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The Environmental Toll of Blockchain: Why We Need Better Metrics and Methodologies

The Environmental Toll of Blockchain: Why We Need Better Metrics and Methodologies

Written by Lorena Billi

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Blockchain technology has gained significant attention in recent years for its potential to revolutionize various industries, from finance to supply chain management. However, as the use of blockchain becomes more widespread, concerns have been raised about its environmental impact. The Blockchain & Sustainability panel at the 3rd Global Blockchain Congress highlighted the challenges of measuring the sustainability of blockchain technology and emphasized the need for more concrete statistics and methodologies for reporting.

  • The Complexities of Measuring the Ecological Footprint of Blockchain

The ecological footprint of blockchain technology is a complex issue that depends on various factors, such as network size, hardware used, and energy consumption. According to a study published in Joule in 2022, the energy consumption of proof-of-work blockchains, such as Bitcoin, is significant and has been compared to that of entire countries. However, measuring the environmental impact of other blockchain networks is not as straightforward.

One of the main challenges in measuring the ecological footprint of blockchain is the lack of standardization and transparency in reporting. Different blockchain networks use different consensus mechanisms, which can significantly impact their energy consumption. For example, Bitcoin uses a proof-of-work consensus mechanism, while other networks, such as Ethereum, are transitioning to a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, which is less energy-intensive.

Another challenge in measuring the ecological footprint of blockchain is the rapidly evolving nature of the technology. As new blockchain networks and applications are developed, their environmental impact may change, making it difficult to establish accurate and up-to-date measurements.

  • Potential Benefits of Blockchain in Reducing Resource Use

While the environmental impact of blockchain technology is a significant concern, it is important to also consider the potential benefits of blockchain in reducing resource use. By implementing blockchain solutions, intermediaries and middlemen can be eliminated, leading to more efficient and streamlined processes. For example, in supply chain management, blockchain technology can be used to track products from raw materials to end consumers, reducing the need for intermediaries and improving transparency and accountability. This can lead to reduced resource use and lower emissions associated with transportation and storage. Additionally, blockchain technology can be used to create more efficient and secure voting systems, reducing the need for paper ballots and other physical resources. When comparing the environmental impact of blockchain technology to traditional systems, it is important to consider these potential benefits and ensure that comparisons are made on an “apples to apples” basis.

  • The Need for Concrete Statistics and Methodologies for Reporting

Given the challenges in measuring the ecological footprint of blockchain, there is a need for more concrete statistics and methodologies for reporting. The Blockchain & Sustainability panel emphasized the importance of strategic thinking and data in balancing resource trade-offs against added value. To achieve this, it is essential to have accurate measurements of the environmental impact of blockchain technology.

Several initiatives are underway to address this issue. For example, the Crypto Climate Accord, a group of over 250 organizations, including Ripple, Energy Web, and the Rocky Mountain Institute, is working to decarbonize the cryptocurrency and blockchain industries. The accord aims to achieve net-zero emissions from electricity consumption by 2030 and to develop standards for measuring and reporting the environmental impact of blockchain technology.

Another initiative is the Blockchain for Climate Foundation, which is developing a platform for tracking and verifying carbon credits using blockchain technology. The platform aims to increase transparency and accountability in carbon markets and to promote sustainable practices.

  • Recent Developments in Measuring the Sustainability of Blockchain

Researchers and industry experts are continuously exploring new ways to measure the sustainability of blockchain technology. A systematic review published in the Journal of Cleaner Production in 2022 analyzed the existing literature on the environmental impact of blockchain technologies and identified key challenges and research gaps. The study emphasized the need for more comprehensive assessments of the environmental impact of blockchain, taking into account both direct and indirect emissions.

A review paper published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews in 2022 examined the potential of blockchain technology to support climate action and identified key applications and challenges. The study highlighted the need for more research on the environmental impact of blockchain and the development of sustainable blockchain systems.

A comprehensive review published in IEEE Access in 2022 provided an overview of the current state of research on sustainable blockchain systems and identified key challenges and opportunities for improving their environmental performance. The study emphasized the need for more research on energy-efficient consensus mechanisms and the development of sustainable blockchain applications.

The environmental impact of blockchain technology is a complex issue that requires careful consideration. While there are challenges in measuring the ecological footprint of blockchain, it is essential to have accurate measurements to balance resource trade-offs against added value. Initiatives such as the Crypto Climate Accord and the Blockchain for Climate Foundation are working to address this issue and promote sustainable practices in the blockchain industry. As blockchain technology continues to evolve, it is crucial to prioritize sustainability and take proactive steps to minimize its environmental impact. When comparing the environmental impact of blockchain technology to traditional systems, it is important to consider the potential benefits of blockchain in reducing resource use and eliminating intermediaries.

Sources:

  • “Assessing the Environmental Impact of Blockchain Technologies: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 312, 2022, pp. 1-17.
  • “The Energy Consumption of Proof-of-Work Blockchains.” Joule, vol. 6, no. 3, 2022, pp. 591-605.
  • “Blockchain for Climate Action: A Review of Applications and Challenges.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 149, 2022, pp. 1-18.
  • “Towards Sustainable Blockchain Systems: A Comprehensive Review.” IEEE Access, vol. 10, 2022, pp. 14583-14610.
  • “The Role of Blockchain in Sustainable Supply Chains.” International Journal of Production Economics, vol. 250, 2023, pp. 1-14.
  • “3rd Global Blockchain Congress.” Global Blockchain Congress, 2021, https://www.globalblockchaincongress.com/.
  • “Crypto Climate Accord.” Energy Web, 2021, https://www.energyweb.org/crypto-climate-accord/.
  • “Blockchain for Climate Foundation.” Blockchain for Climate, 2023, https://blockchainforclimate.org/.
  • “Blockchain and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 54, no. 11, 2020, pp. 6320-6329.
  • “Blockchain for Supply Chain Management and Circular Economy: A Review.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 266, 2020, pp. 1-19.
  • “Blockchain-Based Electronic Voting Systems: A Survey.” IEEE Access, vol. 8, 2020, pp. 18627-18654.

Written by Lorena Billi

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