• Brussels, Berlin, Europe

Foundation Metaverse Europe Position Paper on Metaverse and Sustainability by Cosima Gulde

The Impact of the Metaverse on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: A Foundation Metaverse Europe’s Perspective


This paper examines how the Metaverse, a complex virtual world interconnected with reality, can contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the European context. We explore two key facets of the Metaverse: Consumer Metaverse and Industrial Metaverse, and their potential to drive sustainability, economic growth, and social progress. The paper offers key insights and recommendations for European policymakers and stakeholders to leverage the Metaverse for a more sustainable future.

I. Introduction

The Metaverse, a novel amalgamation of virtual worlds and augmented realities, represents a dynamic, interconnected ecosystem. For now, it defies a singular definition but is characterized by its interoperability, social nature, persistency, and integration of complementary technologies such as VR, AR, AI, and ML (Fraunhofer Institute, n.d.).

The United Nations has established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for global (including European) sustainability and development initiatives. These goals collectively aim to promote sustainable peace, prosperity, and the protection of our planet. Crucially, “technology, science, and capacity building” are key pillars for the realization of the SDGs (UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, n.d.). The adoption and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies within a Green Economy are closely tied to various elements and means of SDG implementation. Notably, technology can significantly reduce the cost of achieving the SDGs by up to USD 55 trillion, as emphasized by the “Force for Good” paper in 2023. “In the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are seeing the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological spheres and with it the integration of technologies […]; expanding the scope and potential of the ‘tech sector’ such that it can have the pivotal impact on life on the planet.” As “Force for Good” indicates, the Metaverse holds substantial promise in advancing the 17 SDGs. In this paper, we focus on the potential contributions of the Consumer and Industrial Metaverse categories to selected SDGs.

II. Promoting Sustainability through the Consumer Metaverse

The Consumer Metaverse predominantly serves end consumers and enables interactions with other consumers but also brands and organizations (private and public). It has a direct bearing on sustainable consumption and production, education, and reducing inequalities.

Education (SDG Goal 4): The Metaverse facilitates high-quality, accessible virtual education for everyone everywhere, thus mitigating the negative impact the lacking access to education has on economic status, especially in developing countries. It enables also technological upgrades in schools and universities, thereby bridging educational disparities.

Reduced inequalities (SDG Goal 10): By providing virtual access to resources around (amongst other things) education, health care, virtual tourism that were previously hindered by factors such as high travel costs and accessibility issues, the Metaverse contributes to Goal 10 by promoting inclusivity. Examples can be Metaverse applications like virtual office hours at the doctor’s that give people from developing countries access to internationally based high-quality health care providers.

Responsible consumption (SDG Goal 12): Recent surveys (for example by Consenuswide, 2022) illustrate the interplay between sustainability and the Metaverse. Consumers inclined towards sustainable products are more than twice as likely to engage with and shop in the Metaverse. The Metaverse offers novel, more sustainable status symbols, thereby reducing waste and the use of scarce resources. It enables a shift in consumer budgets toward sustainable virtual options, reducing resource consumption and waste, exemplified in the context of fast fashion. A significant portion of consumers intends to shift from physical to digital consumption, thereby reducing physical waste, supply chains, and packaging. Other use cases also include AR enhanced virtual packaging thereby giving the consumer access to more information around the impact of their consumption leading to hopefully more informed and thus sustainable decision making.

Of course, technological developments also always come with their challenges. Streaming content through Metaverse application takes up a big amount of energy that cannot always be sourced sustainably. While the devices making Metaverse experiences possible like data centers need a significant amount of land and energy, this cannot be compared with the resources international supply chains need, from material sourcing and production, to transport and waste management (Siemens & MIT, 2023).

III. Advancing Sustainability through the Industrial Metaverse

The Industrial Metaverse simulates complex systems, including machines, factories, and transport networks, and enables real-world problem-solving in industry and manufacturing (Siemens & MIT, 2023). It has a positive impact on labor conditions, economic growth, sustainable cities and consumption and production.

Decent work and economic growth (SDG Goal 8): The Industrial Metaverse creates opportunities for people with disabilities, overcoming geographical limitations and internationalizing labor markets. It fosters job creation in the digital and creative economy and provides a safe, immersive environment for training in fields like machinery maintenance and problem-solving. As Siemens and MIT Technology Review state it in their joint publication (2023): “Imagine training engineers on how to maintain dangerous machinery or helping a field team troubleshoot potentially life-threatening issues in a safe and immersive digital world.”

Sustainable cities (SDG Goal 11): By providing virtual workplaces, the Industrial Metaverse helps reduce the need for commuting allowing for distributed teams thereby significantly cutting carbon emissions. In addition, the use of digital twins can drastically mitigate a building’s emissions by 50% and enhance the efficiency of building operations by 35% (EY, 2022). Whole cities can be planed virtually in the first step to create sustainable city quartiers including effective transport routes and networks, ecological local recreation areas to support city wildlife, and green energy production.

Responsible consumption and production (SDG Goal 12): The Industrial Metaverse supports the creation of sustainable products by designing them for longevity, repairability, and recyclability. It facilitates environmental impact simulations across product lifecycles, reducing business travel through virtual collaboration, and estimating a product facility’s environmental impact before building it in the physical world. Enhancing testing and validation exercises before implementing changes in products and production processes lead to less waste and carbon emission. According to McKinsey (2022) applying digital twins reduces the time needed to deploy new technologies (e.g., AI-driven capabilities) by up to 60%.

As already mentioned in the previous chapter, the computing power underlying the Industrial Metaverse requires significant amounts of energy (Siemens & MIT, 2023). Moreover, to harness these opportunities partnerships between technology providers and industrial companies are needed enabling secure data exchange. Policy makers need to set standards to allow for these partnerships but also to guide further technological developments. Both, industrial companies and technology providers are already coming together in initiatives like the Metaverse Standards Forum to give recommendations for such guidelines.

IV. Policy Measures and Recommendations

To fully unlock the Metaverse’s potential for sustainable development, several technical developments and policy actions are required:

Necessary technical developments:

Connectivity, including 5G or 6G, is essential to integrate the technical components that make up the Metaverse. This connectivity should be accessible to companies and consumers in Europe. Furthermore, ensuring computational power is sufficient for real-time immersive experiences and developing high-fidelity digital twin models that behave identically to their real-world counterparts, including capturing associated data. Finally, interoperability through open and seamless solutions must be established, including open APIs, compatible data formats, and protocols. This is only possible by implementing suitable European standards and regulations (Siemens & MIT, 2023).

Regulation and governance:

Appropriate European regulations should encourage collaboration and interoperability while addressing privacy, security, and intellectual property concerns. These regulations should help encourage partnerships among corporations, SMEs, startups, NGOs, and other stakeholders and should be accompanied through funding and collaborative campaigns. Also, it should be avoided to create regulations that hinder innovation by being to risk averse. Financial barriers often impede progress; thus, financing products at scale require cooperation between financial institutions, machine builders, and technology and service partners (Siemens & MIT, 2023).

It is also vital to include the end consumer into these discussions to ensure a social and sustainable development of Metaverse platforms and applications. The public needs the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes thus the public spaces have to be created for example in form of campaigns or open roundtables.

Organizations like the Metaverse Standards Forum or the Foundation Metaverse Europe are needed to initiate, guide, and implement initiatives for the sustainable development of both Metaverse applications and political tools. The goal has to be that the UN’s and European values and laws are the basis for the Metaverse and its’ use cases.

V. Conclusion

The Metaverse holds immense potential for contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. By promoting sustainable consumption, enhancing educational access, reducing inequalities, and advancing industrial sustainability, the Metaverse can play a pivotal role in building a sustainable future. However, it is crucial to address the energy demands of Metaverse technologies and establish partnerships, standards, and regulations to maximize its benefits. The active engagement of both policymakers and the general population will be instrumental in realizing a sustainable Metaverse within the European context.

Cosima Gulde, Member Board of Experts at Foundation Metaverse Europe

Cosima Gulde is a Senior Innovation Consultant responsible for building the Open Innovation ecosystem at Siemens. One of the goals here is to make industry more sustainable through the Industrial Metaverse. Previously, she supported the strategic positioning of the group in Web3 and AI at Arvato Systems and Bertelsmann.

As a Guest Lecturer, she teaches on innovation and change management at the TH Lübeck. She is particularly interested in the interaction between man and machine – from the metaverse to NFTs to AI and robotics, users and technology always result in an exciting symbiosis. She also conducted research on this at the London School of Economics (LSE).


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