The powerful force that is the NFT art world is receiving a lot of attention from environmental critics as it grows. This is due to the widespread coverage of blockchain activity consumption, how it uses high amounts of energy and is harmful for the environment. In a recent ironic twist, the Open Earth Foundation, an environmental research foundation, organized an art auction in which top NFT artists sold works to raise funds for the NGO. The auction was named the “Carbon Drop” auction, using the common young-generation name of “drop” for new releases.

The Carbon Drop auction has happened at a time when the NFT art world is steadily accelerating, collective sales volumes from the different NFT art platforms have surpassed millions and several new startups are just now entering the market. It has displayed the potential of this new market, and the celebrity power that buyers create in artists. The organizers of the auction very intelligently tapped into this abundant stream of value and also called the attention of its numerous participants.

The auction was arranged as a fundraiser for The Open Earth Foundation, an NGO working to facilitate progress towards the Paris Agreement goals. Other participating bodies were the Social Alpha Foundation, a crypto philanthropic group; Nifty Gateway, currently the most active NFT Art marketplace; and RNDR, a visual graphics service provider for artists.

The organizers designed the event to be “carbon negative”, meaning that more CO₂ was taken out of the atmosphere than was emitted, during the event activities. To create the artwork, eight of the world’s top NFT artists were invited. Among them was Beeple, one of the world’s top-selling NFT artists. Each artist created a new piece for the event, within the theme of climate change, and collectively the artworks raised 6.6 million USD.

One of the artists, Kyle Gordon, is a talented artist who has recently entered the NFT field, and is a diverse personality. In addition to creating valuable NFTs, he is an investor and he does creative visual work for commercial clients through his company, Studio ZIRO. He was glad as a person to have the opportunity to do something that could potentially have a lasting impact on society. To other artists, he suggests asking questions of the platforms they choose, equating the platform with the artist’s canvas. Questions about the platform, and the type of tech, will lead to more informed and smart choices, he says.

He believes that while the environmental impact of NFT Art may be debatable today, very soon most existing and upcoming platforms will intrinsically have energy efficient minting and transacting via PoS blockchain tech. Major platforms are making efforts to become greener, or at least neutral, and both buyers and artists will soon start to migrate, he predicts, leaving those that do not take steps to curb their impact in the dust. To the people pointing fingers at artists, he suggests that they take a second look at their own environmental impact, lest they be wearing shirts from MNCs that are mass-producing using huge amounts of energy, or running inefficient heaters and using large gaming computers.

Kyle Gordon also had his personal carbon footprint calculated, with assistance from Creol, prior to the auction, and paid to offset it. Other participating artists have done the same, and few like Beeple and Refik Anadol calculated their participation so as to make it carbon negative. For the future, the artists are determined to choose safer platforms, and to be more conscious in their daily lives. In fact, shortly after participating in the Carbon Drop, Kyle joined DoinGud to create better tools for creators to participate mindfully in the NFT space while supporting causes they care about.

Here it must be pointed out that both artists and platforms at large are eager to take steps to make NFT Art greener. As the Carbon Drop auction has shown, artists have the option to offset their carbon footprint using solutions such as Creol. As for platforms, many are looking into environmentally safer solutions. Known Origin is one example, and they have announced in a recent blog post that they are redesigning their platform. Specifically, minting contracts on the platform will be made 50% cheaper, artists will be limited to one upload per day, blockchain will only be used for essential actions such as transfer of ownership, and finally open editions will be banned. This is the first of many platforms, it is expected.

It can certainly be hoped that the future will be greener, the people behind the auction are working hard to achieve this goal, and to make the progress towards it clearer for all stakeholders. This is the goal with which the Open Earth Foundation was created.

The executive director at OEF, Dr. Martin Wainstein, said that the funds generated will support the organization’s ongoing project of constructing a “digital twin” of planet earth, so to speak. The OEF is working to create a fully-developed infrastructure to allow different actors to monitor and meet progress towards the Paris Agreement goals. Dr. Wainstein believes that the digital space is uniquely suited to allow such large-scale collaboration. Such an infrastructure will also allow humanity in the long-run to better manage and safeguard the planet’s resilience, he said. The funds generated will also be used to support other projects, such as Climate Financing, Climate Accounting, and Systems Perspective.

The idea for the auction came from Mr. Jehan Chu, the founder of Social Alpha Foundation, one of the organizing bodies of the auction. Mr. Chu was a former art dealer, and had been watching closely as the NFT Art market showed high growth. He decided to tap into the growth for funds for this project. Of course, the idea has been a huge success. The funds raised were beyond expectations, initially the organizers expected to reach a half million dollars, at most. The conversation generated around the event, and the awareness it created, was another huge positive. The participating artists are among the most-watched celebrity creators, and have followings in millions on social media, and so the issue of climate change got much-needed publicity.

Dr. Wainstein also noted that the NFT Art space does not directly impact the environment. The space does not use Bitcoin, which is the primary threat in the crypto world, but instead runs on Ethereum. He also said that since NFT Art has developed as a medium, it has generated a lot of awareness, and brought about platform innovation. Other spaces have also now started adjusting their mechanisms to ensure that their platforms start “cleaning up”. This, he says, is a net positive for NFT Art.

The executive director believes that social change will ultimately come from a change in individual mindsets. It will come from realizing that we are one with nature, not separate from it. It is the same with businesses, he says. A lack of sensitivity to nature, and a lack of awareness are both obstacles in the way of striving to make our practices greener. He believes that without awareness it is extremely difficult to apply and implement the right solutions.


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Article written by Zukhruf Riyaz


Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Unsplash