Virtual reality could have a positive impact on the environment – Here’s why

[Here’s a summary from E – The Environmental Magazine of some of the ways VR and presence can help us preserve our natural environment. See the original version for a different image. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: B&T]

Virtual Reality Could Have a Positive Impact on the Environment — Here’s Why

Kate Harveston
September 10, 2019

You’ve probably heard of virtual reality (VR) talked about as a fun and immersive technology, but you may not have considered how it could favorably impact the environment. Here are some reasons why something that everyone’s buzzing about could have planet-protecting advantages.

Making the Effects of Climate Change Easier to Understand

Even people who consider environmental conservation one of their top concerns sometimes find it difficult to visualize the effects of climate change that have already happened or likely will soon. Reading scientists’ warnings in a news article can help some people grasp the severity of what’s happening, but unfortunately, too many people think they won’t see major issues from climate change in their lifetimes. Even worse, much to the dismay of environmental activists, some individuals believe climate change is a drastically overblown problem — or a myth.

Some VR developers want to make the phenomenon’s effects more real to the public by inviting them to strap on headsets and get a different view of what climate change does. In one example, researchers at Stanford University created a simulation where people become coral. The content showed them how ocean water absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes more acidic. That effect harms coral as well as other marine life.

If VR can help people realize that climate change has noticeable effects now, members of the general public may join motivated environmentalists and recognize that it’s time to take action immediately to avoid more catastrophes later.

Transitioning to Interactive Digital Media to Prevent Waste

Another way that VR could help the planet is by getting consumers and companies used to digital media instead of catalogs, instruction manuals and other physical items that people often throw away. For example, you’ve probably gotten at least a few product instruction manuals that were so confusing, you ended up deciding it’d be better to figure things out on your own.

Some VR developers that specialize in medical content create digital product demonstrations that allow doctors to virtually experience implants, tools and other products via cloud-delivered media. Many physicians maintain such busy schedules that they might completely ignore the physical packages of marketing materials. Even if they’re interested in a product, the thought of looking through thick stacks of pages is not appealing or feasible.

A VR presentation could enable a person to get a digital product pitch that’s a few minutes long as a start. Then, they could either take a deeper dive into in-depth digital content or request physical materials they know they’ll read.

Another recent experiment involved eBay and Myer, an Australian department store brand. The two enterprises teamed up to create an opportunity for people to use VR headsets to shop for Myer products. The VR technology, which works with a person’s smartphone, uses eye-tracking capabilities to determine what a shopper wants to learn about or purchase. In this instance, stores don’t need to spend money or waste paper by sending catalogs or flyers to consumers. When people want to buy things, they can get engrossed in VR instead.

Teaching Kids About the Importance of Recycling

Recycling is arguably one of the easiest things a person can do to support environmental sustainability, but it’s sometimes hard for people — especially kids — to understand why recycling is such an important action. It’s difficult for them to link the simple step of sorting recyclable waste properly with the result of saving the earth.

Maybe you, too, have wondered what happens to your recyclable items once they leave your hands. School kids in Australia recently got the chance to find out when they took part in a VR experience that brought them inside a recycling plant. Because the content takes users through games and emphasizes learning by doing, it can help young people realize that something as straightforward as recycling really does make a difference.

Helping Environmental Charities with Awareness-Raising Campaigns

The people who work with environmental charities face the daunting but necessary task of getting donors to part with their hard-earned money for one-time or ongoing contributions. Greenpeace experimented with using VR headsets to increase engagement between fundraisers and possible donors. They found that the tactic doubled the charity’s sign-up rates.

That was not the first time Greenpeace used VR. Past campaigns centered on taking people into the Amazon rainforest or showing them a day in the life of someone working on one of the charity’s ships. Such experiences are memorable and help individuals conclude that their donations are worthwhile. Since many people still see VR headsets as novelties, charities making them available for passersby to try is appealing in itself.

Bringing Environmental Causes to Life

One of the most significant perks that VR offers is that it can take people to new places and expose them to different things without making them pay for plane tickets or even have to pack baggage. Such experiences could take people outside of what they know. As a result, they’re more likely to discover that environmental sustainability is everyone’s responsibility, and even small changes collectively have a huge impact.

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