Feb 22, 2023

Unlock Ethical Buying with Blockchain Technology

Chris Georgen, founder of the social impact-focused blockchain company Topl, believes that many consumers are unaware of the consequences of their buying habits.

“Forced labor, deforestation, the destruction of endangered habitats… As responsible citizens of the world, we wouldn’t knowingly support, condone or participate in anything like this,” he tells Magazine.

“Unfortunately, too often, what we buy can lead to this (and sometimes worse). Whether we know it or not, the things we buy profoundly impact the lives of others and the health of our planet.”

The public is increasingly concerned with the values of businesses. How the company treats its customers, its employees and its raw materials make blockchain-based systems a natural fit for ethical consumerism.

Blockchain technology can be used to provide more insight into the origin of products, allowing people to make more informed choices. The technology can also be used to reward ethical behavior, encouraging more responsible consumption.

Mesbah Sabur, founder of Circularise — a blockchain company tackling traceability solutions for a more circular economy — stresses the importance of consumers making greener choices:

“As consumers, we should be more informed about where the products we buy come from, what they are made of, and how they impact people and the planet. Consequently, making choices towards more ethical options and signaling the market a need for change.”

“The rise in global challenges signifies our collective responsibility to reverse the rate of environmental degradation,” says Sabur.

Chris Georgen believes that blockchain technology can help people better understand the impact of their purchases.

“We can trace the coffee beans in our morning latte across continents to see exactly what a local farmer was paid. We can even use blockchain technology to begin to unpack what are known as Scope 3 carbon emissions and better understand the climate impact of the goods we buy,” says Georgen.

There are two ways that consumers could adopt — or, more controversially, be compelled to adhere to — standards of ethical consumption. The first is through regulation and enforced rules around production, which Energy Web — a blockchain-based nonprofit accelerating the transition to clean energy — believes is coming in the near future. The second is by embedding technology within products that afford consumers more choices when it comes to their buying behavior.

Ioannis Vlachos, commercial director of Energy Web, explains that his organization is working on the EU’s CIRPASS passport, which will see end-to-end traceability of products.

“We believe as an organization that if you want to create impact, you should be open, you should be public. There is no room for making money strategies based on private blockchains. Or creating vendor lock-ins. We do believe that impact comes from open-source and public things.”

“Regulation creates public awareness. If everyone is talking about this new digital passport of the European Commission, consumers start becoming more aware of why they should care,” continues Vlachos.

Dan Weinberger, founder of Morpheus.Network, believes that companies will find it easier to demonstrate ethical standards if a blockchain records a product’s journey.

“By leveraging the decentralized nature of blockchain technology, companies can provide consumers with a clear record of a product’s journey from production to purchase,” he says. “Furthermore, the use of smart contracts can automate compliance and certifications, making it easier for companies to demonstrate that their products meet certain ethical or sustainability standards.”

The current methods for recording carbon emissions and credits are coming under increased scrutiny, as credits are often bought in bulk by government agencies or large corporations. The World Economic Forum reported on the issue last year, stating that the overwhelming majority of the $851 billion carbon market is closed off from the general public.

Alexander Mitrovich, CEO of Unique Network — a blockchain-based project building NFT infrastructure within the Polkadot ecosystem — believes that carbon credit NFTs allow individuals to see the positive impact they make on societal problems.

“Tokenized carbon credits are also transparent, immutable and avoid double-counting. Using advanced NFT capabilities, various properties can be nested into tokenized carbon credits to allow various benefits and rights to vote to contributors.”

However, the public also needs to be aware of how to access these climate-positive activities, and to date, blockchain companies are not providing easy entry points for the average consumer.

John Vibes, community manager at Solid World DAO, believes that unlocking the value of deals for carbon projects and those that buy into them is a way for the public to participate in what otherwise appears a difficult market to access.

“This type of brand consciousness is especially important among younger people, but there are also selfish reasons to know exactly where your products are coming from because it helps you ensure that you are getting something safe and reliable,” says Vibes.

For Energy Web, it is important that the consumer can verify product claims easily.

“I would be able to verify by just pulling my mobile phone out of my pocket, scanning the QR code on certain products, and logging how the materials were sourced —without revealing any sensitive information but with the ability to validate by myself,” explains Vlachos.

Georgen says that Topl is already helping consumers make choices that better align with their values. “Consumers are able to scan QR codes on everything from tea and chocolates to their clothing to see where these products originate and what type of labor practices were used. In the future, we not only can imagine the availability of this data extending to more products, but we can even envision a world where consumers can be rewarded for shopping more ethically,” says Georgen.

With the development of easy entry points, consumers can make better choices automatically. By using blockchain technology, companies can provide consumers with a clear record of a product’s journey from production to purchase, and the use of nonfungible tokens (NFTs) can help divide carbon credits so that they become accessible to daily consumers. This

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