Why the David Suzuki Foundation created an NFT

The non-profit is highlighting the emissions created by the buzzy digital tokens to reach a new audience: the tech sector.

The David Suzuki Foundation is harnessing an emerging technology to help raise awareness and recruit allies for environmental sustainability in the tech sector.

The non-profit environmental organization’s “Nature Friendly Token” is an NFT (non-fungible token) created in partnership with Camp Jefferson and artist MCPHERSO to alert people of the environmentally destructive nature of proof-of-work blockchain activity, which consumes large amounts of energy – leading, in turn, to high carbon emissions.

NFTs have risen in popularity recently in part because of high-profile deals, such as Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, selling the world’s first tweet as an NFT for $2.9 million and Kings of Leon selling their new album as an NFT.

According to the foundation, a typical NFT has a footprint of at least 200 kilograms of CO2, which compares to flying for two hours or driving 1,000 kilometres.

“We’re quite aware that blockchain technology is very carbon intensive and in a way, this opportunity showed up because there’s a lot of media around NFTs,” says Yannick Beaudoin, senior economist and director general for Ontario and Northern Canada for the David Suzuki Foundation. “This isn’t about being anti-anything. This is more about getting a conversation going and seeing how quickly we can clean up our digital playgrounds.”

After some debate over whether to make the NFT sellable, the organization decided to list it on Rarible at a value of $50.9 billion in Ethereum, one of several cryptocurrencies (the token’s value has since risen with the price of Ethereum). It settled on that number because that is the estimated value of the natural benefits provided by Canada’s boreal forest, Beaudoin says.

He says the foundation doesn’t expect anyone to buy the token, but in the highly unlikely event that someone does, the money raised would be spent on environmental remediation efforts. The more realistic goal is just to point out issues with the technology to audiences in the sector and “build visibility in a space that has not been a traditional one for us,” says Beaudoin.

“We’re trying to reach an audience [that is] not necessarily the main audience for an environmental charity,” he says. “As we’ve started to move more strategically into transforming the economy, economic systems and looking at how technology can come into play to support real sustainability, we were on the lookout for ways an environmental organization could move into new spaces that are a little bit less typical.”

“The tech sector could be coming online and saying they want to work on this as well,” he adds. “And doing a few different strategic forays into tech and raising this awareness will help bring some visibility to the foundation and allow us to be more proactive and engaged in the sector.”