According to tech firm Lablaco, the metaverse will be a defining factor in creating opportunities within the $5tn digitized and connected circular fashion industry. But just how sustainable is the journey to this virtual landscape?
Discover the benefits and challenges all retailers should address to keep up the momentum of their sustainability gains upon entering this exciting new space.
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Most retailers are participating in carbon offsetting initiatives. However, proving how much carbon has been neutralized is challenging, making blockchain technology optimal as a permanent digital record.
Similarly, physical garments with a virtual twin can validate where a product has been made and where its materials come from, increasing traceability and transparency. As digital wearables are becoming more commonplace, they can be subbed in to replace real items in resource-intensive processes such as sampling and shooting digital campaigns.
Digital pollution and landfills will need to be addressed. Retailers can explore less impactful blockchains to mint NFTs and work with data centers with renewable energy usage.
Retailers can’t call themselves sustainable if they neglect people’s wellbeing within their value chains. If moving to digital processes impacts manufacturers and store staff, brands need to ensure upskilling in new areas or provide compensation.
Blockchains are the New Supply Chains
Already adopted by Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen, digital ledgers acting as a “single source of truth” can improve retailers’ transparency and traceability. Blockchain technology can verify a physical product’s sustainability, providing tamper-proof end-to-end visibility of its life cycle and composition. It can also be used to track carbon offsets by automatically calculating total emissions and managing environmental impact data across the Scope 1, 2 and 3 categories.
From Milan to the Metaverse
New York Fashion Week alone can release up to 48,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases, not to mention the waste accrued from lavish set designs, showgoers, and promotional swag. From digital catwalks to Metaverse Fashion Week, the importance of virtual presentations is being realized to push design and entertainment boundaries and minimize the environmental impact of the traditional runway setting.
Decentraland Metaverse Fashion Week
Rewire Retail Processes
Without actual production and materials, digital alternatives emit 97% less CO2 than a physical garment and save 3,300 liters of water. Replacing physical sampling for digital can help brands reduce their carbon footprint by 30%. Additionally, with 9% of products in the UK purchased purely for content creation, providing influencers with virtual garments can be an alternative for more environmentally-friendly digital marketing outreach.
Support and Scale New Talent
The metaverse can create opportunities for new eco and ethical brands to succeed without sacrificing profits for the sustainable good. Web3 platforms like Digitalax – a metaverse-enabled digital fashion economy – provide designers with the tools to build a sustainable brand and support sustainable suppliers with open-source libraries with digital patterns, materials and textures that can be used or added to, while original designers earn royalties when used.
Digital Carbon Footprints
Though the internet is not among the top emitters – accounting for almost 4% of greenhouse gases – digital pollution will need to be addressed. The creation and sale of a single NFT would cost an average of 289kg of CO2 (slightly more than a one-way flight from Barcelona to London). Retailers will also need to explore less impactful blockchains – Hedera Hashgraph is reported to use the lowest overall energy consumption, while Ethereum 2.0 has the highest.
Disposable NFT Culture
Fast fashion culture has been predicted to eventuate in the metaverse with throwaway mints existing as a digital counterpart to disposable fashion. Though NFTs cannot be deleted, they can be sent to digital landfills (a burn address), which will always exist, costing money and energy. Much like customers are incentivized to return unwanted garments to be resold, powering the circular economy in the physical world, the same will need to be considered for digital wearables.
Garment Workers’ Uncertain Future
Metaverse technologies are beneficial for proving garment traceability and fair trade; however, as digital fashion accelerates, the role of garment workers will change meaning businesses need to guarantee their livelihood is not negatively impacted. Anyone dependent on traditional processes potentially affected by a digital takeover will need to either be retrained in new areas or fairly compensated.
The Dark Side of the Cloud
Forcing local data centers to move into the cloud will positively impact the environment; however, it will require serious energy outputs to make it a reality. As an example, if 90% of all gamers move to cloud-based platforms, the carbon emissions resulting from the increased required computing power would increase by 112%. Then if streaming at 4K resolution became widespread, any environmental gains, such as not commuting for fashion shows and creating non-physical garments, would be eradicated.
What Retailers are Doing
adidas x Prada Re-Source
The digital art project features 300 individual NFTs minted on Polygon, making them more environmentally friendly than those made on other blockchain networks. The revenue from sales is shared between all contributors and Slow Factory, a nonprofit organization dedicated to open education in the intersecting crises of climate justice and social inequity.
The Web3 marketplace operates on the LUKSO blockchain, creating NFTs that are 99% less energy-intensive and therefore, have a lower carbon footprint. It also recognizes the knowledge gaps in sustainability and social impact in digital fashion, and is committed to creating an open access blueprint and launching new research and educational partnerships in 2022.
FARFETCH x DRESSX
At the end of 2021, the luxury platform teamed up with virtual fashion brand DRESSX to digitally outfit the models for its pre-order campaign. Avoiding physical materials and shipping saved the equivalent of 24 years of drinking water for 20 people and the energy of 29 years of smartphone usage for ten hours a day.
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