Blockchain’s Next Frontier: Saving the Planet (and Possibly Pandas, Too)

"It's almost like a game, but a game with real stakes," explained Joseph Lubin, Ethereum co-founder and CEO of ConsenSys.

Obtaining funding for social and environmental projects has historically relied on a one-way and opaque system. Paul Zinken/picture alliance via Getty Images

Despite the boom and bust cycle of Bitcoin and its extensive family of cryptocurrencies, there is a general consensus among the tech and business community that blockchain is a real innovation bound to underpin the future of the digital world. The nascent technology is already seeing application in such areas as e-commerce, publishing and database management. And now, it’s eyeing a next-level mission: to save the planet.

This week, amid the climate change-themed United Nations General Assembly conference series in New York City, Brooklyn-based blockchain software company ConsenSys, led by Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin, unveiled a partnership with the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature’s Panda Labs (an incubating program for sustainability projects—not just panda projects) called Impactio, a blockchain-powered platform tasked with connecting entrepreneurs, investors and subject-matter experts on social and environmental projects.

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Historically, obtaining funding for sustainability-related projects through nonprofits like WWF relies on a one-way and opaque system, where project leaders submit grant applications and keep their fingers crossed for a response from interested funders. Impactio seeks to make this process more efficient and transparent by bringing various stakeholders on to one platform and creating a feedback loop where participants can peer-review projects through a digital token-based voting process. The same tokens can also be donated by curators to chosen projects as seed funds.

“There are a whole bunch of people who have great ideas, a whole bunch of people who want to invest in projects, and a whole bunch of subject-matter experts scattered all around the world. You need a trustworthy platform to serve as sort of a magnet for all these different actors,” ConsenSys CEO Lubin explained to Observer. “It’s almost like a game, but a game with real stakes. You bring in people with expertise who want to stake their reputation and even to benefit financially.”

The curation and voting mechanism is supported by a set of smart contracts, while every activity on the platform is recorded on the blockchain ledger to prevent unauthorized editing and hacking.

“We face a $2.5 trillion funding gap to achieve the SDGs (sustainable development goals) by 2030. We know that this isn’t necessarily due to a lack of capital or a lack of solutions. What is lacking is a robust mechanism for linking these private dollars to viable, large scale, SDG-advancing projects,” Kavita Prakash-Mani, director of WWF Global Conservation, said in a statement.

Impactio was born in 2017 out of a collaboration between ConsenSys’ staff in Sydney, Australia and the WWF Australia team with an initial goal to incentivize people into participating in wildlife preservation in Australia, said Robert Greenfield, co-founder of ConsenSys Social Impact. But the project later evolved into one focused on reducing the operational cost of finding such projects.

During a seven-week pilot program from July 1 to August 21, Impactio attracted over 100 participants who approved 17 social and environmental projects through its token-based curation process.

Blockchain’s Next Frontier: Saving the Planet (and Possibly Pandas, Too)