This issue of NFTs Driving Change puts the spotlight on Sovereign Nature Initiative, an Amsterdam-based nonprofit working at the intersection of ecology, economy, and Web3 technologies.
I believe Sunday mornings are for lazy breakfasts and great reads in bed—unless it’s a sunny and gorgeous day in spring. Norwich (where I live), is finally welcoming spring in full swing. As I sit down to write, I can hear the birds break into songs outside my window. If you have read this column before, you know where this is going: take your read outside; touch some grass. While I cannot promise you a great read, I guarantee some food for thought, something inspiring, or maybe even a pinch of hope.
Welcome to NFTs Driving Change—a monthly column, where I highlight projects and creators using NFTs and other Web3 tools to create real-world impact. In this issue, I’ll be introducing you to Nature Initiative, an Amsterdam-based nonprofit taking a radical step towards sustainability.
Web3 and its shifting environmental narrative
The environmental impact of NFTs is one of the most debated topics in the Web3 space. However, over the past two or so years, multiple creators and organisations have shown that NFTs, in fact, could play a role in tackling environmental issues. The NFT collection by WWF Germany, for example, focused on raising funds for its species conservation projects. Film production company Rejell, on the other hand, used NFTs to advocate for climate action. There are many more such examples.
Sovereign Nature Initiative (SNI) is the latest entrant to this niche intersection between Web3 tools and the environment. Based in Amsterdam, SNI has a unique mission: to change the way we view and value nature. Using technology, SNI wants nature to become self-governing and not exploited by humans.
A large part of the organisation’s works are in partnership with Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT), a leading predator conservation trust in Kenya. KWT has several lion and cheetah monitoring projects in the Maasai Mara. With SNI’s help, the trust is now bringing the stories of these predators online, raising much-needed funds for their initiatives.
“Collaborating with the Sovereign Nature Initiative has shown us new opportunities for integrating our data into projects that can reach larger audiences…inspire people to learn about the importance of human relationships with predators,” said Irene Amoke, KWT’s Director.
Q&A with Sovereign Nature Initiative
I spoke to Seth Bockley, Director of Creative Engagement at Sovereign Nature Initiative to learn more about their work.
(The quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity)
NFTE: Tell us about Sovereign Nature Initiative and its mission.
SB: Sovereign Nature Initiative is an organization working to achieve a thriving planet by reconfiguring nature’s value. We build at the intersection of ecology, economy, and emerging technologies like Web3. We aim to ‘flip the economics’ for conservation organizations, to ultimately make it possible for nature to hold its own value.
Our central project is DEEP, (Decentralised Ecological Economics Protocol), a pipeline connecting dynamic wildlife data with digital creatives, artists and gaming companies. They then bring this data to life in virtual worlds. These virtual assets, in turn, have the effect of generating value that is shared directly with conservation organizations.
NFTE: How did this unique intersection of ecology, economy, and Web3 technologies come about?
SB: We have always been engaged at the intersection of ecology and emerging technologies. We began SNI with a radical proposition: how could nature own its own value? What would it mean for a tree to have a wallet? How could a population of animals or plants hold value in itself, rather than in terms of its potential to be exploited by humans?
Initially, the worldwide success of the rights-of-nature movement inspired us. So did thinkers like Jonathan Ledgard, whose Interspecies Money paper heavily impacted the conservation and technology worlds. Similarly, SNI co-founder Andrea Leiter’s study of international law related to sovereignty as applied to non-human life on Earth also played a role.
Our name, Sovereign Nature Initiative, suggests the grandness of our concerns, which involves finding new ways to locate value in nature. Web3 for us is about decentralization, transparency, and proof-of-conservation. It is also about thinking through creative ways to imagine alternate forms of value (currency) and the types of information databases where data can be authenticated and distributed.
NFTE: Tell us more about your work with Kenya Wildlife Trust. What inspired you to work with the Trust?
SB: Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT) is an innovative, imaginative, and important conservation organization working to support predators in East Africa. They use cutting-edge technology to track and monitor the health of lion, cheetah, wild dog, and leopard populations. Considered Kenya’s principal predator conservation trust, they are focused on creating sustainable populations and ecosystems. Since 2007, they have been raising money to help protect these iconic species and the landscapes in Kenya. Currently, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflicts are putting the delicate ecosystems of these predators under pressure.
In the fall of 2022, we hosted an online Hackathon in partnership with KWT to tackle the challenges of lion identification and human-lion conflict mitigation. In March 2023, we co-created an art project called ‘Tracing The Wild’. This was in collaboration with visual artist Chuma Anagbado and the local design festival, Nairobi Design Week. The latest initiative in this partnership with KWT is the Moonsama project.
NFTE: What is the Moonsama NFT collection? What excites you most about this initiative and what do you hope to achieve with it?
SB: We recently partnered with Moonsama, the leading NFT protocol of Polkadot, to provide data on real-life lions. The idea was to help game creators to utilse this data and build utility. As part of the initial stage of the partnership, we sold 400 lion NFTs to the Moonsama NFT/gaming community, raising $100,000 for KWT. The NFTs start their life cycle as cubs. Once evolved into their full-grown counterpart, they will be updated by DEEP to connect the data about animals with digital creatives.
We were blown away by the enthusiasm of this gaming community for supporting the lives of lions in Kenya. In the long term, we hope to attain significant ongoing funding for KWT to support their on-the-ground work in Kenya. These funds are needed to pay rangers’ salaries and conduct new experiments with tech startups. They will also be able to buy more sophisticated GPS collars to track lions and better understand the fragile ecosystem of the Maasai Mara.
NFTE: Your website mentions how SNI “seek to open minds to radical approaches toward sustainability and to make nature’s agency profitable for all.” How can Web3 help build a system that is profitable for all?
SB: We believe in the power of innovation to redefine value for people and the planet. Blockchain technology provides the potential for ‘flipping the economics’. To explain, we can redesign value practices of production, distribution and exchange in ways that allow us to tap into the broad stream of market-based solutions for sustainability without simply repeating a relationship of extraction. The Web3 world embraces new technologies building alternative economies and incentive structures. This makes it the perfect sandbox for these radical experiments and ideas.
A system that is ‘profitable for all’ would include both human and nonhuman beneficiaries. We basically want to incentivize symbiosis, to make living together on a flourishing planet sustainable. We want to encourage a state of balance between nature, humans, and technology. Ultimately, we envision a world where trees, hyenas, snails, rivers, elk and algae preserve their own value, and where we humans are invested in that same value and have a stake in their thriving.
NFTE: One of the challenges NFTs face regarding mainstream adoption is their environmental impact. How fair do you think that is?
SB: It’s not quite fair to place environmental impact at the feet of NFTs. These days, Web3 ecosystems like the Polkadot network are increasingly energy-efficient. We are seeing more and more partners embracing carbon-neutral principles and practices. Some are even connecting directly with international climate action platforms.
Additionally, digital assets representing ecological data are a relatively low-carbon-cost way for people around the world to engage with nature remotely. This can potentially reduce the carbon impact of tourism by offering online representations and ‘digital twins.’
NFTE: Can you tell us anything about SNI’s upcoming projects?
SB: We are deeply engaged with new partners in the conservation sector as well as in the online gaming world. We are also eager to build on our success with the Kenya Wildlife Trust and the Moonsama partnership. Besides, we’re exploring conservation efforts in Romania, more in Kenya, as well as other parts of Africa.