The Business Case for Blockchains Going Green

Polygon Labs
May 25, 2022
Image source: Dribbble

Nothing says “you have arrived” like people caring about your carbon footprint. Polygon has recently marked that milestone with a commitment to becoming carbon negative by the end of the year. Below is the case for why other projects should follow our lead and how to go about doing it.

Ethereum’s smart contract blockchain has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two years as new users flocked to applications in decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for gaming and fine art. But the resulting energy footprint has come under criticism from the broader public at a time when governments around the world are considering regulating the nascent industry. 

For Web3 as a whole, reducing the environmental impact can go a long way in proving that mass adoption of blockchain technology is a good thing for the planet. For an individual project, the motivation can be as simple as plain business sense. 

Three Reasons to Be Green

One obvious group of stakeholders who may care is the users. As Web3 projects expand their user base beyond the crypto-natives and early adopters, they increasingly come into contact with people for whom concerns over climate change rank on par with jobs and economy, if not higher. Teams can suddenly find themselves under scrutiny and managing higher expectations.  

Polygon’s Proof of Stake consensus mechanism means the network has a vanishingly small carbon footprint when considered on its own. Close to 99% of the chain’s emissions come from the contracts running on the Ethereum network. Even so, that adds up to about 70 grams of carbon per transaction, an equivalent of driving a few city blocks in an average passenger car. Estimates for Ethereum range from about 20 kilograms to over 100 kilograms. 

For a while, having low emissions was a way for networks like Polygon PoS to distinguish themselves from energy-guzzlers like Ethereum and Bitcoin and present an eco-friendly alternative. The NFT community, artists and supporters alike, has been instrumental in shifting the conversation from the size of the carbon footprint to what was being done about it.

Traditional companies considering partnerships in Web 3 are another group of stakeholders for whom ESG is more than just a buzzword. Polygon’s own experience has been informed by partnerships with some of the world's biggest firms, a list that includes Adobe, Stripe, Instagram, Telefonica and Dolce Gabanna.

“When it comes to working with a lot of non-crypto native teams and companies who are looking to explore Web3, part of their considerations on which blockchain to build on is ‘does this team actually think about sustainability,’” Jaslyn Wang, who looks after growth projects at Polygon, said on a recent episode of Polygon Pod dedicated to the subject.

Finally, taking meaningful steps to becoming more green may be key to keeping your  employees and contributors. Recent years have provided numerous examples of workers at big tech companies including Netlix, Google, Uber, and Facebook protesting everything from sexual misconduct to military contracts, leaking evidence of unethical practices to the press, or simply quitting. In Web3, that leverage is only magnified by the persistent talent shortage. 

“When we tell our employees and our community that we are with you 100% on what you believe in, not just sustainability and climate action, but gender equality and education, they feel that they will be with the company for a lot longer and not feel misaligned with it,” Archimedes, a co-founder of on-chain carbon marketplace KlimaDAO, said on Polygon Pod.

Going Carbon Neutral and Beyond

Polygon’s Green Manifesto is the response to these challenges. The core team is eliminating the network’s carbon debt going back to its inception and making the chain climate positive going forward. Polygon has also committed $20 million to a series of community initiatives, including funding projects that use technology to combat climate change.

Read more: Polygon Is Going Carbon Negative in 2022 With a $20 Million Pledge

The first step was figuring out just how much carbon the network is responsible for. The team partnered with KlimaDAO and Offsetra for an assessment that includes emissions from node hardware, energy consumption of staking operations, checkpointing and bridging contracts on Ethereum. The carbon bill for Polygon PoS from the genesis block to the present day came to 90,000 tons of CO2.

The team has purchased $400,000 of high-quality and trackable carbon credits on KlimaDAO’s on-chain marketplace. Once retired, the offsets are permanently taken off the market and cannot be claimed by anyone else. Polygon has also commissioned Crypto Carbon Ratings Institute to conduct an audit of its carbon footprint.

“Long term, long term, long term -- that's what we should all be really thinking about,” Jaslyn said. “You start with a small step and over time that accumulates to become something larger and a lot more meaningful.” 

For a more in-depth discussion of KilmaDAO, carbon credit markets and offsetting, check out our podcast. Tune into our blog for the next steps in Polygon’s sustainability journey and for news from our ecosystem.

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