Sustainability and Web3- The Environmental Impact of the Metaverse


Why Cryptocurrency Isn’t Environmentally Friendly

Miners compete on cryptocurrency networks to validate transactions so that they earn rewards. When a miner creates a new block in the blockchain containing a validated transaction, other miners check the information and reject transactions in case of any inconsistencies.

The computational overhead of completing a transaction is worrying. The amount of energy to mine a single bitcoin is between 86,000 and 286,000 kWh. For perspective, that’s 59 days’ worth of power consumption in an average U.S. household.

Bitcoin’s network consumes nearly 128 GWh a day to produce 900 coins, which is not a good look when environmentalists and consumers are furious over climate change and actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

And this is only considering DeFi, a part of the Web3 ecosystem, which also includes other power-hungry applications such as AI/ML, 3D video, and AR/VR-powered tools. Another way the metaverse could mess with sustainability is by creating new hardware requirements for users to interact in the metaverse. 

A high-performing, smooth, immersive experience is part of the deal in Web3. To enable that, companies may need to roll out high-end GPUs as an example.

Fortunately, there are alternative power sources for the richer and deeper services in the metaverse, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, biofuels and geothermal energy. In 2018, as an experiment, Microsoft sank a data center under part of Project Natick to determine if placing a unit underwater would be more reliable and energy-efficient. In September 2020, the company retrieved it and called the project a success.

Related: How the Ethereum Merge Impacts DeFi Industry and the Environment

5 Sustainability Steps for Web3

  1. Set climate goals

A culture that focuses on trust and transparency can accelerate sustainability. Extensive consumption of non-renewable resources, waste production and carbon emissions are all very real obstacles to the sustainable development of Web3.

So, it’s all the more important for organizations to stay accountable for sustainably developing products and services for the metaverse. One way to do that is to commit to sustainability initiatives such as the Science Based Targets Initiative.

  1. Reimagine physical facilities

The metaverse will generate exponentially more data, which leads to the issue of housing and processing said data in a climate conscious way. While this could lead to the construction of energy-draining data centers, local data centers may choose to move their data to the cloud, reducing the need for more physical data centers.

Additionally, large cloud-service providers such as Google aim to run data centers on carbon-free energy by 2030. And enterprises such as Apple and Amazon reimagined their facilities, retrofitting multiple locations with solar and other renewable energy sources, making them run on 100% renewable energy.

  1. Review products and their manufacturing

The US Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainable manufacturing as “the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing also enhances employee, community and product safety.”

The goal is to track a product’s timeline (production, distribution, usage and end-of-life phases) and consider the environmental impact at each stage, which can be employed for both digital and physical products in Web3.

  1. Build a circular economy

Electronic waste often ends up in landfills and pollutes soil and groundwater. Builders of the metaverse must be mindful of the disposal of products by implementing recycling programs or with product take-backs to recycle old hardware and mitigate risks associated with the irresponsible disposal of hazardous material.

  1. Education & accountability for suppliers

Annual sustainability reports can help foster transparency and accountability in sustainability initiatives by measuring important KPIs. Supply chains in Web3 can be substantial and complex. So, sustainability reports must include suppliers.

E-learning programs and training suppliers on the wide impact of sustainability can strengthen supplier relationships and create a far wider impact than only focusing on internal operations.

Related: Blockchain for Sustainability

How Metaverse Could Build a Sustainable Reality

From physical to digital products

As per a recent survey of nearly 5,700 consumers in the U.S. and Europe, those more likely to purchase sustainable products are also more than twice as likely to shop in the metaverse. Metaverse companies can substitute resource-intensive real-world physical goods and experiences with digital and virtual alternatives.

For instance, if consumers buy virtual denim for an avatar instead of physical denim, they’d save carbon and water. 21% of consumers intend to buy fewer physical products in the future.

Overcome behavioral barriers to change

Short-term bias prevents humans from perceiving climate change even when it’s happening rapidly. As VR environments provide users with three experiential dimensions, namely presence, immersion and embodiment, the technology can be used to offer an experience of what the climate will look like by 2050 or 2100. This would make humans care a bit more about climate change as they experience what it feels like in real-time.

Social sustainability- inclusion and equity

Environmental sustainability isn’t the only focus in the metaverse. Social sustainability presents an opportunity to design the metaverse for inclusion and equity among stakeholders and users right from the start.

How the metaverse can become diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible isn’t a question with one answer or responsibility in the hands of one person. It’s an intention that will require broad and diverse collaboration between businesses, regulators, academia, investors and civil society organizations. However, the opportunity is here.

Meeting virtually to save travel emissions

The pandemic brought air and ground travel to a halt. Now, U.S. spending on corporate travel is only expected to reach 65%-80% of pre-pandemic levels as consumers and organizations learned that videoconferencing was good enough for many purposes.

Metaverse would enable events with the ability to interact and collaborate in ways not even possible in a ‘live’ gathering- minus the time, complexity and expense of travel- a win-win-win for organizations to save money, people to stay put and the climate to benefit from fewer emissions!

Status symbols can go digital (Forbes)

Status symbols are ingrained in humans who grew up in capitalist democracies and range from owning a house, driving a sports car, sporting designer sneakers or having a private jet.

Scientists have proven that affluent lifestyles substantially harm the planet. Metaverse offers to take status symbols to the Web3, still allowing affluent people to build their status while lowering environmental harm.

Related: What You Should Know About Regulations in a Web 3.0 World

The metaverse makes many promises to help realize a more sustainable tomorrow, be it digitally. To build on your sustainability idea for Web3, speak to one of KiwiTech’s experts today.

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