Can blockchain make us behave more sustainably?

The initial buzz around NFTs cast a spotlight on the environmental concerns about the energy-intensive process. A new project from Ikea’s research lab Space10 asks whether cleaner ‘next generation’ NFTs can instead drive sustainability

When blockchain technology arrived on everybody’s radar in 2021, it soon attracted criticism from people who flagged the energy-intensive process typically involved. As such, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – a unique digital identifier that’s recorded on blockchain – quickly became embroiled in arguments around the environmental impact of this technology.

Nothing stands still for long though. Most blockchains initially used a ‘proof of work’ framework, which required a great deal of energy, but many are now switching to ‘proof of stake’, which in short consumes significantly less power. As the transition is expected to see more environmentally conscious brands get involved in this space, Ikea’s research and design lab Space10 has been asking whether blockchain and these ‘next generation’ NFTs can make the world more sustainable.

Its new ‘phygital’ project Carbon Banks – developed in collaboration with Berlin-based design lab Wint and soon to go into prototyping – is one possible answer to this question. “We essentially saw a lot of potential in this concept and looking into how these technologies could actually be used for good, rather than just for financial benefit or for financial gain,” explains Ryan Sherman, who works across creative and strategy at Space10, following roles at Vice’s creative agency Virtue and AKQA.

Space10’s speculative visualisation for Carbon Banks. All images: Zunc Studio