When it comes to NFTs and the metaverse, environmental impact is often the last thing on anyone’s mind. We laud the positive aspects of NFTs: their ability to bypass traditional banking restrictions to raise funds for charity, the immense rallying power of their community, as well as the limitless possibilities their future holds. Indeed, when it comes to this technology, the bulk of conversation is often related to benefits and potential, rather than detriments and drawbacks.
That said, it is no secret that the creation—or minting—of a single NFT comes with a startlingly high carbon footprint. A New York Times article likened minting an NFT to driving 500 miles in a gasoline-powered car. The comparison sounds shocking—but is it really a cause for concern?
NFTs vs. fine art—which is more pollutive?
“Traditionally, you would compare the carbon footprint of NFTs to that of fine art,” explains David Tng, head of growth at TZ APAC, an Asia-based blockchain adoption system supporting the Tezos ecosystem. “With fine art, the carbon footprint is derived from the logistics of transporting a piece of art from, say, New York to Hong Kong. The shipping alone would contribute maybe around 2,000 kilograms of carbon emissions, and that’s not even taking into account the carbon cost of the art or shipping materials. The carbon footprint of NFTs is reduced since you aren’t transporting physical pieces of art around the world, but it does not mean that their carbon emissions are low enough to neglect.”
To fully understand the carbon cost of NFTs, it is important that we unpack the way they are created. To put it simply, NFTs exist on blockchains—the same platforms that support cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. As the method through which cryptocurrency is generated and transactions are verified, mining is the act that generates large amounts of carbon emission, and therefore, the source of environmental controversy.
Lowering your carbon footprint on the blockchain
Is it to say then that all NFTs are hidden polluters that we should steer clear of in our efforts to protect the Earth? Not true, says Tng. “One way to participate in the metaverse in a manner that is friendlier to the environment is to use blockchains that adopt the proof-of-stake mechanism, as opposed to the environmentally damaging proof-of-work variety. The Tezos ecosystem is one such example: it produces much lower energy emissions as compared to blockchains that use Ethereum. It is much more energy efficient and cost effective.”
To further unpack the burgeoning ‘CleanNFTs’ movement and learn how we can do our part to be environmentally-conscious in the metaverse, we speak to Tng, alongside Katherine Ng, Head of Marketing at TZ APAC.
Tell us more about the ‘CleanNFTs’ movement—who are the people at the forefront and how do you see the movement progressing?
David: The ‘CleanNFTs’ movement is a global effort that advocates for eco-friendly practices and a lower carbon footprint in the NFT space. This includes minting and hosting works on proof-of-stake platforms like Tezos and generally being more mindful of the environmental impacts of NFTs.
What is interesting is that the ‘CleanNFTs’ community in Asia has grown very organically—people have been getting into it mainly because it is a cause that resonates with them. Creatives are typically at the forefront of championing causes such as diversity and sustainability, and it is no different here.
Katherine: The ‘CleanNFTs’ movement has evolved beyond the individual artist level to reach a global brand level. Brands have become really conscious about how they position themselves in this global marketplace and are now invested in thinking about what their customers really care about and how they can meet these needs.
There is a mass collective consciousness happening, and people are starting to really care about energy, efficiency and the environment. It’s not just about adopting plant-based diets and saving the trees; individuals are starting to put pressure on enterprises who are deemed not to be doing their part.
Who are some of your favourite NFT artists? Are they big proponents of the ‘CleanNFTs’ movement?
Katherine: One of my favourite artists has to be Mumu the Stan. She is a really strong community leader from Malaysia who advocates for a variety of causes—gender representation, people of colour representation, Muslim representation, just to name a few.
David: I would say that Mumu, like the rest of the artists who host their work on Tezos, care a lot about the ‘CleanNFTs’ movement as well as championing the causes that they care for. For Mumu, her main focus would be on gender diversity and advocating for mental health awareness and support. I’m also a fan of Zancan—he used to be a traditional oil painter and is now doing generative art. We also love the work of Radarboy3000 and Yazid Azahari. Environmental issues are definitely a part of the picture, even if they don’t necessarily define all the artists here.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter the NFT space, either as a creator or a collector?
Katherine: Everyone’s style is subjective, so my advice is to think deeply and try and make sense of what your causes are and what you like. For me personally, my philosophy is that I only collect Asian art and pieces by female artists. Some collectors build their collections along the lines of an art style, like generative art, or special pieces like 1/1 (one-of-ones). It really is up to you.
A good place to start is Twitter. Slide into DMs or visit Discord channels of marketplaces that you are interested in, and you can develop your style from there.
David: I’m definitely someone who likes generative art pieces. I enjoy how the art is essentially a co-creative effort between the artist and the collector, and how the piece is ‘generated’ through an algorithm. I also enjoy collecting illustrations and works by illustrators.
Another problem that has surfaced in recent times is that of ‘copy minting’, which involves people plagiarising art created by others. To prevent this, I would recommend doing proper research, reaching out to the artist and having a chat with them before committing and purchasing the artwork. It is definitely fun to collect NFT artworks and pieces, but it is also important to be mindful of the dangers that exist here as well.