Government Investment in Blockchain & Sustainability
It's hard to avoid the blockchain if you are on the internet these days. Most folks have heard about Bitcoin, Ethereum or EOS because of speculative investments. Highly volatile cryptocurrencies have made some people very wealthy. It's all based on the idea of the blockchain.
A public, distributed ledger that is next to impossible to alter. This makes it very useful for things that go beyond cryptocurrencies.
Blockchain is a pretty amazing technology that will have some great applications. Unfortunately, the hype of this new technology is pretty exaggerated.
So, I'm buying some gold. Not for an investment, but because I'm getting married. We sought out an ethical jeweler so that we could be confident that our rings were responsibly sourced. FTJCO is a B Corp that has been very active with fair trade minerals. Mining for rare minerals in countries like the Congo is ethically problematic. The gold for rings has been traced back to a fairly sourced mine in the Congo with the help of blockchain:
Particularly since there is so much unethical gold out there, we feel good paying a premium for traceability. From a purely environmental perspective, however, buying recycled gold might have been better.
People are excited about leveraging blockchain so green companies can market their products. Blockchain would allow companies to do the full cost accounting for the entire life-cycle of their products. This sounds great! So what's the problem?
It is hard to imagine what the carbon footprint will be for tracking all of this data. Organizing and maintaining large datasets takes energy as does making it immediately available. Data centres and the power that they consume are already growing exponentially.
People are unaware of the growth of ICT, which "could use 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025".
People like the idea of buying green products and but probably find it easier to buy from green companies. Most people do not have the time or interest to track where they consume comes from.
Buying from a green company will also likely have a bigger impact.
Companies can do lots of things without blockchain to prove that they are green, such as:
- Track and publish carbon emissions
- Buy carbon offsets
- Post CO2 reduction targets and efforts to meet them
- Set up a purchasing policy that supports buying carbon neutral products, from local businesses & from B Corps
- Have mechanisms in place to make it easier for staff to reduce their CO2 emissions. Carpools, working from home, shower facilities to encourage bike commuting all help.
There are far more immediate benefits to reducing our CO2 by investing in efforts like this. It could be that a decade or two from now citizens will make it a priority to have ethically sourced & audit-able products. Right now most organizations simply don’t care or are bound to accept the lowest price.
If governments want to support green business, there is so much that they can do. I would like to see the Government of Canada do the following:
- Start highlighting businesses that are addressing their GHG emissions. This doesn't have to be a meeting with a minister, but that always helps.
- Promote alternatives like Certified B Corporations and Social Enterprises. This type of environmental businesses still isn't well known.
- Change government procurement to give a preference to green businesses like B Corps.
- Look into setting up Public B Corporation legislation, Buy Social as well as Community Contribution Companies. Business models need to evolve to support this.
- Work to see that all Crown corporations become Certified B Corporations. BDC is Canada's largest B Corporation.
These approaches will have a definite & immediate impact on our carbon footprint. They may not be as exciting as blockchain technology but will have a much bigger result. Not that blockchain can't be useful, but right now most of the initiatives I've seen are a solution looking for a problem.
About The Author
Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.