How will the metaverse contribute to sustainability?

It’s one of the questions increasingly being asked in the technology sector, as well as by connectivity companies and those far beyond. There’s a lot of chatter about the metaverse being the next big thing. Many experts describe the virtual metaverse as the next technological revolution of the century, comparable to the creation of the world wide web itself.

Forecasts really are encouraging. The metaverse would bring about a whole new reality, one that’s purely digital, that would develop in parallel to the real world. Inhabitants of this virtual metaverse – through unique avatars – would interact within this world through multiple devices and even through smart clothing or interfaces connected directly to the body itself… This would involve new relationships and new ways of understanding them, probably brand new economies, new markets and products opening up, exchanging experiences and knowledge, and much more.

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, was the first to talk about its very own metaverse and is already working on developing the devices needed to interact with it. But there are some authoritative voices holding their foot to the brakes. Raja Koduri, Senior Vice President and Group Head of Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics at Intel, has assured that “this universe is not all that close, because our computing, data storage and connection capacities just aren’t yet great enough to make this vision a reality”. And, of course, there’s also the question of sustainability.



Energy consumption, one of the great unknowns of the metaverse

If we look back in time, our most recent experience similar to the metaverse took place in the world of video games back in 2003: Second Life. One of the many reasons for the gradual fall from grace of this ‘grandfather’ of the virtual metaverse was technology. Quite simply, most computers back then couldn’t support the information processing required for a smooth experience. Something similar to what’s currently happening with the technology available for the metaverse, as we’ve seen.

But Second Life can also be a point of reference when it comes to sustainability. At the time, to make it run properly, Linden Lab – the creators of the game – needed a farm with 4,000 servers and energy consumption of 60,000kWh. The metaverse could replicate this scenario but greatly augmented. According to ETLA Economic Research, the technology industry’s energy consumption could increase by 14% before 2030.

But such estimates take current technology into account, not future developments or devices, nor the energy needs associated with them. If there are any ethical doubts about the metaverse, sustainability will be the loudest voice, given the issue also comprises the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically the target that covers affordable and non-polluting energy.


The metaverse as a driver of sustainability

Despite the potential stumbling blocks, the virtual metaverse shouldn’t be an obstacle when it comes to sustainability. In fact, it could already be catalysing changes to encourage it. For the metaverse, just like any virtual reality, data transfer with enormous bandwidths and extremely low latencies is needed. Add to this the importance of the cloud for virtual environments like the metaverse, and we really need to start seriously discussing increasing data centres.

And, at the same time, the carbon footprints they generate, which could grow by up to 30% by 2030, according to researchers at Lancaster University. That’s why big technology corporations are working to make data centres much more sustainable. Microsoft, for example, has committed to using 100% renewable energy for its cloud platform Azure by 2025, as well as returning more water than it consumes and achieving zero emissions certification by 2030.

Besides the technological advances involved, the metaverse will force us to consider our global future within a new paradigm, one that establishes global energy consumption and the load capacity of the Earth as a priority. This will require new ways of thinking and a comprehensive change in operating methods, as well as sustainable consumption options.

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