their sustainable logging used to make their paper.  Thereby not wasting a single bit of the trees they cut down.  Laura pointed out that this was not without cost. The company spent $75 million dollars to do the re-fit. However, the savings to the company in 2014 in electricity cost amount to $8.5 million.  If that number were to continue, the company will recoup its investment in the biomass facility in just short of nine years.

I asked about Sonoco’s sustainable logging operations.  Since I have read in my research that some of these operations generate monoculture forests which exacerbate the biodiversity problem.  She directed me to the literature which points out that the company follows the guidelines of the  Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

The SFI pointed out two areas for improvement though:

“There is an opportunity for improvement to clearly define the criteria for retention of stand-level wildlife habitat elements (SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 4.1.2).
 During recent organizational changes the manager signing the Sustainable Forestry Policy has been replaced. There is an opportunity to update the Sustainable Forestry Policy with the signature of the new top manager (SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 11.1.1).
These findings do not indicate a current deficiency, but served to alert the Company to areas that could be strengthened or which could merit future attention and Sonoco meets or exceeds the SFI’s standards in all of the other categories including:
“Sonoco Products Company exceeds the requirements for protection of rivers by involving the South Carolina BMP Foresters with buffer delineation along major water corridors (SFI 2015-
2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 3.2.1). &
Sonoco Products Company exceeds the requirements for incorporation of conservation of native biological diversity by creating a mosaic of cutting patterns, age class diversity, inclusion of wildlife food plots and day lighting of roads with wildlife plantings.”

Another area where Sonoco has made improvements is with water use in particular.  As one might guess, the paper industry utilizes a large amount of water to make the pulp for the paper.  Sonoco reduced its total water usage by 29% in 2014 and normalized water usage 40% since 2009.

The company also operates robust commercial municipal recycling programs in every market  in which they have production facilities and these programs help to recover 60% of the product that Sonoco produces to be reused in more of their products. Since it is a commercial program it Sonoco gets paid to collect the material that they will recycle and ultimately make into new products.

They use onsite recovery equipment to collect and separate all of the disparate types of materials that they produce and send the metal materials to local metal recycling facilities to divert 95% of their waste away from landfills and leads to further savings in material.

So all of this information makes Sonoco sound like an industry leader in sustainability efforts.  But I wanted to know if they were considering using mycelium as one of their options in their packaging products.  Laura said flatly, “No. Since the weight of mycelium packaging is 3 times the weight of their cardboard packaging, the embodied costs in terms of transport and the corresponding GHG’s make mushrooms a nonstarter for us.”

I haven’t been able to find anything that contradicts this statement yet, but I am still looking so that may be what I have for now.


During my conversation with Laura Rowell, I felt myself outclassed much of the time since she is a Sustainability expert and has been working in this field for corporations for 20+ years.  There was a fair amount of corporate “wording” in the literature that she sent me, which effectively compares Sonoco to itself rather than to the rest of the packaging industry or the metrics of what is good for the environment.  While reading the literature I was reminded of the recent Ricky Gervais commercial for verizon in which he lampoons other company’s for “better coverage than ever claims” .Better than what? Oh, better than themselves a few years ago?  Since the conversation was arranged by a family friend, I meant to keep the conversation light so I was always tempted to shy away from pressing these questions or making the conversation more adversarial.  Maybe it was a missed opportunity.  I am not sure.

It is an interesting dynamic, attempting to be an expert on a topic in such a short period and then trying to talk to a representative of an industry that is implicated as one of the causal factors of the Great Acceleration.  All in all, I think it was a useful exercise in that I was able to find what an industry leader considers as solutions to their contribution to these causal factors.  Big industry companies have an obligation to their shareholders to turn a profit, so sustainability is how they mitigate their potential damage to the environment. But it might be that sustainability is not sustainable.

“The various public discourses on sustainable life, or sustainable development, or sustainable profit are the cultural indicators that the long-standing institutional logic of Capital is being forced to take off its blinders.” – Ron Graziani

Granted Sonoco is a private institution as a corporation, but as members of the public we must ask the “right” questions.  To question that institutional logic of sustainability,  I am not sure I was able to do that in a half hour phone call with someone as adept as Mrs. Rowell or if she is the one to ask those questions of. Maybe I should have been asking the Sustainable Forestry Initiative about their metrics, which Sonoco abides by.  I am not sure.  But I will continue to research the propositions she made and the declarative statements in the literature that Sonoco promotes.



The nation cards, pictured on the left of the board, are the player characters.  Each has its own characteristics, with benefits and challenges specific to each. These cards are The Technological, The BRIC, The Developing, and The Agricultural Subsistance nations

The Summit cards are related to specific global problems that are caused by each planetary boundary, these cards contain the story-line and are meant to educate players on the difficulty of global cooperation and how to encourage that collaboration to achieve solutions to these problems.

The action cards are directly related to each planetary boundary, drawn at the beginning of each players turn these cards are meant to educate the players about the dangers and possible solutions to each planetary boundary.  (I am playing with the idea, that if played by today’s current boundaries there is no way to win the game.)

The striped tabs are the planetary boundaries.  The represent the challenge of time and ramifications of decisions that are made throughout the game.

The failed summit markers represent how difficult it is to have worldwide cooperation when solutions sometimes do not work, or work against the interests of the individual nations, or both.


Update: 4/10/16

I worked through some of the turn cards which sort of provide the storyline, and so far I have two summit crisis cards developed.

Summit Cards Turn Cards

I also have made the illustrator files for the game printing.  I am working from the existing model of the planetary boundaries from


Game Board

I also have a draft of what the turn cards could look like in, again in keeping with the aesthetic that on

Turn Cards

At a classmate’s suggestion I checked out the noun project to get some graphic elements to represent the different attributes like money, talent, resources etc

noun_326543_cc noun_30513_cc noun_78393_cc noun_213892_cc

I have drafted the files to cut these attribute pieces on the laser cutter which in the end should look nice.

I tried to cut the pieces today, but I made the files incorrectly to begin with.  So that was a waste of four hours on the laser cutter and more to fix the files themselves.

I have also talked to a printer about pricing and time to get everything printed, so overall I think I am in pretty good shape. I just need to develop some more positive and negative scenarios for both the turn cards and the summit cards.


Update: 4/23

I have made the all of the cards

The Summit Cards are played at the end of each round, and require collaboration to develop design solutions and end in a roll of the dice to see whether or not the solution will work.  Five failed summits and the game is lost.

Summit Card 1 Summit Card 2

The country cards have the corresponding icons for the laser cut icons, that I have finally cut. (Pictures to come.)

These cards determine each player’s attributes and are determined at the beginning of the game by a roll of the dice.

Agricultural Subsistance Country Card BRIC Country Card Developing Country Card Technological Country Card


This is an example of the turn cards I have about 12 of them in total (I think).  Turn cards are drawn by each player at the beginning of their turn.  Some have positive results some have negative results. All of the results have a cascading effect on the game as a whole.

Turn Cards 7

I have laser cut all of the necessary game pieces, and I have at the suggestion of a recent critique reworked the gameboard to better reflect earth rather than space.  I just need to print the board and cards.



The reading felt like one was looking inside the mind of Einstein during his famous thought experiments. Like he was playing with the idea of time and how it would be experienced by society in a real world scenario if these various conditions existed. Sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes neither but all were poetic.


All of the days were interesting, but 29th of May is the most telling to my mind. The world in which the faster you go the more competitive edge you have on your neighbor. It has echoes of the world in which we currently live. We all sleep less and work longer hours forsaking our private lives and families to gain an edge on our competition. I particularly like the part when people choose to shutter the world to experience time as it “should” be with their families and loved ones.


Speaking of time here is some interesting stuff on time and quantum entanglement.

Here are some of my ideas for the game that I would like to make as an intervention into the idea of The Great Acceleration.  I wanted to work with the idea of technological leapfrogging, but I thought that my original topic was a little more rich for the idea of a game and that maybe the idea of leapfrogging would be useful as a smaller part of the game.  Like a reward card.   Similar to the cards in the game monopoly, a player would draw the cards under certain circumstances dictated by the run of play on the board.

Technological Solutions Card Example

For a more in depth look into my thinking, here’s a powerpoint.

MidTerm Presentation