How do VR and AR affect environmental sustainability
Today, July 28th, is World Conservation Day. This day is internationally recognized to raise awareness about the protection of our world’s natural resources. Sustainability is an important key word here. With respect to World Conservation Day, in today’s article I will discuss how technologies such as VR and AR affect environmental sustainability.
Firstly, VR, AR and environmental sustainability are complex terms. To refresh your memory, I will start off with a short explanation of each term.
What do VR, AR and environmental sustainability mean?
VR and AR are technologies that create an immersive, virtual experience. Virtual Reality (VR) refers to an artificial environment that completely replaces the real world. Where VR generates a whole new world, Augmented Reality (AR) adds a layer of digital content over the existing world. If you’re interested in learning more, have a look at this article: VR, AR and MR: What do they mean?
Environmental sustainability is a broad and quite complex term. According to the United Nations (UN) World Commission on Environment and Development, environmental sustainability is about “acting in a way that ensures future generations have the natural resources available to live an equal, if not better, way of life as current generations”. In other words: don’t mess up the planet’s natural resources for our children. 😊
It’s globally known that we, humans, are not really heroes when it comes to living sustainably. We impact the environment enormously. Greenhouse gases increase, rainforests are starting to disappear, oceans are polluted, the excessive waste production, and so on. Even though we all heard about these problems, how come we don’t do enough to improve it?
It’s because most people don’t get to see the actual threatening situation. Graham Roberts, New York Times’ Creative Lead, states that “Many people think that our planet is in no immediate danger; that no matter how much we pollute it, nature will come along and fix things. After all, if we can’t see it, it doesn’t even exist, right?”
This is where Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can make a difference. VR and AR can visualize climate issues, so people get to see what is actually going on. The impacts that these technologies bring are direct, as well as indirect. I’ll explain these below.
What are direct impacts?
The rise of VR and AR comes with environmental benefits. Direct impacts are that these technologies allow people to work and attend meetings remotely. Employees can share work and collaborate effectively. There is no need to be physically present. This reduces the need for centralized office spaces, which changes a city’s infrastructure. No more time has to be wasted on traffic jams during rush hour, less accidents occur and energy emissions are reduced.
Secondly, when it comes to the design and manufacturing of products, prototypes have to be created and tested. VR and AR can render real-time virtual versions of these prototypes. Adjustments can be done efficiently, which speeds up the process. Additionally, it decreases the material waste that physical prototypes produce.
What are indirect impacts?
As mentioned earlier, people don’t see the immediate threat of the current situation, which makes it hard for them to prioritize sustainable living. Indirect impacts of VR and AR refer to how these technologies contribute to raising awareness about environmental concerns. This does not directly improve our environment, but it does help to visualize the current issues and educate people on how to live more sustainably.
The benefit of using immersive technologies is that it creates a form of storytelling which is new, exciting and memorable. Thus it makes more impact on the human memory.
There are a couple very interesting examples of campaigns and projects that have implemented this strategy. Have a look below.
Into the wild
In 2017, a collaboration between ArtScience museum, Google and Lenovo set up a project together with WWF called Into The Wild. This project highlighted the issues of rainforest conservation. With the use of VR, users were immersed into a virtual world, reflecting the Rimbang Baling wildlife reserve in Indonesia.
They also included the opportunity for users to become sustainably active in real life. For every tree that was planted in the virtual world, a real tree would be planted in the actual Rimbang Baling rainforest.
Last year, Giant Lazer launched a project called Trash Rage. Trash rage is an arcade-style VR game during which you catch and sort trash. The game is quite simple, but it’s a perfect example of combining education and entertainment.
How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City
The New York Times published an article named “See How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s”. It’s an interactive article, aiming to raise awareness for the air pollution in cities. Users can see the pollution in their own city and compare it to other cities. Together with this article, they created a mobile AR experience that would help readers to visualize the air pollution.
To wrap up, immersive technologies such as VR and AR show have more impact on the human memory than regular visuals. Therefore, these technologies have the ability to raise awareness and educate people on environmental sustainability. They turn the vague issues into a tangible reality, which can motivate people to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
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