Nature First and NFTs



Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) are a way to create and sell unique digital images using new blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies (most commonly the Ethereum platform). Photographers and other artists can “mint” digital images and collections, stored on cloud platforms, and sell them through cryptocurrency marketplaces – it’s a new opportunity and channel for photographers to generate income for their livelihoods. Sounds great, right? 

Not so fast. There’s a problem… This new technology (especially Ethereum) currently requires A LOT of computers expending A LOT of computational power to verify and record the uniqueness of the NFT – far more than regular use of the internet. And all that computational power equates to a large carbon footprint, leading to negative environmental impact – not good. Figuring out the actual carbon footprint of NFTs is complex, but it’s pretty clear that it’s real and significant, at least the way it’s being done with today’s technology (written in August, 2021). There are cleaner alternatives, but today these have smaller communities with less valuable currencies. You can read more here about The Hidden Costs of NFTs.

So what’s a responsible nature photographer to do? Is it ethical for nature photographers to create and sell NFTs for income? The guidance from Nature First is very much related to our thoughts on nature photography and climate change (see our FAQ). All nature photographers should take responsibility for learning about the environmental impact of their actions, and carefully consider how they can limit and reduce their own individual impact. So, educate yourself.

  • Get involved with discussions about NFTs and their environmental impact, like this F-Stop Collaborate and Listen podcast (available August 25, 2021) by our co-founder Matt Payne. 
  • Take a look at the greenhouse gas equivalencies or carbon calculator for some of your common activities (driving, flying, general consumption and way of life) to learn more about your carbon footprint.
  • Before entering the NFT space, consider waiting until Ethereum migrates to a proof-of-stake model (which may be happening in 2022), which utilizes significantly less energy than the current proof-of-work model. Find more on what differentiates these models here
  • Consider minting your NFTs using a non-Etherum blockchain which have a carbon footprint estimated to be 1.5 million times smaller.
  • For those of you who create and sell NTFs, have a look at to calculate your carbon impact. 
  • Consider offsetting your NFT-derived carbon impacts by reducing your carbon footprint in other areas of your life.
  • Consider donating a portion of proceeds from the sale of NFTs to climate or environmental non-profits.
  • Bring attention to the carbon impact of your actions and openly discuss how you are significantly reducing your carbon footprint in other ways.

These are just a few of the resources available that our members have brought to our attention. 

It’s your responsibility to educate yourself to help make informed decisions about the activities you participate in, their associated carbon footprint and the steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact. Know and realize that others’ circumstances may be different and they may make different decisions. Respect those differences and engage those photographers in honest, meaningful conversation to learn even more. The continuing dialog in the nature photography community can help us all make better informed decisions to put nature first.

The ethos of Nature First has never been to tell people what to do, or what not to do. Our mission has always been to promote responsible and sustainable nature photography, and to provide education and resources for photographers to develop their own approach to sustainable practices. The responsibility belongs to all of us, and together we can make a difference.

Note: Nature First does not accept donations via cryptocurrency platforms. We will continue to evaluate accepting donations in the form of cash proceeds obtained by selling NFTs. Currently, we have no reliable way to verify the source of any donated funds.

Header Photo by Executium on Unsplash