The metaverse opens the door to a whole new world – literally – of innovation. The possibilities are endless and there’s no telling what could happen when the next evolution of the internet hits the world.
But before the metaverse materializes, it’s important to consider its potential environmental impact and how we can make that impact more positive.
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is the next evolution of the internet, which merges the physical and digital worlds. It combines virtual worlds like social media, gaming, augmented reality (AR), and cryptocurrency to create a new virtual reality (VR).
For now, the Metaverse remains mostly an idea. When it comes into being, it will impact how we interact with one another, seek entertainment, and go shopping.
The Metaverse has the potential to become an industry worth more than $10 trillion and there is a lot that’s exciting about the virtual world. However, there are also potential dangers surrounding the Metaverse – racism and sexism already permeate the space, and it isn’t even fully functional yet.
Another issue at hand is the environmental sustainability – or lack thereof – of the Metaverse.
The Environmentally Sustainable Aspects of the Metaverse
Climate change is of top priority for businesses. They have to consider how their company choices will impact the environment and understand that many consumers will prioritize sustainability efforts when shopping.
It’s easy to assume the Metaverse presents an environmentally sustainable alternative to our physical world. After all, a completely virtual environment leads to less waste than what would be produced in the physical world.
In the Metaverse, people can shop, attend events, and travel without creating physical waste. However, despite these advantages, the Metaverse presents costs in environmental sustainability.
Environmental Risks of the Metaverse
Possibly the biggest risk regarding the Metaverse is the opportunity it presents to create more electronic waste. The Metaverse also requires a ton of data storage, which could lead to an abrupt increase in electronic waste.
Another major issue at hand involves the currency of the Metaverse – crypto.
The Problem With Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency relies on blockchain technology, which uses a significant amount of energy.
Bitcoin mining is reported to use energy at a rate of 120 terawatt-hours annually, which is about the yearly domestic energy consumption of the entire country of Sweden. And a single Bitcoin transaction produces roughly a million times the carbon emissions that a single Visa transaction does.
The amount of energy needed to “mine” Bitcoin and cryptocurrency – and thus financially support Metaverse users – is its own problem. This is why sustainability efforts will be critical as the Metaverse becomes a reality.
3 Questions for Keeping the Metaverse Sustainable
Making mindful decisions can make the Metaverse more environmentally friendly. These three questions can lead to increased sustainability in the new virtual space:
1. Where Will the Data Be Stored?
The piles of data generated as a result of the Metaverse will need storage. Some businesses might build entirely new data centers to house the information, but this solution is very energy-intensive and not very sustainable.
On the other hand, storing data and information in the cloud can minimize the number of physical data centers. Cloud storage providers like Google have their own sustainability initiatives already in place to make data storage more energy-efficient.
2. What Happens After Electronics Have Outlasted Their Lives?
The amount of electronic waste (e-waste) that ends up in landfills can be avoided with proper product life cycle management.
Electronics companies can implement recycling programs for their products to prevent them from ending up in landfills. This type of program could include the following steps:
• A customer purchases an electronic product from a company.
• They use the item for two years before purchasing a newer version.
• The customer returns their old device to the company they purchased it from.
• The company recycles the product and gives the customer a coupon for recycling the item.
An efficient recycling or take-back program can help curb some of the waste that could come from the Metaverse.
3. What Do We Do About Accountability?
Without some regulation or guidelines in place, the Metaverse could be a dangerous and unethical place. One solution is to get nonprofits involved in creating a code of ethics for the Metaverse.
Another option is creating a body similar to the United Nations that will enforce safety and ethics policies across all aspects of the Metaverse. This will help ensure the Metaverse is equitable for all.
Keeping the Metaverse Sustainable Will Help Keep the New Virtual Reality Safe
When people are given the freedom to be completely creative and innovative in a new space like the Metaverse, there’s no telling what will happen. To make the most of an opportunity like this, there have to be ethics guidelines in place that encapsulate concerns like environmental sustainability. Or else, all that innovation could be for naught.
Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief of Rehack.