How sustainable is the metaverse?

One of the hottest topics right now is the metaverse. The subject attracts a lot of attention in the IT industry and other sectors, such as CPG, gaming, and the public sector. The topic is so popular because of the many possibilities the metaverse holds. In the B2B market, the so-called enterprise metaverse is said to improve collaboration and work efficiency. In the B2C context, the metaverse allows brands to experiment with immersive experiences and increase customer attraction and retention.

But what about the ecological aspects of the metaverse? Around the world, firms, organizations, and governments have committed to reaching net zero between 2030 and 2050, and the regulations covering the carbon footprint are tightening, especially in Europe and the US. Against this background, it is evident that the further development of the metaverse cannot go on without taking sustainability into account.

The metaverse is a high-definition, 3D world in which applications are interoperable and different types of transactions and communications are enabled; at some point, even metaverses will be interoperable. Running such a system requires a lot of computing power, and thus a lot of energy. Of course, the energy mix and the share of renewable energy sources must also be considered. However, in 2019, only 15.7% of worldwide energy consumption came from climate-friendly sources. As the energy transition is still far from completed, the pollution caused by metaverses would still be rather high nowadays.

The heavy use of blockchain technology also leads to high carbon emissions. As seen with Bitcoin, it is the mining of cryptocurrencies that involves high energy use, but not the recording of transactions in the distributed ledger. Since mining will not play an important role in the metaverse, we believe it will not have a substantial impact on carbon emissions. Additionally, there are projects to make mining protocols more eco-friendly. Ethereum, for instance, intends to abandon Proof of Work (PoW) and introduce Proof of Stake (PoS, is already used by blockchains such as Cardano and Solana) instead. While PoW is more decentralized and uses a higher entry barrier than PoS, which makes it more secure, it is also slower and more energy-intensive.

Another aspect to consider with regard to sustainability are VR/AR headsets. The growing popularity of AR/VR technology and the metaverse actually goes hand in hand with increased production of this hardware, which requires non-renewable, rare metals and water resources, and has a substantial overall carbon footprint. What’s more, technical obsolescence and poor recycling possibilities further affect the sustainability of these headsets.

All in all, we have listed some of the most pressing issues related to the eco-friendliness of the metaverse. According to our analysis, the transition to low-carbon energy sources is essential. The metaverse will add to the strain on the ecosystem depending on the pace at which metaverses are popularized and how fast the energy transition is achieved. Moreover, we encourage the companies responsible for the necessary metaverse hardware to intensify their efforts regarding the circular economy. Collaboration with user companies will certainly be a way to make metaverse use cases more sustainable.