Our activities are adversely impacting Earth and according to a recent study, one of many, the planet’s resources are getting badly strained by rising human populations and consumption rates. Worse: urbanization, industrialization, and modern agricultural practices are polluting the environment and depleting precious natural resources at alarming rates.
Climate change is another factor. The Earth is projected to be around 2°C hotter by 2050 and the world’s ice sheets are already melting at much higher times than in the last century, contributing to rising sea levels. At the same time, the planet is losing much of its biodiversity, which scientists say will cause “unforeseen and unpredictable” consequences to life on Earth.
With all this in mind, global sustainability initiatives are more urgent now than ever. Fortunately, we can turn to advanced technological tools to address the most pressing concerns. One technology that has an emerging role in sustainability is blockchain.
Blockchain is best known as the underlying technology behind digital currencies like bitcoin, but it has applications well beyond that. Tech writer Daniel Ling compares blockchain to a digital ledger where nodes see, manage, and record transactions. These digital records create virtual blocks (hence, the name blockchain) that remain intact despite the failure of a node or two.
If that seems too technical, consider how PulseLocal Digital’s Vice President Paul Dughi describes blockchain using the spreadsheet analogy: Think of a spreadsheet duplicated across a network of multiple computers. Information is then entered into the individual cells of these spreadsheets.
Blockchain technology offers a system of recording information in a way that makes it very hard or near-impossible to alter or hack.
That’s because records of every new transaction need to be added to each of several ledgers (actually, hundreds or even thousands) before the transaction is verified and recorded.
To change anything in that transaction, therefore, would require changing details in every ledger. This system is what makes blockchain virtually impossible to hack.
Blockchain as a key to sustainability
Blockchain is having an emerging role in sustainability by helping foster collaborations between consumers and producers, by assisting people in adopting more sustainable lifestyles, and by helping companies improve their sourcing and recycling practices.
Another major benefit of blockchain technology is that it can ensure transparency. Put simply, blockchain provides a verifiable record as to who buys what from whom. This means that companies’ claims of being resource-positive and reducing their environmental impacts can be counter-checked and verified.
More and more customers demand sustainable practices in the choice of products they buy. Forbes notes that around 60% of consumers are likelier to buy products with clearly defined sustainability policies. This is most evident in the success of fashion brands like Allbirds and Veja, both of which are known for their sustainable business practices.
Blockchain and a circular economy
Crucial to sustainability is the concept of the circular economy and its three R’s: reducing materials and waste, reusing products, and recycling materials. This paradigm ensures that products and services are traded in closed loops or cycles, meaning that nothing goes to waste so we can better preserve Earth’s natural resources.
Blockchain can help in this regard, too. Aside from transparency, the technology ensures traceability. Together, transparency and traceability facilitate fast and easy provenance of items. Consequently, distinguishing authentic products from fake ones helps combat counterfeiting and the negative strain it causes to our natural resources, not to mention fair work practices.
Just as importantly, thanks to blockchain technology consumers can have adequate information about truly sustainable products, enabling to make informed choices.
Finally, blockchain is streamlining the supply chain through immutable, time-based databases for every stage: production, collection, transportation, arrival, and even disposal. A streamlined supply chain, like that of Walmart, Amazon, and IBM, then helps companies optimize processes, come up with innovations, and increase productivity.
These result in reduced operating costs and, more importantly, reductions in waste. They can also aid in the conservation of resources. However, blockchain technology is relatively nascent, which means that it might take some time yet before more companies around the world figure out how to use it effectively for the sake of sustainability.