One criticism waged against NFTs is that they are bad for the environment. While there is some truth that the creation and ownership movement of NFTs consumes energy, the discussion is more nuanced and involves the question of blockchain. So, are NFTs bad for the environment? The simple answer is, it depends.
The underlying technology that has enabled the non-fungible token (NFT) revolution is the blockchain. This allows for the authentication of digital ownership of artwork and collectibles by attaching it to a token on a blockchain. Ownership is tracked on a uniquely identifiable token whose existence is permanently encoded into the blockchain.
Numerous blockchains exist. Some older than others. Some more energy conservative than others. How energy intensive the blockchain operations--the minting of an NFT or its sale or transfer of ownership--is largely dependent upon how the transaction gets validated. Two types of approach can be used, the energy intensive Proof of Work and the much more environmentally friendly Proof of Stake.
Several factors determine whether an NFT is bad for the environment,
chief among those is the blockchain decision made in minting.
Many early NFTs and more than a few contemporary projects choose to use the energy intensive Ethereum network. Whilst emerging projects and creators are increasingly making different decisions to mint on Proof of Stake (PoS) networks such as Polygon, Tezos, Cardano, Solano, and even SLP--decisions based on the different use cases and needs.
Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake
Proof of Work (PoW) is an incredibly inefficient and energy-hungry type of consensus protocol, and it’s the same consensus model used by Ethereum and Bitcoin. In PoW miners solve complex math problems to verify transactions, adding blocks to the chain and earning a reward. Solving these mathematical problems requires a lot of computational power and therefore increases emissions and energy usage.
On Proof of stake (PoS) blockchains, transactions are also verified in a decentralized way, but without the energy intensive problem solving required for PoW. Instead of mining, PoS utilizes validators who, through through staking, confirm transaction on the blockchain and earn network fees for their participation. Because no complex computing is involved, Proof of Stake requires substantially less power to function.
Energy Equivalent of Watching Youtube?
So what is the energy involved in minting your Robo Dog, NY Knicks NFT, or other piece of digital art? At Sweet we choose to use networks that utilizes Proof of Stake to validate the minting and transactions on the blockchain. One among the networks we use is Polygon. Polygon greatly reduces the carbon impact of NFTs via its efficient Proof-of-Stake (PoS) network. In comparison to other blockchains, Polygon consumes just 0.00079 terawatts (TWh) of electricity per year. To put that in perspective, one transaction on Polygon is the equivalent of watching a 30-60 second video on Youtube.