How the Metaverse could bring us closer to a Sustainable Reality; perspectives for the Experience Economy


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The metaverse holds the promise of substantial reductions in carbon emissions, whether through the substitution of physical goods with digital ones, replacing real-world presence with virtual interactions, or digital twins that will help us optimise the physical world — from the planet to individual humans. The immersive nature of metaverse experiences could also help overcome our behavioral barriers to climate action.

The so-called metaverse conjures images of gamers with headsets, friends hanging out in a virtual world, or perhaps even a new kind of online meeting. Nokia, however, is envisioning the metaverse differently. The company is putting what it calls the “industrial metaverse,” at the center of its corporate strategy. The goal is to help companies map out their industrial systems and determine the most efficient ways to operate them, saving costs, accelerating innovations, and—if used right—reducing emissions.

Moreover, we can’t lose sight of the need for social sustainability, making the metaverse accessible, inclusive and equitable.

As business leaders invest, develop new customer strategies, and transform to pursue the potential of the metaverse, better climate and social outcomes must be front and center during planning efforts. We must take a wider view to ensure that we bridge the gap between the costs and benefits of utilizing the metaverse.

As adoption increases, it will become increasingly difficult to implement changes to make commerce in the metaverse sustainable. Whether this requires intervention by regulators, investors, consumers, stakeholders or other business leaders, time is of the essence before exponential growth makes it much more difficult.

Utilities can use the industrial metaverse to repair facilities remotely, slashing emissions-intensive travel. Manufacturers can prevent machine downtime, cutting the emissions of having to build and operate backups. And transport companies can use the technology to better model their network, keeping unnecessary trucks in the garage and planes on the ground. Utilities can use the industrial metaverse to repair facilities remotely, slashing emissions-intensive travel. Manufacturers can prevent machine downtime, cutting the emissions of having to build and operate backups.

Sustainability is the other side of efficiency and productivity – The immersive nature of the metaverse offers alternatives to resource-intensive physical goods which could drive consumer demand, thus resulting in sustainability benefits.

It’s feasible that customers could shift their budgets for certain products to sustainable virtual options which require fewer resources to create and contribute less waste. This could be a remarkable development for waste-heavy industries, such as fast fashion, that contribute to overproduction and overconsumption.

Nokia’s industrial metaverse business is just one example of the growing intersection between digitisation and climate change – “No one will be able to own the metaverse. We need collaboration to build it and to ensure it achieves its full potential,” says Pekka Lundmark, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nokia. Over the past two decades, designing an appropriate response to the digital revolution has become a strategic imperative for companies—and, in many cases, a necessity for survival. As companies increasingly focus on climate change and how to decarbonize their own operations, digitisation also offers an opportunity; and many large industrial firms that are attuned to their energy use are keen to do anything to contain those costs. Digital technologies could quickly cut emissions in the energy, materials, and mobility sectors by up to 10% – The metaverse relies on artificial intelligence models and cloud services that require large amounts of energy. According to researchers Liu Jianya and Guo Liang, mathematics can be used to reduce its environmental impact.

At the core of digitisation’s impact on emissions is efficiency: these technologies can cut down on waste and reduce operating costs. This ranges from the relatively simple use of it to adjust lighting and temperatures in the office, to complex system modeling, as with the industrial metaverse. Digital allows us to do things at scale, in a way that we couldn’t do in a traditional process. Think digital twins, think Nvidia’s Omniverse and how they’re partnering up with top automakers such as BMW.

How do we supercharge climate action with immersive experiences? it’s psychological, behavioural – humanity’s biggest barrier to taking on climate change (seriously). Evolution has conditioned us for success in the ‘‘now’’ through hyperbolic discounting, valuing small rewards and costs in the present substantially more than larger ones in the future – remember the Marshmallow test? We performed a series/ spectrum of experiments related to XR and VR and climate and other sustainability issues – there’s +ve correlation between immersive experiences and (yields of) better learning outcomes. In summary, we humans internalise personalised impact and greater emotional engagement with the issue i.e. ESG. Firms such as PwC are getting internal and external stakeholders alike immersing themselves in this very important world-saving agenda. This is the future of humanity we are talking about after all! There’s traction in reimagined learning and upskilling, helping everyone in the firm get accredited on sustainability, so they in turn, are able to positively reinforce and ignite Purpose..

But digital technologies come with their own climate risks, and executives and regulators need to be conscious about how to manage them. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft, for example, are using their cloud technology to help other businesses bring down emissions but also marketing their services to help oil and gas companies drill more efficiently. Reducing the impact of metaverse-powering datacenters is a priority for top companies, including Google and Microsoft, that commit to carbon reduction targets. For example, Google aims to operate on carbon-free energy across its data centers by 2030. And Microsoft will be carbon-negative by the same year and is committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2025 to power its operations. Turning to blockchain, energy efficient alternatives to proof of work (PoW) are gaining momentum. Ethereum 2.0 has already migrated from the energy-intensive PoW in favor of proof of stake (PoS), using approximately 99.95% less energy than the previous standard.

And even digital programs designed to cut emissions have their own footprints. Enterprise technology alone is responsible for 1% of global emissions – essential to programs like the industrial metaverse, takes energy, too. A paper from researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that training a single AI model can lead to emissions equivalent to the lifetime emissions of five U.S. cars.There’s the promise to optimise our systems and improving our resource consumption, when we adopt Generative AI – but we have to realise that the AI modelling process (training) itself will take away some gains.

The traditional definition of sustainability focuses on balancing economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection. However, in the virtual world, the concept of sustainability must be redefined to encompass not just the use of resources but also the management of data and the impact of technology on society. The virtual world presents a unique opportunity to rethink the way we live and interact with one another, and to create a more sustainable future. In the Metaverse, sustainability can be achieved by incorporating green technology, promoting digital literacy, and encouraging the use of NFTs and blockchain, which are more secure and transparent methods of managing data and transactions.

NFTs are a powerful tool for building a more sustainable Metaverse. NFTs can be used to create new and exciting experiences, and they can also help to create new and sustainable business models. They can increase transparency and accountability, reducing waste and increasing efficiency in supply chains. NFT transactions could reduce carbon emissions by up to 90% compared to traditional art sales.

Moreover, NFTs are a more sustainable alternative to physical wearables, providing a way for brands to significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Compared to traditional physical clothing, producing digital wearables results in 97% less greenhouse gas emissions and significantly less waste, saving 3,300 liters of water consumption and reducing pollution. By transitioning to digital clothing, brands have the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint by as much as 30%. This not only benefits the environment but also demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and can help to attract environmentally conscious consumers. The use of NFTs in the fashion industry represents a step towards a more sustainable future and sets a positive example for other industries to follow.

There’s also the challenge of convincing smaller firms and industries that use less energy to think of digital technology to cut energy waste. That’s where the climate case can come in. Cutting energy and other waste at, say, a hotel or shop will reduce emissions, potentially making the business more appealing to customers, including everyday consumers and big companies concerned with their own footprints alike. And such efforts will help companies get ahead of regulatory efforts requiring companies to implement climate disclosure rules.

Given the attention that digitisation has received across industries over the course of the past several decades, it’s safe to assume that it’s somewhere on the mind of most business leaders. Now, it’s important that climate is considered in the same breath.

Luke Soon
Luke is a business transformation professional with over 25 years’ experience leading multi-year human experience-led transformations with global telcos, fintech, insurtech and automotive organizations across the globe. He helps clients activate their Purpose by monetizing innovation and building new revenue streams (experience equity), starting with their why. His personal purpose is to install the primacy of humanity in the experience economy and exponential age.


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