Metaverse – An Environmental Nightmare?


The Metaverse forms the next evolutionary stage of digitization and will probably generate billions in sales in the foreseeable future. The step into the persistent digital world initially seems anything but sustainable.

Thanks to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), the digital world is merging with more and more elements of the physical world. Billions of people will soon be working, playing and connecting in a whole new way. The Metaverse thus represents the next evolutionary stage of digitization. “It would be completely wrong to dismiss the Metaverse as hype that will soon be over,” Metaversum expert at the digital association Bitkom. “As the logical next step of the 3D Internet, it will no more disappear than the Internet as a whole has disappeared again in the past few decades, or like social media was just a flash in the pan.”

For companies, the Metaverse holds enormous potential: Worker productivity can be improved by allowing employees to train or work in virtual environments. And the boom in decentralized digital financial technologies is inspiring new business models. The technology and research portal forecasts a market value of 708 billion US dollars for the Metaverse by 2024. And Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises one billion users by 2030. “The Metaverse has the potential to enable a new type of customer loyalty and to win over new customer groups.

Metaverse Requires A 1,000x Increase In Processing Power

All of these optimistic projections ignore a potential downside to the metaverse: its environmental impact. The data centers that are required for the operation could soon have massive energy consumption.

Semiconductor manufacturer Intel estimates that a 1,000x increase in performance over our current collective computing capacity would be needed to “make truly persistent and immersive computing at scale accessible and powering billions of people.”

Some analysts worry that the Metaverse could lead to a significant increase in emissions. According to a report by digital transformation consultancy ECS, training a single AI model can generate around 284,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is more than five times what an average car emits over its entire useful life.

Cloud services are also essential for VR and thus for the Metaverse. According to an analysis by scientists from Lancaster University, a scenario in which 30 percent of gamers have switched to cloud gaming platforms by 2030 will lead to a 30 percent increase in carbon emissions compared to current gaming.

In addition to the energy requirements, the efficiency of the data centers has also increased. The computing capacity installed there has increased almost fivefold per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed since 2010. In addition, the effects on the climate depend not only on energy consumption, but above all on the energy mix.

A Greener Metaverse Is Already In The Works

Currently, the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) process in particular gives hope for a more environmentally friendly future for the metaverse. It is intended to replace the current energy-intensive Proof of Work (PoW). PoS is being developed on the Ethereum network as “ETH 2.0” and is said to be 99 percent energy efficient. “With PoS, energy consumption can be drastically reduced compared to PoW because significantly less computing power is required,”  Business trips are no longer necessary thanks to virtual meetings, commercial transactions can be carried out without paper, and blockchain simplifies complex (infra)structures. All this saves energy and costs. “In the future, it may be possible to carry out a large number of activities virtually.

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