AfterClimate’s 2023 product refresh + some thoughts on the year ahead

A big stormcloud lit from below by a low sun, rising over a forest, with a bright blue sky in front of it.
Photo by NOAA / Unsplash

At the end of last week’s GTG Links post I mentioned I was planning a refresh of the products and services that we offer at AfterClimate. Despite being kicked to the curb by whatever illness I had earlier, I managed to update the website with the details on the sorts of things I’d like to do this year.

I thought I’d summarise the changes here on the newsletter for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m a big fan of radical transparency – I always want to know the why behind things for myself. Understanding is the key to so much, it smoothes over so many problems. Second, I think it might be of interest to GTG readers because it says something about where the games industry is at, and some of the deep currents running along underneath it. And third, because I think some of what we’re now offering might be of interest to readers who, before might have been left a bit confused, but now might go ‘ah, we could actually use some of that’. If that’s you get in touch.

What’s out:

Basically, after launching last year I realised pretty quickly that splitting service offerings according to the different scopes in the GHG Protocol accounting standard was not really all that useful. My thinking at the time (and which I still believe) is that Scope 1 and 2 emissions are the most important ones to tackle first. Direct use of fossil fuels, and making the electricity we use as clean as possible, are issues that no one else can solve for us, and we already have (some if not all) the solutions for them today.

That’s still true, however, I suspect a main reason for... shall we say lukewarm takeup is the simple fact that no one else knows what the hell I’m talking about when I refer to different scopes! Or, perhaps more accurately, those who do know what I’m talking about don’t need us, and those who don’t are left scratching their heads.

Also out is the term ‘energy and emissions audit’ which, while it made sense (to me) to think of it as offering a degree of confidence and assurance that, yep, your energy is clean and transparently procured in ways that support a zero carbon economy… I think that nuance was lost.

What’s in:

So one of the best new things I’m most looking forward to doing more of is workshops with game developers. Particularly, workshops for game developers that give them an overview of how emissions accounting works, where to get data from, what sorts of tools to use, and the essentials to watch out for in calculations and reporting this data.

One of the problems with my previous approach was that, if all the game developers in the world suddenly wanted to take me up on calculating their GHG emissions, well there’s only one of me, and I’d very soon reach capacity. Which, while  a nice problem to have, would also puts a limit on the pace of change. I don’t want to be the bottleneck, and so if distributing the skills and knowledge about how to do it yourself to small studios and teams around the world is something I can do – let’s do that. To be clear, we can still do that, or be invovled in the process as an advisor, but I think it's not going to be the main driver of change in an industry this big, with this many different studios, this many different countries and contexts. So to speed up that process, we've got to disseminate the know-how a bit wider, and more effectively. I hope the workshops can do that!

Also, showing game developers how to do their own GHG inventory still has the potential to save teams and individuals hours and hours that could better be spent working on their games. No one (sensible) wants to read through dry and complicated documents like the GHG Protocol standard. So I still think there's value in having me do it for you, and still save you 90% of the time and conceptual effort.

I also haven’t put it up on the website yet, but I’m also hoping to do a few more workshops, talks and presentations to game industry boards – I’m working on one at the moment outlining the huge and growing suite of reasons the game industry should be taking climate action now: from regulatory reasons, investors expectations, to changing consumer (or player) attitudes. If you’d be interested in having me give something like that in your organisation or present to your leadership team – shoot me a message and let's talk.

I’ve also tweaked some of the wording and focus of the other things I am looking to do this year as well – as I mentioned, we can still do GHG inventories, but I want to facilitate studios doing it themselves more.

I also love doing exploratory research on thorny sustainability questions. Hard questions without simple answers that take time are, unfortunately, some of the most important work that we can do in the sustainability space. Answers to questions about the most cost efficient pathway to net zero for particular businesses, sorting through what sorts of data collection methods are needed, what kinds of organisational change might be necessary – and hovering above it all, how much all of this is likely to cost. These are things that keep me up at night, and that I get out of bed in the mornings for.

I was asked this week what I thought it would take to convince the games industry to put its money where its mouth is and come up with the money necessary for climate action and swift decarbonization. I think the answer is... complicated. But the one thing I am sure of is that the games industry is incredibly successful. It's hugely profitable, it's also growing (despite the weirdness of the current ructions). It's the biggest entertainment industry in the world. I don't think money is the barrier that it seems to be – I think it actually might be more basic than that.

I think it's the uncertainty. Will the net zero transition cost more than we can afford? Will it undermine the foundations of what we do? Are games incompatible with a stable and safe climate system? I suspect the answers to all of these is 'no' – or at least, not for a certain kind of games industry of the future. In a way, it can't be can it? Because long term sustainability is not really optional. In the second half of the twentieth century we allowed powerful interests to kick the can down the road, but that road is getting narrower and more bumpy every passing day. Global CO2 emissions are still – almost unbelievably – rising.

One way or another, change is coming. Better to get out in front of it, to be prepared, to know the risks and address them head-on than to wait and react at the last moment. The very best climate scientists in the world are telling us it's already very, very late.

Thanks for reading Greening the Games Industry. We mostly reach new readers via word of mouth, so please feel free to forward this to a friend or colleague who might be interested!

And as a reminder, I'll be at GDC in just over a week – I'll try and do some on-the-ground reporting from the environmental themed talks and sessions to share here. If you'll be there and want to chat, I've got slots you can book via google calendar here. Or you can shoot me an email. You know where to find me.