One of the biggest arguments against blockchain technology is that it’s bad for the environment. However, this statement is actually inaccurate because it doesn’t give a complete picture — some blockchains are very bad for the environment, while others are not so bad at all.
The ICON blockchain is much more eco-friendly compared to most of the other blockchains out there. Let’s take a look at why.
The wasteful proof-of-work consensus protocol
Bitcoin is famously terrible for the environment, with rampant negative claims such as Digiconomist’s assertion that every single Bitcoin transaction is “equivalent to the power consumption of an average U.S. household over 78.03 days”. (When The New Yorker quoted this site last April, it was even worse, wasting the same amount of energy as an average household does in just one month.)
Why is Bitcoin so bad? Simply put, its archaic proof-of-work consensus protocol requires too much computing power. In Bitcoin’s earliest days, it was possible to mine Bitcoin on a regular PC, but not anymore — modern “mining rigs” use specially built mining machines with powerful GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD that require very high-wattage power supplies, which famously caused a shortage of graphics cards last year that angered gamers around the world. (Good news, gamers: the GPU shortage should ease up this year!) Even worse, Bitcoin miners typically set up massive operations with dozens of mining machines daisy-chained together. All of this effort is pitched in a frantic race for everyone to try and finish validating the next block on the Bitcoin blockchain, with the winner taking home 6.2 BTC — meaning anyone who wants to compete had better rig up or they won’t stand a chance.
Proof-of-stake is a better alternative
Most modern blockchains use different consensus protocols to Blockchain’s wasteful proof-of-work. One of the most popular methods is the proof-of-stake protocol that ICON and Ethereum both use. This protocol instead allows people to collateralize their tokens for a chance to validate blocks.
Different proof-of-stake blockchains may use different methods for validating blocks. Ethereum’s is pretty bad — worse than Bitcoin in fact, with a single transaction consuming as much energy as an average American household in a single week, according to Fortune magazine. However, Ethereum has pledged to rebuild their blockchain to be more eco-friendly within 2022, a move that many are eager to see.
ICON’s blockchain, on the other hand, is very green in comparison. You could probably fit the computing power of all of ICON’s nodes on just a few server racks — and these aren’t supercomputers either.
Rob Cannon, CTO of ICON backend developer team Geometry Labs, explains: “ICON validator nodes are very efficient and only require four cores to stay up to date with the chain. That’s not a lot of energy and very green compared to other chains.”
The low work requirements of the ICON blockchain owe much to ICONLOOP’s high-performance Loop Fault Tolerance (LFT) consensus algorithm. LFT supports Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT), but makes it possible for nodes to reach consensus much more quickly than on older BFT systems.
Furthermore, the majority of ICON’s nodes run on Amazon Web Server (AWS), which uses 65% renewable energy. Amazon is now the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy and runs The Climate Pledge Fund, a US $2 billion venture capital fund that invests in innovators working toward a low-carbon economy. As much hate as Amazon is getting nowadays, they are helping to do away with wasteful, unregulated mining rigs that plague the blockchain industry.
So, there you have it. Compared to over 13,000 Bitcoin nodes and a whopping 300,000 Ethereum nodes, all run by intensely powerful hardware requiring high wattage power supplies, the ICON blockchain is basically a walk in the park with just a few racks of regular quad-core servers. Modern corporations easily run this many servers, or more, making ICON a good choice for companies that want to do their computing on the blockchain and be more eco-friendly to boot.
ICON is good, but could still do better
That being said, the ICON blockchain does still require energy to run. The team at Spartan Node is now pushing for all ICON nodes to offset their carbon consumption to make ICON a completely carbon-neutral blockchain.
“We’ve taken the NFT Bazaar green and are pretty adamant that being green. In a DPoS or DPoC system like Icon, that isn’t really much of an added cost. It’s actually quite affordable and also infinitely valuable in the face of media that continually bash (whether rightly or wrongly) other networks. We view it as the right thing to do and a value added proposition,” said Dusty from Spartan Node.
Spartan Node is one of the bigger node-running P-Rep teams on the ICON network — they’re number 13 at the time of this writing — and the emissions their node emits could be compared to a six-speed manual Ferrari that is driven 30,000 miles a year, according to Dusty. Yet it only costs them around US $30 per month to completely offset the carbon emissions of their servers. With this in mind, their push for complete carbon neutrality of the entire ICON blockchain doesn’t sound as far-fetched as one might think. Dusty estimates it might only cost a few thousand US dollars per month to completely offset ICON’s carbon footprint. That’s not bad — in fact, it could totally be doable, if other teams got in on the initiative.
None of ICON’s other node-runners have yet followed in Spartan Node’s footprints to offset their carbon emissions, but if they do decide to take the plunge, the process is very simple. While there are a number of carbon offsetting companies out there, Spartan Node goes with Terrapass, a San Francisco-based initiative that offers a range of carbon offsetting products and services. Funds gathered by companies like Terrapass go toward green initiatives such as farm power, reforestation and landfill gas capture aimed at removing carbon from the environment.
Yet despite the struggle to sway opinions on the matter of carbon neutrality, Dusty is adamant that ICON is already a market leader in terms of eco-friendliness in the blockchain industry.
“Icon is very fast and efficient and that adds value and also makes it easy to offset the CO2. Icon can 100% be carbon neutral and still do hundreds of thousands of transactions a day,” Dusty said. “Icon’s consensus algorithm makes it far easier to become carbon neutral because we aren’t emitting whole countries worth of carbon doing work just for the sake of it. We are merely running efficient nodes on an efficient model that works and makes it easy to be green.”
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it either,” he adds. “It’s here!”