The Metaverse – saving the world, one avatar at a time?

The metaverse: an alternate digital world that changes the face of work, or simply a nuisance to the environment?

With the introduction of the metaverse, people all over the world can explore this new type of virtual reality all via a digital oasis. This brave new world will likely come powered by AI, cloud, web3 and Big Data.

But like all technologies, the metaverse also carries potential implications, good and bad, for the environment.

Meta-worth for our universe

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, 54 percent of experts said that, by 2040, the metaverse will be a much more refined and truly fully immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half a billion or more people, globally.

This way of working allows for a different type of connectivity people may not experience when sitting in an office. The metaverse allows for a new wave of collaborative working, thinking, and developing of ideas and new innovations.

Such a new realm of home working could potentially reduce the need for commuting to work, thus decreasing carbon emissions produced by public transport and car use.

Meta-worst for climate

With all things tech there are always environmental implications and limitations. With the metaverse’s reliance on VR and data centers which, according to Data Quest, could lead to an influx of greenhouse gas emissions, this new way of working may cause more harm for the environment than good.

It is estimated that data centers currently consume about three percent of the global electric supply worldwide, and account for about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

AI and cloud services used by data centers require large amounts of energy. A recent study estimates that training just one AI model could potentially generate 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, which equates to more than five times the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a car in its entire lifetime.

Recent findings from EY on metaverse-adjacent tech such as crypto suggest that around 25 percent of the energy going into bitcoin mining is renewable, while another analysis found that a single NFT transaction produced 48kg of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of burning 18 liters of diesel.

These findings imply that the methods in which new technologies are curated are incredibly harmful, meaning big metaverse movers such as Microsoft and Meta must find new ways of sustainably powering data centers for the metaverse.

“Making the metaverse a reality requires the ability to process data rapidly and in real-time,” Massimo Chiriatti, chief technical and innovation officer at Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group, tells ERP Today. “This will mean an increased focus on enhancing network connectivity, reducing latency, and empowering businesses to scale their storage capabilities on demand. The rise of the metaverse will no doubt lead to more data centers, proving that a futuristic, virtual world still relies on physical infrastructure to make it a reality.

“It’s therefore crucial that data centers become more sustainable in order to balance the growing climate concern with metaverse development. Companies can achieve this by capitalizing on the immense potential of the circular economy, which encourages reusing and recycling materials, as well as reducing energy consumption as much as possible.

“With many thousands of servers and other pieces of hardware coming to their ‘end of life’ each year, much of this is thrown out and replaced. It is vital that IT managers change their mindset and reduce the risk of environmentally damaging waste. To do this, the industry must set a high bar when it comes to recycling, reusing, or repairing as much equipment as possible, to stop it from ending up in landfill.”

What’s next for the Metaverse?

It is fair to say that the world of hybrid and remote working has truly taken over, as technology has evolved to allow us to not have to leave our homes as much as we used to. The metaverse is the next step from this, but what else is on the horizon?

For one, Meta and Microsoft have pledged to commit to reaching net zero emissions across their value chain by 2030. The sustainable future of the metaverse relies solely on such companies acting on their promises of reducing emissions and committing to building sustainable and environmentally friendly data centers.

If green is the way forward, companies should lead. After that, it’ll be up to consumers to adapt full-time to the metaverse or stay accustomed to hybrid ways of working – whatever the environmental consequences may be from either kind of real-world engagement.