Offsets For Avatars (For Virtual Dollars)

Worrying about your household’s carbon emissions is so last month ago– have you given any thought to your avatar’s carbon footprint?

That’s actually a serious question: the larger virtual worlds and MMOs require thousands of servers to run, and that expends enormous amounts of electricity. I mentioned this concern in a previous Earth2Tech article about green applications for virtual worlds, especially the user-created world of Second Life, which runs on a huge server grid.

Well, there may be a solution now. Second Life Carbon Offset Exchange is an offshoot of carbon offset retail site, and if you have a Second Life account you can visit the company’s SL headquarters (direct teleport at this link.) Then if you have enough Linden Dollars, the world’s official currency, you can start buying the offsets.

Jorel Rau, the Second Life Resident who manages the metaverse side of 4OffSet’s business (pictured here with Alexi Mizin, land manager for their Second Life location) said:

“Since we already had the real world business set up, linking the SL end was fairly easy after making some conversions of the SL resources usage.”

The cost is L$400 per avatar (about $1.50 at current exchange rates) and L$50 for a 512 square meter plot of SL land (about 18 cents.) That’s “based on the cost of offsetting the carbon generated by a server which is 1.7 tons,” he explained to me.

The company buys offsets in 1000-ton contracts in advance, then resells that to end-users (or in this case, end-avatars) taking a commission from each sale. “This is NOT a non-profit organization,” said Jorel acknowledged wryly. “At least not by choice. With what I am spending setting it up it will be for a long time.”

Setting aside the debate on whether offsets are an effective way to address climate change for the moment, this is a very clever leveraging. There are already numerous existing green organizations using SL for education and tele-conferencing.

And Linden Dollars are exchangeable on the open market for US dollars, and the community has a proven history of spending their cash for real social good, for another. (Last year, for example, the American Cancer Society raised over $100,000 in Linden Dollars.) Given all that, Jorel Rau fully expects SL users to buy carbon offsets not just for their avatars, but for their real world footprint, too.

(Hat tip on this find to SL blogger Nobody Fugazi.)

Wagner James Au covers online games for GigaOM and is the author of The Making of Second Life (HarperCollins).