Long before cryptocurrencies and NFTs began to fizzle out this spring, Carly Rector was already pissed about using them to sell digital art.
Rector, herself a digital artist and former chief engineer at Amazon, felt it was unnecessary to use energy-hungry blockchain ledgers to help artists make a living.
So she turned the model upside down.
Rector launched CO2ign Art, pronounced “cosine art,” which allows artists to sell electronic files of their work that include a digital signature that verifies who created it and who bought it. The sale also includes a documented purchase of carbon offsets from Verra Carbon Standards, a long-standing source of greenhouse gas removal that is tracked in a public registry.
Rector’s pitch to artists: “Instead of actively harming the environment by creating your art, you could help 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 went live in February.
Rector has bootstrapped the project so far and plans to raise venture capital this fall. The startup has seven employees; She and two others are in Seattle and the rest are in California and Florida. The rector has applied for a provisional patent for the site’s technology.
CO2ign Art currently includes more than 100 artists. Before accepting new artists, the startup confirms that they have followers on social media and create their own work. Most of the art is digital, but some pieces are digitized versions of physical artwork.
On July 29, the platform will host its first live stream event, with five artists creating works in real time for nine hours.
The cheapest art on the site is priced at $20, while the high-end pieces cost hundreds of dollars, although most works are well under $100. Half of the sale goes towards buying carbon credits, 30% goes to the artist and 20% goes to the platform.
While it might sound like a small cut for creators, on platforms like Redbubble or ArtStation, the percentage is often even lower, Rector said.
NFT, or “non-fungible token” sales, have ignited over the past year as a long-sought strategy to help digital artists generate revenue for their work. Part of the appeal of using the blockchain was that each time the work was sold and resold, the exchange was recorded on a public blockchain ledger – mainly Etherium – and the artist received a fraction of each additional sale.
But the reality, Rector said, is that few pieces actually sell multiple times. The CO2ign Art platform is set up for one-time sales only. Transactions are conducted in US dollars and facilitated by Stripe.
The NFT approach quickly sparked controversy due to its CO2 impact. Each NFT sale consumes energy as it is recorded on the blockchain and the purchases are made using cryptocurrencies. Many blockchains, including Etherium and Bitcoin, consume significant amounts of energy due to their computational needs. Digiconomist currently estimates Etherium’s annual carbon footprint to be roughly the same as Hong Kong’s. Blockchain proponents counter that all online activity consumes energy.
In addition to helping the environment, CO2ign Art has another benefit, Rector said: The buyer receives an actual digital file of the artwork. The work can be printed out or viewed on electronic devices. The platform plans to build features that will allow users to display their purchases in virtual galleries.
In contrast, with an NFT, the buyer typically receives an external link where the art itself can be found. But anyone who has browsed the Internet for more than five minutes knows that links don’t last forever.
“That link can change or disappear at any time, 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 move between tangible and intangible worlds. The blockchain is digital. The art is virtual but may be printed or displayed. The carbon credits are pledges by third parties to fund projects such as planting forests that result in the removal of invisible, polluting carbon dioxide molecules.
But the difference between their approach and NFTs, Rector said, is significant.
“Every purchase [on CO2ign Art] funds its own unique set of carbon credits,” she said. “It has its own reality attached to it – and not just a token on the blockchain.”