Brave New World: Is the Metaverse bad for the environment?

Technologies such as VR, gaming, crypto, blockchain and NFT are now uniting in the digital metaverse - but how sustainable is the hype?

Second Life NYFW
Jonathan Simkhai Fall/Winter 2022 in Second Life, Source & Copyright by Everyrealm and Blueberry Entertainment

Author: House of Eden

Technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, gamification, cryptocurrencies, blockchain and NFT are experiencing a real hype and are now officially forming the digital metaverse. The place where Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft's Satya Nadella see the near future. A parallel world in which the transitions between digital and reality are slowly disappearing.

It's no wonder that Sony's Second Life broadcast a digital fashion show for the first time this week as part of the official New York Fashion Week. According to Bloomberg, the gaming industry could be one of the biggest winners of the pandemic, with revenue growth of 23% in 2021. Newzoo forecasts that the gaming market will reach $219 billion by 2024. Some experts claim this is a short-term bubble, many are already calling for regulations for the meta-world and we wonder, is the metaverse bad for the environment?

What is the metaverse?

Who, how, what? The truth is: understanding the metaverse is as difficult as understanding the internet was in the 70s. The metaverse is not something that can be reduced to a system, but takes many forms and is rather the whole change in how we use the internet. The metaverse replaces the term cyberspace and is the collective of all virtual worlds into one universe.

A persistent parallel reality in which people can interact with each other at any time. Led by the major game makers Epic Games and Roblox, this transition was significantly accelerated by the Corona pandemic. Meanwhile, tech giants Amazon (Twitch), Sony (Second Life), Google (Stadia), Apple (Arcade) and Facebook (Horizon Worlds) have also established their virtual reality, streaming and gaming platforms. It is precisely these tech companies that will significantly shape the metaverse in the future.

metaverse environment sustainable cryptopunk

Alexandre Arnault Twitter Account CryptoPunk

In addition, auction platforms like OpenSea and Christie's continue to drive the digital NFT Art Boom. Last year, the sales of digital artist Beeple's artwork and Larva Labs' CryptoPunks in particular caused quite a stir. In total, according to Bloomberg, NFTs worth 41 billion US dollars were sold in 2021. But the sale of virtual properties is also growing rapidly. For example, the Sandbox metaverse sold a digital property at a record value of US$4.3 million. Recently, even the New York Stock Exchange revealed its ambitions regarding the launch of a cryptocurrency platform.

Phygital and Omnichannel: More than a digital extension of retail

In order to reach young target groups, traditional offline brands also dare to step into the metaverse. For example, the luxury label showed Gucci his own Gucci Garden in the Roblox game and enabled consumers to personalize their own avatars and virtual worlds through a collaboration with ZEPETO, Louis Vuitton launched the digital game 'Louis the Game' to mark its 200th anniversary and Balenciaga launched an exclusive digital collection on Fortnite that fans can also purchase offline. So the Metaverse is evolving into a digital economy where you can create, buy, and sell goods. The importance of digital experiences is increasing rapidly and has completely turned the retail landscape upside down.

Almost 70% of the purchase decision will be made on the digital journey in the future. Buzzwords like omnichannel and phygital are still seen as digital extensions of the in-store experience by brands. However, they are much more than that: in an idealistic notion, it is assumed that products, such as virtual clothes, cars or properties, can be taken from the seller's platform to a personal digital level. Just like you take a jumper from retail and put it on in the real world. Personalised avatars are helpful here. This digital form of the self was previously only known from gaming, but they are currently revolutionising the e-commerce, retail and social media industries.

metaverse environment sustainable balenciaga fortnite

Balenciaga for Fortnite, Source & Copyright by Fortnite

Pros and Cons of the Metaverse

advantages

The Metaverse offers many advantages that meet the demands of Gen Z in particular. For example, VR tools can be used to better check the individual fit of interior, fashion or cosmetics. This leads to fewer incorrect purchases. Better personalisation allows consumers to find exactly the product they are looking for, independent of big brands and retailers. Thus, smaller designers can gain visibility and the monopoly of big brands can be broken. The metaverse also facilitates the development of and direct access to communities, whereby consumers can actively participate in product development, for example. Products can then be customised, made-to-order and on-demand, which reduces waste.

Disadvantages

According to studies, Generation Z spends an average of 7-9 hours in front of a screen. Many people therefore fear a distance from reality and the pull into a purely digital world. Human contact and social aspects are lost, inhibitions fall, digital bullying and shit-storming increase. Experience with social media has shown to date that a digital world often does not correspond to reality, but can lead to psychological problems, especially among younger people who strive for a perfect world. There is also a lack of regulations for the economy of the metaverse, as the turnover figures of gaming platforms and the high auction values for NFTs raise many questions.

Is the Metaverse bad for the environment?

Digital currencies such as Bitcoin reached new highs in the last 12 months. But even more so, there has been a veritable NFT hype. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are now ubiquitous, in the form of pixel images, real estate, entire studio albums and other digital extensions of reality. After Bitcoin, NFTs have become the second most valuable cryptocurrency. Especially for young and unknown artists, they serve as a new distribution channel. Most NFTs are stored in the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum has established itself the standard marketplace for NFTs.

Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum is not a pure cryptocurrency, but a platform for creating, managing and running decentralised programmes such as crowdfunding or online voting. All these processes consume a lot of energy, so the CO₂ balance is an environmental problem. This doubt was already raised in 2018, when Digiconomist author Alex de Vries estimated in a study that Bitcoin's annual electricity consumption is equivalent to Ireland's total annual consumption. This is particularly problematic for the environment, as this energy is mainly derived from fossil fuels. But solutions are on the horizon.

Solution approaches for an environmentally friendly metaverse

  1. Green NFT's Bounty System and Github Eco-NFT
  2. Streamline, efficiency and transparency
  3. Proof of Stake process

1. Green NFT's Bounty System and Github Eco-NFT

A sustainable approach is the Green NFT's Bounty System. This works to raise awareness of green technologies and to develop and promote sustainable NFT systems. The Bounty System is similar to a crowdfunding campaign: You can donate directly to the organisation developing sustainable NFTs. The Github Eco-NFT list also shows NFT and blockchain technologies that are still undervalued but already sustainable. In addition, there are also green tokens. An example is the Carbon Utility Token (CUT), which is largely designed to help businesses manage their carbon credits. The sale of each CUT token goes towards investments for carbon capture programs.

2. Streamline, Efficient and Transparency

Blockchain is also an unparalleled platform that can provide data in real time. This is invaluable when it comes to simplifying complex structures. For example, for traceability and transparency within supply chains via QR code or label passport. Indian steel conglomerate Tata Steel has also partnered with HSBC on a blockchain-enabled paperless trade transaction. International settlement times can be reduced from weeks to a few days with these 'smart contracts'. The reduced trasncation cycles consume less energy, save costs and mean increased transparency and security.

3. Proof of Stake Processes

Last but not least, the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) process, which is to replace the currently established and energy-intensive Proof-of-Work (PoW), gives hope. PoS shows a significant improvement in terms of computing power and thus in terms of energy consumption and carbon footprint. This process is currently being developed in the Ethereum network as 'ETH XNUMX' and gives hope for a more environmentally friendly technology. ETH XNUMX is predicted to have an energy efficiency of XNUMX%. However, whatever the energy consumption, the energy transition is and remains a key factor.

The future of the Metaverse remains unknown

It is a veritable acceleration of reality into a world that is currently still opaque. A digital world means less physical consumption and thus less production of goods, but what comes after that? The creation of an artificial exclusivity, can drive digital consumption immeasurably. But a wave of counter-movement can simultaneously lead to a radical deceleration and hopefully, in the long run, to a middle ground. The fact is that the metaverse is coming and current offline strategies are outdated. How people react to this in the long term remains to be observed with suspense.

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