Working our way towards a sustainable future with blockchain

Sam Colyer
It’s probably fair to say that we all want a sustainable future for our environment, our economy and for society in general. And by all, I mean individuals, government and world leaders as stewards of the planet. The concept of being sustainable isn’t new and progress has been slow at times, but could advancements in technology mean that this is set to change? This article looks at what a more sustainable future with blockchain may be. We all know that going digital is a game changer: in a relatively short space of time developments in technology have changed the world far beyond expectations: from transport to health, communication to consumption, nothing is out of reach for disruption. So it wouldn’t be out of the question for our sustainability practices to also be headed for a change. A great step in the right direction then is the EU confirming a blockchain based competition to instigate exciting, innovative thinking around improving our approaches to sustainability and in the quest to become more green. As mentioned in Atmosphere Inspires Edition 21, the “blockchains for social good” competition has been set by European Innovation Council (EIC) for best sustainable and social initiative. The competition is being launched under the Horizon 2020 programme, which is driven by €80 billion of funding to develop “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs”. Running for seven years, it’s a research funded programme worth knowing about, reaching across a myriad of sectors and rewarding innovative and creative thinking. Just last week Irish med tech company won €2.5m in an Horizon 2020 competition for helping to treat atrial fibrillation. Just as an aside, and if you think about it, a competition is a great way to inspire creativity, motivate and encourage healthy ambition isn’t it? (and perhaps an underused concept in the workplace?).

So why use blockchain?

Why then has the Horizon 2020 programme decided to bring blockchain technology into the mix, particularly when it comes to sustainability? Historically, the ledger technology has been most disruptive within financial services, and with good reason; the benefits gleaned around financial transactions, transparency and traceability all very clearly align to the needs of a finance sector riddled with questions around transparency and accountability. Yet there’s a growing understanding that blockchain has a greater versatility and could be used across a whole host of other sectors too. Check out 36 (yes, 36!) big industries which have now been disrupted by blockchain. (This list is encouraging; a sustainable future with blockchain all of a sudden doesn't sound that much of a pipe dream..) As well as being a key disruptor across a variety of sectors, we also know that the EU has a publicised interest in blockchain: last year it was announced that the EU invested over €5 million in blockchain startups. These organisations were based around electronic signatures, identity verification and e-money services, but the ongoing investment and interest suggests that the EU are keen to take advantage of the larger scope blockchain has to offer. What’s becoming pretty clear is that the technology can be very malleable: it lends itself to a great number of business needs and there’s definitely many underdiscovered benefits to be realised (helped along of course by the fact that many businesses are “going digital”).  By utilising Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), the criteria being assessed in this particular competition will be decentralisation / governance, usability, viability at large scale / cost-efficiency and added value for European citizens. From this list of criteria comes plenty of “green” inspiration for entries to consider and link to what blockchain might have to offer. For example, decentralisation can help to reveal the origin of a product in order to support the fair trade ethos (e.g. Swiss Coffee Alliance has partnered with blockchain specialist Ambrosus). Or local governments (e.g. Aberdeen Heat and Power) who have faced high energy prices and may explore “decentralised energy”: alternative energy which has not been sourced from main grid and offers a competitive price Other great examples of working towards a sustainable future with blockchain include:
  • Handshake: a company working with the UN Migration Agency (IOM) and utilising blockchain to ensure that labour contracts for migrant workers are legal and verified
  • Spenn: has used blockchain to develop an eWallet to reach those outside of the western world to provide them with access to the financial system as well as ensuring transparency and security
  • IDbox Village (Testnet) great initiative which allows people to donate directly towards a specific task within a village or town anywhere in the world and more crucially, without the middleman
The increased transparency and traceability enabled by DLT may also have a wider impact on societal values. Globally, trust in institutions such as media, government and corporates is at a 17 year low . TRVST (part of the Atmosphere network) believes in creating a sustainable future with blockchain. TRVST is currently building a blockchain-enabled co-creation platform working with institutions, corporates, businesses, charities and social enterprises. Smart contracts will enable exchanges of skills, time and value from donor to cause, which will be transferred across the network, brokered by TRVST. So, unprecedented technology such as blockchain, coupled with EU interest and funding means that the approach to improved sustainability may finally be getting the boost it needs. As you’d expect, there will be hurdles to overcome, but as it becomes a priority for governments and world leaders we’re hoping it’s going to be a very difficult concept to ignore. It’s probably fair to say that there are many, many, thought provoking and exciting opportunities for this competition to exploit though and we’re really looking forward to seeing the ideas and concepts being put forward, and those that accelerates. How are you creating a more sustainable future with blockchain? Do you want to learn more about TRVST and what you can do to bring TRVST to your organisation? Follow the conversation @TRVSTworld

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