Everyone is talking about the Metaverse and the implications it may have on the social fabric of our society. It’s clear that we are living in a digital age, and with technology quickly advancing, the future possibilities are endless.
If there is one thing that remains uncertain, it’s the sustainability of this new, virtual world. Just as the Metaverse has become a buzzword, so too has sustainability. Though it’s easy to get caught up in the wonders of tech and science, it’s important to remember that as society advances, so too does climate change.
Waste and pollution are an ever-increasing concern. Although the Metaverse is a virtual reality, that does not mean that it can’t have a significant environmental impact on the real world. In fact, if we aren’t careful, the Metaverse could do more harm than good. There are ways, though, that developers can work to reduce its environmental impact.
What Is the Metaverse?
To better understand how exactly the Metaverse can affect sustainability, it helps to know what it is and how it works. Think of it like a 3D model of the internet. Instead of sitting in the real world and looking at the internet through a screen, you can enter it as if the internet were an actual world by wearing special gear, such as a virtual reality (VR) headset.
It is a VR, or digital world, where you can walk around and interact with just about anything that is available to you through the internet. In the Metaverse, you can play games and sports, go shopping, work, socialise, and even “travel” to explore new places.
Essentially anything you can do on the internet you can do in the Metaverse, but it’s as if you are actually there in person and experiencing it in real life. The Metaverse will revolutionise the way we live our lives and how we interact with one another and the world around us. It’s important technology because it allows people to have access to things they might not otherwise be able to experience.
Imagine, though, how much energy it must take to power something like this. A virtual world that is as endless and vast as the internet that people can actually enter into requires an immense amount of energy, and that’s where the sustainability of the Metaverse comes into question.
How Sustainability Will Be Affected by the Metaverse
Before we get to the negative implications, let’s first consider the positive impact the Metaverse will have on the environment. First and foremost, it could significantly reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
If you can shop, work, “travel”, go to events, play sports, and more all from the comfort of your own home, this means much less traffic on the roads. It also means people won’t need to use other forms of transport, such as trains and planes, to get around as much either. Less transportation means fewer harmful emissions.
The Metaverse could also help to decrease waste. Instead of constantly buying new things, you can have and access whatever you want digitally through the Metaverse. This potentially means fewer physical things will need to be made for people to interact with, and fewer material items mean less waste and use of resources.
However, the major downside of the Metaverse is how much energy it will consume. The Metaverse will be powered by massive data centres using AI and cloud services, and those data centres consume significant amounts of energy. Of course, the more energy that is used, the more fossil fuels we burn, releasing harmful greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
The second issue is e-commerce in the Metaverse. Global e-commerce will significantly increase with the Metaverse as it will make virtual shopping more accessible. Not only will people be able to shop at regular stores in the Metaverse, but NFTs and cryptocurrency or crypto trading will also become more accessible and more common. The issue with online transactions is their consumption of more energy and the creation of more waste.
A single credit card transaction in real life only consumes about 149 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, but a transaction in the Metaverse using digital currency will consume 14 times that amount at around 2,189 kWh. Furthermore, the more accessible shopping is to people, the more products they will buy, leading to more waste.
E-waste — in the UK and internationally — is also a major concern. E-waste, which comes from improper disposal of electronic devices, releases toxins and heavy chemicals into the environment. Unfortunately, with the invention of the Metaverse, it only makes sense that more electronic machines and devices will be created and purchased. And e-waste is already getting out of control, so it could become an even bigger issue as more people buy e-devices to access the Metaverse.
How To Make the Metaverse More Sustainable
Thankfully, there are steps to take to reduce the environmental impacts of the Metaverse. As we are already aware of how the internet, e-commerce, and digital devices can be unsustainable, companies and developers can use that existing knowledge to make sure those problems don’t increase as the Metaverse becomes more accessible and commonplace. Some techniques may include:
- More automation: Companies like Facebook that are creating virtual worlds in the Metaverse can and should do more to make sure their workflow operations are as automated as possible. The more automated your systems are, the more efficiently you run, and the more efficiently you run, the less energy you consume.
- Renewable energy: Using resources that provide carbon-free energy, such as solar and wind power, can significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed and burned by data centres.
- E-waste management: Consumers who want to access the Metaverse can be more mindful of the e-devices they buy and opt for refurbished devices or buying from tech companies that are committed to sustainability. Tech brands themselves can also implement better e-waste recycling programs to mitigate the amount of waste that ends up polluting the environment.
- Closed-loop manufacturing: Brands that make their products available for purchase in the Metaverse should focus on more sustainable product development. This means using a closed-loop manufacturing process that focuses on using more eco-friendly materials and recycling and reusing materials rather than constantly using up resources to create new ones.
Overall, there is a lot of good the Metaverse can do for our society, particularly in regards to making just about everything more accessible. The possibilities are endless when the world is at your fingertips. With that being said, we will need to keep in mind the implications of waste and energy consumption. Data centres and the energy they consume are the biggest concern. However, if the Metaverse is built from the start with sustainability in mind, it can greatly improve the results and reduce the environmental messes we will have to clean up as things progress into the future.