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NZ women launch NFT ‘digital carbon sponges’ to help save the planet

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Auckland woman Leanne Bats​ went down not one but two “rabbit holes” – climate change and crypto – and returned with an answer: Use the craze of NFTs to erase our carbon footprints and rebrand climate action.

A digital marketer by trade, Bats said when she had her first child two years ago it dawned on her how big and urgent a problem tackling climate change was.

She sold the car and bought everything secondhand, but it felt insufficient. She came to see that actions to reduce our individual carbon footprint “do add up, but they will never multiply to what we actually need to do here.

“The answer lies as a collective footprint. Turning off emissions, that’s a systemic change at the highest level and that’s where we need to be thinking about.”

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Bats decided to focus on removing carbon, and convinced friend Jussara Bierman​ to join up with her. In October they launched Cool Gram.

The US$5 a month subscription for Instagram users removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it takes to run their account. The money is invested in carbon removal technologies.

“We want to be proud Kiwi women founders, especially in the tech space and climate space, it’s just incredibly rare,” says Leanne Bats.

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“We want to be proud Kiwi women founders, especially in the tech space and climate space, it’s just incredibly rare,” says Leanne Bats.

Bats said she and Bierman were not climate change experts, but had spent a year researching carbon removal using new technology rather than relying on solutions such as planting trees. Their “bible’ is an organisation called carbonplan.org, and they used three suppliers.

“We’re not actually changing anything at the level of Instagram and how they work, we are simply measuring what an output would be, or a footprint would be and then making sure we’re removing that plus more.”

Their next step is to use NFTs to raise some serious money, and ultimately create a virtual world with real world environmental effects, she said.

On Tuesday Bats and Bierman are launching 100 NFTs each worth US$1000 (NZ$1477), each one part of a map created by Wellington artist T-Wei​.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, use blockchain to authenticate the ownership of a piece of digital content. They have resulted in some huge prices, with an NFT of a work by digital artist Beeple selling for US$69.3 million.

“We’ve drawn this Island One, and we’ve broken it into 100 pieces, so you get a slice. We’re reserving 10, one each for myself and my co-founder, eight are going out as gifts, then we’re selling 90,” said Bats.

The Island One gift NFT for Re-Inc, a brand launched by members of the US women’s soccer team.

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The Island One gift NFT for Re-Inc, a brand launched by members of the US women’s soccer team.

The gifts were intended for people and organisations including singer Lorde, actor Reese Witherspoon​, and Re-Inc, a lifestyle brand founded by United States women footballers including Megan Rapinoe.

Re-Inc had indicated “they’re in”, Bats said, but there been no response from the others.

“There’s no real set time frame for this, it could be we get started, and these people join the table as they realise it’s not some sort of scam or something weird.”

Each piece will fund the removal of one tonne of carbon from the atmosphere, and the royalties coded into them go on to fund more removal. The next “island” will be made up of 10,000 NFTs.

“So as these things are bought, sold, traded, they have more impact. We call them little digital carbon sponges, and really what we’d like to do if all goes well is build this place in the metaverse one day.

“You could actually go to the place called Islands of Cool and that place has environmental significance in our real world in terms of carbon, it could be, or should be, more than the Amazon rain forest.”

Some people avoided NFTs because of the massive amount of energy required to create them using blockchains such as Ethereum, but Islands of Cool used the more energy-efficient Solana.

Bats believed NFTs would endure despite the current “gold rush” because of the place they would hold in the metaverse, a digital world existing in parallel to the real world.

Part of Island One. Each square is an NFT, and will be properly revealed once sold.

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Part of Island One. Each square is an NFT, and will be properly revealed once sold.

“I do expect that the future will be this metaverse that is coming for us, because it’s really just an extension of where we are today anyway, and what the pandemic’s thrust upon us in terms of digitalisation of everything.”

Brands such as Wendy’s, Gucci and Coca-Cola were jumping into the metaverse, and billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently predicted that in two to three years most Zoom meetings would move there.

There were a few climate-focused organisations using crypto, but Bats said she had not seen other examples of their approach.

“We want to be proud Kiwi women founders, especially in the tech space and climate space, it’s just incredibly rare,“ she said.


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