Non-fungible tokens or NFTs are a relatively new technology that represents digital assets. These assets can be videos, pictures or other media. The unique thing about NFTs is that no two people can own the same art.
With the evolution of the blockchain industry and the NFT market, their influence on the environment is increasing.
In this piece, we will take a detailed look at NFTs' impact on the surroundings and the ways of reducing their drawbacks.
Table of Contents
What Are NFTs?
NFTs are unique digital assets that cannot be exchanged for something else. Hence they are non-fungible contrary to common cryptocurrencies. NFTs are created and managed using blockchain technology which requires consensus algorithms to validate transactions and ensure the integrity of the networks.
An NFT can be created using various digital media including pictures, videos, music, gifs, memes and pretty much anything that you can call art. NFTs are one of a kind and have special identifiers that make them unique.
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NFTs are a great way for artists to monetize their works by putting them on NFT marketplaces. Nevertheless, there have been concerns regarding the energy consumption and environmental impacts of NFTs.
The Environmental Impact of NFTs and Digital Arts
NFTs and digital arts are great ways to contribute to the craft industry. At first look it can be unclear, why are NFTs bad for the environment. But we can ensure you, there are several essential pitfalls behind NFTs' work.
In this section, we will consider some of the harmful environmental impacts of NFTs.
Energy Consumption of NFTs
The first thing to note is that NFTs just like cryptocurrencies have a high level of energy consumption. The energy consumption of NFTs comes from a process known as mining. A 2021 study at the University of Cambridge showed that the average NFT transaction on the Ethereum blockchain is around 36 kWh.
This is more than the daily electricity consumption in the average Australian home. The nature of the activities surrounding the creation and trading of NFTs and their high electrical power consumption are what contribute to other environmental impacts.
Carbon Footprint of NFTs
Carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere when an activity is carried out. The high energy consumption nature of the blockchain-based technology used in creating and trading NFTs has caused them to have a high carbon footprint.
However, the carbon footprint of NFTs varies depending on a number of factors. Some of these factors are:
- The blockchain platform: The platform where the NFT is created, bought and sold impacts the carbon footprint. A blockchain that uses proof-of-work (POW) is more likely to increase carbon emissions.
- The energy mix: If the energy mix in the region where an NFT is hosted has a high percentage of fossil fuels, the carbon footprint will be higher.
- Transaction volume: The more the number of transactions in creating, buying and selling in the NFT marketplace, the higher the carbon emissions.
- Digital asset size: If the file is large, it will require more energy and this, in turn, increases the carbon footprint.
Land Use and Resource Consumption
Activities such as Bitcoin mining require mining farms which might take up some land. They are then used to buy NFT in the NFT marketplace.
These mining farms can have environmental impacts on the local ecosystems where they are sited. One such impact is the clearing of vegetation to make way for the farms.
Another thing is resource consumption. The production and disposal of the digital devices used to access NFTs consume raw materials and some rare earth metals. This activity can also have a negative environmental impact as some of them do not decompose.
Proof of Work and Proof of Stake
Blockchains operate on two different consensus algorithms that are centralised and without intermediaries. It is important to talk about these as it plays a major role in improving the environmental sustainability of NFTs.
PoW (Proof of Work)
Here miners compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles which then validate and create new blocks. The first miner that solves the puzzle is rewarded with a cryptocurrency and also the right to add the next block to the blockchain.
This type of mechanism consumes a lot of electricity and has negative impacts on the environment. It is the first mechanism used in mining but the environmental issues associated with it has led to some network leaving it and moving to the PoS.
PoS (Proof of Stake)
Here, instead of miners, we have stakers. Validators are chosen to validate and create new blocks based on the amount of cryptocurrency that they hold and stake in the network.
Validators aren't required to partake in solving any serious mathematical puzzles. This act reduces the consumption of energy and in turn, reduces the environmental impact of blockchain activities.
Are NFTs Bad for the Environment? Ethereum Goes Green
Ethereum — one of the most popular blockchain platforms, has taken the bull by its horn in order to address the environmental impacts of NFTs and cryptocurrency in general.
They showed commitment to this through the famous Etherum merge known as Etherum 2.0. This decision will make Ethereum transactions cleaner.
It is the transition from the proof of work mechanism to the proof of stake mechanism. This will significantly reduce the environmental hazards posed by Ethereum while it still maintains its decentralisation. The merge has happened and only time will tell the overall impact this will have on the blockchain industry.
Steps to Make NFTs More Environmental Friendly
The switch from PoW to PoS is obviously one of the vital ways to improve sustainability in the cryptocurrency industry. With Ethereum leading the way, some other networks are likely to move too. Especially when they see the impact it has on Ethereum.
Here are some other things that can be done to increase the sustainability of cryptocurrency and NFTs.
Using Renewable Energy Sources and Offsetting Carbon Emissions
Electrical energy sources like wind and solar energy can be used for energy production. Networks can shift mining operations to electricity generated by renewable energy sources.
Networks can also invest in more carbon-offsetting projects or purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions.
Encouraging Eco-friendly NFTs and Responsible Usage
Eco-friendly NFTs have lower carbon footprints. NFT platforms can encourage eco-friendly NFT transactions. Users of NFTs can also be encouraged to use them only when necessary. This can help reduce the environmental impacts of using the technology.
Increasing Transparency and Reporting
Finally, networks can make their energy consumption and carbon footprints public. Doing this will help investors and stakeholders and even industry experts to make informed decisions. It will also allow the public to hold them more accountable for their environmental activities.
NFTs offer exciting opportunities for artists and collectors, however, their potential impact on the environment cannot be ignored. The process of creating and trading NFTs involves significant consumption of energy. The blockchain technology used to power them also cause carbon emissions.
As people become increasingly aware of the advantages of NFTs, it is necessary that we explore ways to reduce their environmental impact. Activities that can help us achieve this include; transitioning to more sustainable blockchain technologies by using clean energy and implementing carbon offset programs.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us from artists to collectors to NFT platforms, to take responsibility and promote more activities that combat climate change and encourage the use of clean energy.