Understanding the environmental impact of digital collectibles

NFTs have taken pop culture by storm over the past year. On a nearly daily basis, a new celebrity announces their interest in the emerging technology — usually by dropping an NFT collection. From Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction NFTs to Snoop Dogg’s NFT music label, a wide range of notable names are beginning to realize the creative value that NFTs offer. While celebrity involvement has played a key role in raising mainstream awareness about the array of NFT use cases and investment potential, it has also drawn the ire of some fans.

In the midst of the hype surrounding the NFT phenomenon, apprehensions have grown about the technology’s environmental impact. In one notable example, the popular South Korean boy band BTS faced significant pushback a few months ago in response to their plans to debut their own NFT collection. The backlash BTS experienced is one of many similar instances, resulting in some artists becoming wary of exploring the NFT trend for themselves.

What many fans miss is that it is possible to create NFTs in a manner that is not at the expense of the environment. In fact, many NFT platforms have adopted more environmentally responsible methods of minting by incorporating energy-efficient blockchains such as Tezos, Flow, Polygon and Solana. These blockchains operate using a consensus mechanism called proof-of-stake (PoS) to validate transactions on the blockchain, such as minting an NFT. This type of consensus mechanism requires considerably less energy than proof-of-work (PoW), the previously dominant way to validate transactions, as we’ll explain shortly.

But given the amount of technical jargon and misinformation regarding NFTs, the barrier to entry can feel overwhelming when it comes to conducting one’s due diligence. Before any artist enters the NFT arena, there are four key factors to be considered to maximize eco-friendliness: PoW, PoS, sidechains and carbon neutrality.

Related: How blockchain technology is transforming climate action


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