Green Utility: Can NFTs help regenerate the planet?

Green Utility: Can NFTs help regenerate the planet?

Raise your hand if you’re not totally convinced that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are about to take over the world.

There is no doubt that the NFT concept has made its presence felt. Digital artists have welcomed technology that allows them to produce one-of-a-kind or limited-edition works of art that can be bought and sold, with their provenance validated on the blockchain. Huge sums changed hands and headlines were duly seized. In the less rarefied world of marketing, brands use so-called utility NFTs to sell tokens and logos that also provide buyers with special perks, such as membership in a loyalty program or access to events.

The question is, of course, why not just enroll customers in good old-fashioned membership programs? Is there any real use for the less than humble NFT? Or, to put it another way, is there anything uniquely useful about this kind of technology? Ben Whately thinks there might be. In fact, he set out to demonstrate that NFTs can be a force for good.

Whately cut his teeth as the co-founder of Memrise, a language app launched in 2010. While still working as chief strategy officer for that company, he is also co-founder of Angry Teenagers, a startup created in November last year with the aim of doing something to alleviate the problem of land degradation. NFTs are central to his company’s modus operandi.

The result of frustration

As Whately recounts, the new company owes its existence, at least in part, to a frustration expressed by his teenage daughter. “She came back from a climate march and said okay, but what can we do to really make a difference,” he recalled.

The comment was a perfect match for Whately’s own approach to tech-driven entrepreneurship. He sees technology as a way to turn intentions into action. “When waves of change occur, entrepreneurs create products that trigger that change,” he says.

But what does this mean in practice? In some industries, there is a relatively straight line between demand – and the desire to do something different – ​​and product. Whately cites Memrise as an example. Like other language apps, its job was to turn the desire to learn a language into positive action.

But can the same principle be applied to the climate and the environment? Whately sees an aspiration in a growing number of people to do something practical to alleviate environmental problems, but he also detects a sense of helplessness. “What can you do?” he asks rhetorically. “You can eat less or fly less, but what kind of positive action can you take?”

Well, you could say eating and stealing less is kind of a positive action, but Whately was thinking of something more practical. And that brings us to NFTs. Whately’s solution was to create Angry Teenager NFTs, which can be bought and sold on Tevos’ eco-friendly blockchain. The money raised from the purchase of an NFT is used to plant trees in Ghana in a district that has suffered significant environmental degradation.

nuts and bolts

So what are the nuts and bolts of this one? Well, you buy an Angry Teenagers token and in addition to the visual artwork, your money pays for planting trees in a geolocated square of land. As the trees grow, you can track the impact. Ultimately, the trees generate cash through carbon offsets and some of that cash is reinvested in forestry projects. A certain amount is also returned to the buyer’s wallet, although it is also intended to be reinvested.

The token can also be sold and access to impact information passes to the new owner. But is there an incentive for secondary buyers? After all, the investment has already been made by the original owner. Whately says a certain amount of money is released and invested when a token changes hands – so the new owners also help make a difference.

Everything is fine. But given the growing pressures on the Earth – and growing populations in Africa – will this be a lasting solution or will the trees just be cut down when commercial pressures kick in and someone wants to do something else with the earth? Whately says there are economic incentives for the community. “Included in the planting areas are a percentage of fruit trees and beehives,” he says. “We need to make sure there is an economic benefit to the community.” In addition, the land is protected by a 50-year agreement.

Will it work? This should be revealed soon. The fundamental work of identifying and securing the land has been done and Whately hopes the project will raise $100,000 for tree planting by Christmas and will have a snowball effect over time.

But perhaps the question of the usefulness of the NFT remains. It should also be possible to receive donations for tree planting and provide transparent impact reporting, without the benefit of NFTs and blockchain. That said, it can’t be a bad thing to harness the allure of a trending tech to raise awareness and fund a startup that combines revenue generation with purpose. New low-carbon blockchain platforms – one of them – Tezos – are emerging, potentially adding to the allure.

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