Well before cryptocurrencies and NFTs began to take off this spring, Carly Rector was already unhappy with their use for digital art sales.
Rector, herself a digital artist and former senior engineer at Amazon, believes it is unnecessary to use energy-intensive blockchain ledgers to help artists make a living.
So she turned the model on its head.
Rector launched CO2ign Art, pronounced “cosine art,” where artists can sell electronic files of their works containing a digital signature that verifies who created them and who bought them. The sale additionally includes a documented purchase of carbon offsets from Verra Carbon Standards, a long-standing source of greenhouse gas removals that is tracked in a public registry.
Rector’s pitch to artists: “Instead of actively harming the environment by creating your art, you could be helping it.”
Rector left Amazon last year after more than 13 years with the Seattle-based company. She spent about six months building the CO2ign Art platform, which launched in February.
Rector has launched the project so far and plans to seek venture capital this fall. The startup has seven employees; she and two others are in Seattle, and the others are in California and Florida. Rector has applied for a provisional patent for the site’s technology.
CO2ign Art currently features more than 100 artists. Before accepting new artists, the startup verifies that they have a following on social media and create their own works. Most of the art is digital, but some pieces are digitized versions of physical artwork.
On July 29, the platform is hosting its first live event, during which five artists will create works in real time for nine hours.
The cheapest art on the site is available for $20, while high-end pieces cost hundreds of dollars, although most pieces are well under $100. Half of the sale goes to buy carbon credits, 30% goes to the artist and 20% to the platform.
While it may sound like a small cut to creators, on platforms like Redbubble or ArtStation the percentage is often even less, Rector said.
Sales of NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” flared up last year as a long-sought strategy to help digital artists monetize their work. Part of the appeal of using blockchain was that every time an artwork was sold and resold, the exchange was recorded in a public blockchain ledger—mostly Etherium—and the artist was paid a small portion of each additional sale.
But the reality, Rector said, is that few units actually sell multiple times. The CO2ign Art platform is designed for one-time sales only. Transactions are done in USD and facilitated by Stripe.
The NFT approach quickly attracted controversy due to its carbon impact. Each NFT sale consumes energy as it is recorded on the blockchain and purchases are made using cryptocurrencies. Many blockchains, including Ethereum and Bitcoin, use significant amounts of energy due to their computational requirements. Digiconomist currently estimates Etherium’s annual carbon footprint to be roughly equal to that of Hong Kong. Blockchain proponents counter that all online activity uses energy.
In addition to helping the environment, CO2ign Art has another benefit, Rector said: the buyer receives an actual digital file of the artwork. Work may be printed or displayed on electronic devices. The platform plans to build features allowing users to display their purchases in virtual galleries.
With NFT, conversely, the buyer usually receives an external link where the art itself is located. But anyone who has surfed the Internet for more than five minutes knows that connections don’t last forever.
“That link can change at any moment or disappear and you just have a broken link,” Rector said. “This is a real thing that happened, people paid millions of dollars for something with a broken link.”
Both CO2ign Art and NFT sales span tangible and intangible worlds. Blockchain is digital. The art is virtual but can be printed or displayed. Carbon credits are pledges by third parties to finance projects such as planting forests that lead to the removal of invisible, environmentally harmful carbon dioxide molecules.
But the difference between her approach and NFT’s, Rector said, is significant.
“Every purchase [on CO2ign Art] funds its own unique set of carbon credits,” she said. “It has its own real thing associated with it – not just a token on the blockchain.”