When I started this journey, I set out to try my hand at all sorts of initiatives that bridge blockchain and impact. The likeliest start seemed like NFTs due to their popularity. It seemed to be such a simple application of blockchain that was really being underutilized as a means for impact. NFTS for the Planet happened in February 2022. I learned some lessons worth sharing from that experience,
I started with creating a vision that was born from my frustration with the banality and plainness of many blockchain applications. It seemed like NFTs were quite basic. There's a lot of hype and a lot of potential to use this technology in a meaningful way, but NFTs, for lack of a better word, were shallow.
NFTs for the Planet was an attempt to break away from the shallowness of jpegs and use the tech's ability to do something greater. It was an attempt at collaborative art that perpetually benefits the planet. In this experiment, I attempted to use a trait unique to NFTs: their ability to facilitate perpetual value through royalties via smart contracts.
"Traditionally" when digital art is resold as an NFT, the artists, or the originators of the NFT, can get royalties they deserve. But what if we could do more? What if the point is not to make art, but to make an impact? Maybe we can use royalties for ongoing impact?
NFTs For the Planet was not so much about the aesthetic value of art created, but about a collaborative effort to perpetuate impact. This experiment invited users into a collaborative process to make a piece of AI art that will give royalties in perpetuity to chosen charities.
How did we go about this?
1) The BloB Twitter account asked for prompts to feed into an AI engine to create a collaborative piece of AI art.
2) The first 5 users were meant to suggest any word they like. Those 5 words together would create a prompt for an AI engine.
3) The AI creates 5 unique, different, images based on those same words.
4) The images are uploaded to OpenSea and are minted as NFTs.
5) The NFTs have a defined charity that will receive royalties in perpetuity. As long as the NFT is sold, funds go to the charity (hopefully at a greater resale price).
The more times they are sold, at more value, the more money goes to the chosen charity.
How it went
Well, it worked! Not really, but good enough to prove the concept. I started by posting the idea on Twitter and received some suggestions for charities. One of the answers was by a person who was leading a non-profit called Plastic Tides. They're combining adventure and science to address ocean plastic pollution via research expeditions, education, and outreach.
I then set up an OpenSea account to upload the NFT to be. I set it up on the polygon network which is a layer 2 for Ethereum - what that essentially means is that transactions would have lower emissions. I did a test run with Plastic Tides and it all went swimmingly.
I then posted about the NFTs for the Planet initiative on Twitter. It went poorly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much interaction. My Twitter account and that of Plastic Tides were not enough to muster 5 comments and all the hashtags in the world couldn't puncture through the noise of other NFTs in this crowded space.
One interaction came from brave Michael of LOA labs. A validator on Cosmos. He interacted with the word "Beloved" which was a pretty great prompt. Because nobody else interacted, I took the word, his name, and LOA labs and entered them into the AI engine and it came out pretty cool!
AI art is creepy and cool. I got a lot of good reactions to the art, but, the aesthetic value wasn't the point of the experiment.
Lesson 1: The issue with this project was that not enough people cared about it (or probably even heard about it). NFT projects are a function of community and typically create a lot of hype before the project even has the actual artwork. This I knew, but I underestimated the importance. Getting people behind the idea is crucial to get some traction, even to get it off the ground a little bit.
Lesson 2: The idea of using royalties to perpetuate impact did work. Royalties through went to the right address and theoretically, the next buyer could sell the piece and a percentage of the price would go to the charity.
Also using an AI engine worked. This is not blockchain-related, but it was still cool to use "crowdsourced" information to make art. This means other projects can and should use this function to perpetuate impact and add value to their projects!
Future projects can make a unique contract, or just use Opensea or Rarible like I did. I hope this inspires projects in the NFT space to do this in the future. This would be instead of a one-time donation to a charity, or other superficial, short-term uses of NFTs' functionality. Lesson 3: People don’t necessarily know how to interact with MATIC, or with OpenSea. I got some questions about this and realized, it’s not so clear! It was important for me to use MATIC to lower emissions and gas fees. But this added a layer of complexity that made the project less attractive.
Even if you know how to use OpenSea, MATIC is not simple to explain. Onboarding people on to this layer-2 should be easier, especially as it gets the job done just as well as any other blockchain but with a fraction of the impact!
I think this is symptomatic of what is happening in the blockchain space in general. There's a major difficulty to onboard people. Especially as the functionality is further removed, so the difficulty to work with it grows. We need to make things more accessible, intuitive, and easy to work with.
Lesson 4: Another question that came up was "Is this a donation or is it a security?" This question persists in this space of NFTs as a whole. But I think I’ve added a twist to that question mixing the two possibilities of profit in the future, and royalties to charities. TBD!
Lesson 5: There are a lot of great projects doing very similar work to what I was trying to do! A partial list of NFT projects I ran into and interacted with that are doing work for the planet and are worth looking at:
- Ecorise (I ended up joining their DAO)
The functionality of using royalties to perpetuate impact also has echoes in some other projects:
And crypto donations, in general, are becoming more and more popular. The most user-friendly platform I found for that was The Giving Block
Lesson 6: The NFT space is really full, and I find that there are so many scam/get-rich-quick projects that it just puts people off. We need to find more ways/projects that are using this new tech to do great things.
The main takeaway
As was made clear in my first articles, the community is key. If I would have had a community behind this idea, it may have made up for the other pitfalls. The more I go through the blockchain ecosystems, the more I see that people want to be a part of something.
Sometimes being a part of something means owning a pixilated punk, or an ape, sometimes it means being a part of a DAO that may buy the US constitution or disrupt the world banking system, but either way, people are looking to connect.
People are also looking to make money. This isn't just a pastime, there's profit to be made, so the economic incentive that comes with that community is imperative.
I think this project was a success. Not in the literal sense of it taking off and being popular, but in the sense that I learned a lesson, I saw that my thoughts were correct, and we can go on to the next project having learned something meaningful. Stay tuned!