NFTs and the ecological footprint

Blockchain technology has not only brought cryptocurrencies with it as a digital novelty, but has also revolutionized digital art along the way. With the so-called “Non-Fungible Token” (NFT), a new form of virtual property title has emerged for real and digital collectibles. NFTs are popular among investors and art enthusiasts, but processing the transactions requires a lot of computing power, which has a noticeable impact on the environmental footprint of NFTs.

The problem has long been a problem in the crypto scene, and there are now several approaches that aim to give the non-fungible token a better energy and thus environmental balance in the future. This article addresses the topic of NFTs in relation to the ecological footprint and analyzes how much the cosmos surrounding the non-fungible tokens affects the climate and ecological balance. In addition, the growing trend of “green”, i.e. ecologically responsible NFTs, be addressed and what has already happened in this regard and how the subject can develop in a more environmentally friendly way in the future.

NFT: The hype around digital art

Most recently, since digital art fetched high double-digit million sums at auctions, the public has also had the subject of NFT on their screens. To understand how the hype surrounding the topic of non-fungible tokens could develop, the first question arises: What are NFTs? Locating the phenomenon within digital art, while accurate, is hardly sufficient to explain the great waves that NFTs have already made in the digital world. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum and other well-known cryptocurrencies, NFT is also based on blockchain technology. Thanks to this, transaction histories can be stored decentralized and in an audit-proof way, so that there is no possibility of forgery or unnoticed duplication. While cryptocurrency coins are fungible tokens, NFT are unique. As with physical money, any bitcoin can be exchanged for any other bitcoin. This is not possible with an NFT. The non-fungible token is therefore like an original work of art that can be reproduced but never loses its status to a reprint or copy.

However, the use of NFTs goes far beyond the boundaries of digital art. Memes, Twitter posts or physical objects can also appear in the blockchain. An NFT is never identical to the digital or real object it represents, but only serves as a tamper-proof proof of authenticity. Resourceful companies have long since discovered NFTs as a marketing tool and use them as virtual tickets to premium areas in online stores or to innovative bonus systems. The creation of an NFT is referred to as “minting”. The basis is a contract set up in the blockchain code, the so-called “smart contract”. The transaction conditions are recorded herein. There are currently a number of platforms for creating and trading NFTs. This will make buying NFTs, which was quite difficult in the past, even easier in the future. Almost no experts currently assume that blockchain technology will disappear overnight. On the contrary, there are always new possible applications, such as the recent emergence of NFT games. In this way, NFTs could be available to a wide mass in the future, which would in no way negatively impact the performance of coveted art NFTs.

The carbon footprint of NFTs under the magnifying glass

Due to the increasing popularity of the non-fungible token, the energy consumption and thus the ecological footprint of this blockchain innovation is increasingly in the spotlight. The topic of climate balance is raised again and again, not only by blockchain skeptics, but also by players in the scene itself. There are different ways to determine this. A commonly used measure is the carbon footprint. This includes per definition all directly or indirectly released greenhouse gases that occur during the manufacture and handling of a product. For material goods, the established balance includes extraction of the raw materials used, the production process itself and logistical factors.

Due to the complex interrelationships, only estimated values ​​are of course used. Nevertheless, the CO2 footprint provides a good starting point for assessing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product. The value of NFT largely depends on the general energy consumption of the Ethereum transactions on which virtual deeds are technically based. A single transaction currently emits 0.02 kg of CO2, which is equivalent to about 44 Visa transactions or three hours of YouTube viewing. The development in energy consumption is of great importance. In 2021, a single transaction consumed around 214 kWh, a year later it was only 0.03 kWh. This huge saving was realized by switching from classic cryptomining, where complex calculations had to be solved, to the new proof-of-stake consensus process.

Can digital art go green?

It is also important to understand that energy consumption does not increase proportionally with each new NFT. Much more important is the underlying digital infrastructure, which exists regardless of the specific number of NFTs in circulation. In addition, with the conversion of the Ethereum network, up to 99 percent of the previous energy needs have already been saved. But many players in the crypto and NFT scene see such moves as just the first step in an ongoing evolution that could end in a green blockchain world.

In terms of remaining energy needs, NFTs are currently only as sustainable as energy production. A remaining problem is therefore that the blockchain data is often located on servers located in regions of the world where fossil fuels in particular are used to generate electricity. One idea is therefore to offset any emissions. There are also concepts that can make blockchains even more economical. In any case, it is certain that there is a clear trend towards a markedly more environmentally friendly blockchain technology. For the Ethereum network in particular, the increasing competition from other Alt-Coins such as the dedicated eco-friendly Tezos should be an innovation driver.

Conclusion

NFT is not only a real milestone in digital art, but will also play an increasingly important role in marketing campaigns and other applications in the near future. However, with its importance, the sense of responsibility and the view of the ecological balance also grow. The NFTs based on the Ethereum blockchain already have a significantly better ecological balance than Bitcoin. In addition, it is to be expected that Ethereum in particular will soon implement further optimization measures on the blockchain architecture.

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