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README.md

A guide to ecofriendly CryptoArt (NFTs)

Important Note: This article was written in Feb 25 2021. It has had minor updates since then, but it may be very out of date. For more up-to-date information, daily discussions and reviews please visit:

Introduction

This article is not a comprehensive “CryptoArt for beginners”. It’s more of a very brief (as possible) first step towards a guide for the adventurous artist who wants to create and sell CryptoArtworks (or NFTs) on the blockchain - on sustainable platforms. Since the field is moving so rapidly, the information below is likely to go out of date very quickly. We will try to keep it up to date via pull-requests and issues. And I hope the platforms themselves will add relevant information, “Statement of Values”, and roadmaps to their own site.


The CryptoArt NFT Market (i.e. selling digital art on the blockchain) is worth at least $150M - and this excludes some of the largest marketplaces like opensea.io, (and this figure is quite heavily skewed of course, with the top artists earning the most [1]).

Selling work on a blockchain can be a technically challenging task. For this reason, many platforms and websites have emerged, aiming to make this process as seamless and easy as possible for artists. Unfortunately, currently many of these websites are based on the Ethereum blockchain, which is very inefficient and ecologically costly by design. E.g. selling just a single-edition artwork on Ethereum has a carbon footprint starting at around 100 KgCO2, which is equivalent to a 1 hour flight (and depending on the platform, can reach a long-haul flight) [2]. Selling an edition of 100 works has a carbon footprint of over 10 tonnes CO2, which is more than the per capita annual footprint of someone in the EU - including all emissions from industry and trade [3].

But there are more sustainable routes emerging. As the CryptoArt NFT market is exploding in a gold-rush style free-for-all, there is a lack of clear information on the ecological impact of different approaches to NFTs. The purpose of this guide is to help CryptoArtists who are interested in exploring more sustainable alternatives. Currently, these more sustainable platforms do not have the volume of their unsustainable counterparts (i.e. the Ethereum-based platforms). For this reason, collectors and sales are likely to be significantly lower too on the more sustainable alternatives. However, hopefully as more artists migrate to these emerging waters, this can encourage platforms, developers, investors and collectors, to bridge to develop more ecologically friendly and transparent platforms.

We are also hoping the platforms themselves will be more transparent on the matter, and we can eventually retire this document. However, at the time of writing, not a single platform has publicly acknowledged the issue on their website. When they do, the relevant links will be included below.

What would be great to see from CryptoArt / NFT platforms regarding sustainability:

  • A statement of values
  • A commitment to transparency, communication and guidance for CryptoArtists
  • A roadmap (other than “We hope ETH2 will resolve the issue when it’s released in a year or two" - e.g. alternate chains, side chains, lazy minting, layer 2 scaling which are currently in the process of supporting. Including bounties to PoS chains and wallets to create a solution to PoW etc)
  • A donation of proceeds to carbon credits or to subsidize the ecological footprint and their direct environmental impact

Glossary

The purpose of this section is to introduce concepts in an incredibly brief (1-2 sentences each) manner. For more information please follow the links.

  • Blockchain: A decentralized database. The technicalities of this are not relevant for our discussion. What is important to know however, is that there are many different blockchains (e.g. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Algorand, Polkadot etc), and usually, each blockchain has its own (crypto)currency.
  • Cryptocurrency: Magic internet money. Bitcoin (BTC) is the most well known cryptocurrency and the oldest. Ethereum (ETH) is another well known cryptocurrency (and the basis for most current CryptoArt platforms). There are thousands of other cryptocurrencies (typically small volume cryptocurrencies are collectively known as altcoins).
  • CryptoArt: Art registered on the blockchain. I.e. Media is associated with an NFT. https://www.artnome.com/news/2018/1/14/what-is-cryptoart
  • NFT: Non-Fungible Token. A unique token (i.e. long number or string) that is associated with some media (e.g. image, video, poem, whatever) or any unique asset, such as a house, property etc which has its ID or file registered specifically to one block on the blockchain. Detailed description: https://opensea.io/blog/guides/non-fungible-tokens
  • Smart Contract: A fancy way of saying “a program that lives and runs on the blockchain”. Smart contracts are what creates and keeps track of NFTs, ASAs, Dapps etc. Some of these types of contracts can be legally binding.
  • Minting an NFT: The act of ‘creating’ an NFT, i.e. registering the token on the blockchain, and associating it with your media (e.g. file).
  • NFT Platform / Marketplace: A website which allows people to buy & sell NFTs. Think ebay or Amazon, except it uses a blockchain in the background. Different platforms can:
    • use different blockchains (though currently nearly all of them use Ethereum)
    • use different approaches to accepting artists. e.g.:
      • anyone can register immediately
      • anyone can apply, but applicants are manually accepted (or not - and some are more selective than others)
      • invite only
    • NFT Minting only (website uses its own smart-contract) vs NFT Factory (allows artist to own smart-contract, this can allow artist more control)
    • Compatible with other platforms (e.g. list the same work on multiple platforms)
  • Gas fee: A fee one must pay (usually paid by the seller, i.e. artist) to be able to publish, i.e. mint (think ebay listing fee) on Ethereum. This fee goes not to the platform, but to Ethereum to compensate for the computing energy required to process and validate transactions. Currently Ethereum gas fees are very high and fluctuate (e.g. >$100-$1000) with network congestion. Some days and times are dramatically less or more due to current on-chain demand. There are some existing and WIP solutions discussed in the next section.
  • Wallet: A blockchain analog for a bank account on the blockchain, which contains your cryptocurrency. Different cryptocurrencies often require different wallets. Without going into too much detail, usually this is a piece of software, hardware (or browser extension) which gives you a private seed - which is typically a bunch of random words, like “red fox banana submarine tutu” (this is like your password for the wallet, which you should keep safe and never share with anyone!) and a corresponding ‘hashed’ version (e.g. 17ah2k25djhsa7974) which is your public facing wallet address (like an IBAN, so it’s what you share with others to get paid or trade).
  • Consensus Algorithm: The algorithm that underlies the blockchain. Details of this are irrelevant for this guide, except to say that Proof-of-Work (PoW) is the consensus algorithm that is hundreds of times more inefficient than the other ones (deliberately so), and is also the one which is the most common today unfortunately. For familiarity, here are some other consensus algorithms (how they work is not important for now): Proof-of-Work (PoW), Proof-of-Stake (PoS), Delegated Proof-of-Stake (DPoS), Proof-of-Authority (PoA), Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT), Delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance (dBFT), etc.

Ways to make it better

Here are just some of the ways to improve the carbon footprint of NFTs:

Still using Ethereum:

  • Lazy minting: This is not necessarily dramatically better, around 2x, or maybe 3x less carbon footprint. This is done by not creating an NFT until its first purchase.
  • Sidechains: NFTs are minted on non-Ethereum PoS sidechains, but can be moved onto Ethereum later. If they are not moved, can be hundreds times more efficient.
  • Bridges: Are specifically for making one blockchain ecosystem compatible with another blockchain. This can also be referred to as interoperability and allows chains to interact which otherwise cannot. The advantage of this is you can go from ETH to another less impactful chain without loosing the data minted.
  • Various Layer 2 (L2) scaling optimizations: Can be up to 100x more efficient.

Using other blockchains:

  • Instead of Ethereum, other blockchains are used. This can be up to hundreds of times better for the environment in terms of carbon footprint. Some of these chains include Algorand, Tezos, Polkadot, Hedera Hashgraph, and other PoS networks.

NFT Platforms & Marketplaces

These are the websites that you would use to upload, ‘mint’ and sell your works. For sake of simplicity, we can say that from an ecological perspective, Ethereum (which uses PoW), is the worst (unless sidechains or L2 scaling is implemented).

Platforms using different blockchains (e.g. using PoS, PoA etc) will generally be hundreds times more efficient. For those wishing to not incur the immense footprints of Ethereum, look for - and support - alternatives. Sales may be lower for now (see the Risks section at the end). This document doesn’t aim to give advice, instead it is a first step in collecting this information in one place.

Hopefully if there is enough demand for sustainable and transparent platforms, this can encourage developers, investors and collectors to invest in and develop these more ecologically friendly alternatives and grow the market. (And hopefully the community can provide more feedback - perhaps in the issues).

Eco-friendly

hic et nunc - open marketplace for digital art

  • https://www.hicetnunc.xyz/
  • Blockchain: Tezos (XTZ)
  • Open application (not invite only or curated)
  • Note: The original Hic et Nunc (aka HEN) site is discontinued. However, the HEN smart contract is still live, and HEN NFTs can be viewed and collected via these community developed websites (all showing the same NFTs, but using different front-ends*):

KodaDot - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

  • https://kodadot.xyz/
  • Blockchain: Kusama/Polkadot
  • implemented RMRK.app standard
  • Open application (not invite only or curated)

Viv3 - open marketplace for digital art

  • https://viv3.com/
  • Blockchain: Flow (by CryptoKitties folks, used by one of the largest NFT platforms, NBA topshots)
  • Open application (not invite only or curated)

Kalamint - curated marketplace for digital art

SIGN Art - curated marketplace for digital art

  • https://sign-art.app/
  • Blockchain: Waves Protocol (WAVES)
  • Open application (with a curated option)
  • Free minting (Lazy mint on buy request)

Atomic - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

Pixeos - open marketplace for digital art

Paras - curated marketplace for digital art cards

  • https://paras.id/
  • Blockchain: NEAR
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated, but verified)

NFTshowroom - open marketplace for digital art

Eporio - open marketplace for digital art

  • https://epor.io/
  • Blockchain: xDai
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)

Solible - marketplace for redeemable NFTs

Lovada - inclusive marketplace for digital art

Stellar NFT

Stashh

Not eco-friendly

OpenSea - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

  • https://opensea.io/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH), but Tezos (XTZ) support coming soon [link]
  • Also uses Matic sidechain for ETH [link]
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)
  • NFT Factory: allows users to create their own contracts
  • No gas fees (lazy minting)

Mintbase - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

  • https://mintbase.io/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH), but NEAR coming soon [link, link]
  • NFT Factory: allows users to create their own contracts
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)

Rarible - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

  • https://rarible.com/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH)
  • NFT Factory: allows users to create their own contracts
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)

Cargo - open marketplace for all kinds of digital collectibles

  • https://cargo.build/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH)
  • NFT Factory: allows users to create their own contracts
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)

Async Art - curated marketplace for programmable art

SuperRare - curated marketplace for digital art

NiftyGateway - curated marketplace for digital art

Foundation - curated marketplace for digital art

MakersPlace - curated marketplace for digital art

Known Origin - curated marketplace for digital art

Zora

  • https://zora.co/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH)
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)

RATS - trading marketplace for digital art

  • https://rats.art/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH)
  • RATS is a free service with no added fees for cryptoartists and collectors

chocomint

  • https://chocomint.app/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH) Polygon (MATIC)
  • Open to everybody
  • Allows people to mint cheaply

nanakusa


PaceArt - open marketplace for many kinds of digital collectibles (image, mp3, mp4, gifs,...)

  • https://app.pace.art/
  • Blockchain: Ethereum (ETH)
  • Open to everybody (not invite only or curated)
  • NFT Factory: allows users to create their own contracts
  • No gas fees (lazy minting)

Blockchains

There’s not much an individual CryptoArtist can do with the following information without a platform (i.e. website and marketplace) using these blockchains, or without coding everything themselves. But the list is still included here as a guide, in case you hear these words and wonder what they are:

Ready for NFTs and deployed main-nets:

WIP or recently released


Risks

  • Cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile [4], and their values can dramatically fall (or rise). E.g. if you sell a NFT for 1 ETH, which is currently worth ~$1600, the value of ETH could later drop to a few hundred $ in a few months, or even in a few weeks (alternatively, it could rise to two or three thousand $$ too).
  • This becomes potentially even more risky (or potentially more rewarding) with cryptocurrencies that have a much smaller market cap (e.g. NEAR, XTZ, AVAX etc), which could die and drop to zero (or go to the moon) in a few weeks.
  • Please act responsibly. Seek financial advice if need be (preferably not from YouTube, TikTok, Elon Musk or Chamath Palihapitiya).
  • The smaller blockchains are likely to have fewer collectors. So expect smaller sales on these platforms. (Though as more people start to use these blockchains for NFTs the prices will likely rise with demand).

Acknowledgements & Contributions

The information in this document is a collective effort from many people including:

Memo Akten, Primavera De Filippi, Joanie Lemercier, Addie Wagenknecht, Mat Dryhurst, Sutu_eats_flies, everybody in the "Clean-NFTs" discord [5] and many more. (Also see https://github.com/memo/eco-nft/graphs/contributors )

Please submit a pull-request or issue if you would like to make any changes or have any comments.

Pull requests:

  • Small and atomic (i.e. each pull request should be a change to one location, and in a separate branch if need be)
  • Please don’t send pull-requests which change whitespace or line-endings etc

References

  1. https://cryptoart.io/artists
  2. https://memoakten.medium.com/the-unreasonable-ecological-cost-of-cryptoart-2221d3eb2053
  3. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#co2-embedded-in-trade
  4. https://coinmarketcap.com/
  5. https://discord.com/invite/X2BefZVtWh

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