New Sustainability Scoring System for Bitcoin Miners — Fad or Next Industry Standard?

The certification initiative is set to counter mining’s “pariah” status by some environmentalists by offering transparency into firms’ decarbonization initiatives

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Bogdan Irofte/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks

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A new certification system is looking to help sustainable bitcoin miners connect with companies wanting to work with and invest in them as part of a broader effort to incentivize decarbonization. 

Energy Web, a non-profit focused on blockchain’s potential in the energy space, launched Green Proofs for Bitcoin on Wednesday — a scoring system designed specifically for the crypto mining industry.

Institutions are increasingly seeking investments and relationships with sustainability-conscious entities. According to Amy Westervelt, senior delivery lead at Energy Web, such certifications could be key to the crypto mining industry’s future.

Westervelt told Blockworks in an interview that bitcoin mining has become a “pariah” of sorts in certain sustainability circles, where it is not uncommon to hear calls for stopping such practices altogether.

On the other side, bitcoin miners tout demand-response and load flexibility efforts, as well as using stranded energy, as ways of contributing to decarbonization. 

“But I think [the miners] sometimes focus too heavily on this really novel stuff … and maybe not enough time showing the sustainability world that mining is also already embracing this really bread-and-butter decarbonization strategy of [using] clean grids and making these market-based purchases of renewable electricity,” Westervelt said.

The measurement system gives miners a location-based clean energy score that takes into account a miner’s total electricity consumption, as well as the types of grids that energy is distributed to.   

It also looks at a miner’s “market-based” ways of procuring energy.

“So you might be located in a grid that’s not extremely clean, but you’re buying renewable energy from, say, a new facility somewhere else,” Wetervelt said. “That’s a way of making a renewable energy claim that I think has some room for improvement, but it is widely accepted today in corporate sustainability accounting.”

Allowing miners to highlight how they rank on “more traditional metrics” used in other industries is key, Westervelt added.

“It’s difficult for miners today to share their sustainability credentials,” she said. “And for companies that want to be doing business with sustainable mining operations in whatever shape that takes, it’s very hard for them to discover each other in a standardized way.”

Creating a measurement system that evolves over time

Argo Blockchain, Cowa, DMG Blockchain Solutions, Hive Blockchain Technologies and Gryphon Digital Mining have so far been certified.

“We need to move past pandering press releases and start offering tangible, coordinated, third-party certifications that confirm clean energy use,” Gryphon Digital Mining CEO Rob Chang said in a statement.

The certifications come after Energy Web CEO Jesse Morris told Blockworks in August that institutional investors looking to increase their exposure to crypto will demand greater disclosures around environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.  

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and an issuer of what it labels as ESG funds, said in a statement last month it was encouraged by programs by Energy Web and others to bring transparency to sustainable energy usage in bitcoin mining.   

But defining what constitutes as ESG-conscious or sustainable has been something investors continue to wrestle with.

“It’s fair to say there’s no sustainability standard that’s perfect, but I think we shouldn’t wait around for one that is,” Westervelt said. 

Ideally, as the industry gets cleaner, so too would the bar for certification, she added. Energy Web seeks to “more granularly” look into miners’ demand flexibility, for example.   

“As a consumer of electricity you can be curtailing once a year because there’s a heat wave somewhere, which is great,” Westervelt said. “But that’s not the same as you’re a controllable load resource and the grid operator is ramping you up and down all the time.”

A paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in April found that flexibility of mining loads can significantly mitigate power shortages in Texas.

An industry standard?

Bringing transparency to the bitcoin mining sector is not totally new. 

Sustainable Bitcoin Protocol (SBP) offers what it calls certificates — on-chain assets that represent sustainable bitcoin mining that can be added to the holdings of a bitcoin investor. The climate tech startup’s end goal is “verifiably ensuring that bitcoin miners are using renewable energy from the grid,” SBP co-founder Brad van Voorhees previously told Blockworks.

Bill Cannon, head of portfolio management at Valkyrie Investments, said he hopes something like the Energy Web scoring system will become “an industry standard.” Valkyrie launched an ETF in February 2022 that invests in bitcoin miners.  

Incentivizing mining companies to use more renewable energy sources through tax credits for flexible load response, as well as expanding definitions of demand-response solutions and structuring financing around vertical integration, will be key, Cannon added.

“In order for an energy scoring system to become fully integrated across the mining landscape, we must first see legislation passed in Washington, DC, that ensures policy outcomes align with reality, as well as policy makers’ expectations,” he said. 

Westervelt said the company is engaged with other miners and plans to announce more certifications in the coming months. 

Large publicly traded miners such as Marathon Digital, Riot Platforms and Hut 8 did not immediately return requests for comment about whether they were seeking the certification. 

“We haven’t seen anybody really opposed to the concept of it,” Westervelt said. “Some miners don’t meet the threshold for certification, which is fine — it’s a long-term initiative and we hope that eventually they will.”


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