• Saxon Dixon

How AR/VR Is Being Used To Combat Environmental Issues

Environmental issues such as climate change, global warming, deforestation and extinction are never far from the global agenda.

It is widely accepted that action is needed across the globe to address some of the major environmental problems that have been caused by the harmful effects of human activity. Increased greenhouse gases, cutting down the rainforests, polluting the oceans, overfishing, excessive waste production and an exponential growth in our global population. These are just some of the ways in which we are damaging the environment.

There is now clear scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and that an unprecedented collective effort is needed to return human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits.

AR/VR in particular, has the potential to contribute to sustainability both directly by making certain processes sustainable, and indirectly by encouraging people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. AR/VR technologies can be used by geographically dispersed teams to lessen the need for travel and reduce their carbon footprint. In the design and manufacturing sector, the advent of real-time photorealistic rendering capabilities in conjunction with AR/VR technologies can help reduce the number of physical prototypes required in the visual design process, thereby reducing material waste.

The inherent immersiveness of VR combined with the realism of AR can help us connect with people at a visceral level, thereby highlighting the importance of sustainable living. Outreach material based on these technologies can be used to educate people about the worldwide effects of climate change through interactive storytelling, in ways that are more engaging and persuasive than standard approaches (Filling Space).

Here are 3 examples of organizations using the power of AR/VR to drive awareness of environmental issues:

(1) Into the Wild

This Singapore based experience was a collaboration with ArtScience Museum, Google, and Lenovo, that used cutting edge technology to effect real-world positive change. Into The Wild was a powerful and exciting project to highlight the issue of rainforest conservation.

Using augmented reality the ArtScience team created an immersive experience that gave users the opportunity to experience the Indonesian rainforest through the eyes of a forest ranger.

This exhibition blurred the line between real and CG at designated areas with the use of Lenovo Phab 2 Pro handphone, which was the world’s first Tango-enabled smartphone. Users got to visit a virtual world with animals reflecting those seen in Rimbang Baling, a wildlife reserve in Indonesia, which WWF was aiming to raise awareness and save through this exhibit.

You will also get an opportunity to translate your virtual adventure into reality, when you take an active role in replanting the rainforests of Southeast Asia. For every virtual tree planted in the experience that is accompanied with a pledge to WWF, a real tree will be planted in Rimbang Baling rainforest. S$38 was enough to get a tree planted and also provide jobs for the natives living in the area, reducing the need for them to resort to illegal poaching or logging for an income.

(2) Time's Amazon Rainforest

Time's Immersive app delivered a historically accurate virtual recreation of the first lunar landing a couple of months ago. The second Time's AR experience to launch coincided with the release of a special issue on the climate crisis. The issue discussed the Amazon rainforest and the fact that the largest and most biodiverse rainforest in the world could actually turn into a desert.

"Inside the Amazon: The Dying Forest" uses the existing Time's mobile app, available on iOS and Android, to showcase the impact of deforestation using augmented reality.

Having used cameras mounted on drones, the Time's production team were able to create 3D scans of the environment. The experience also features voice-over by world-renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, who talks about the forces driving deforestation, the stories of those fighting it and those who have the most to lose. It also features a spatial sound system to compliment the immersive visuals.

(3) How the World's Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City

One of the world’s leading risk factors for death is pollution, with air pollution alone being responsible for 9% of deaths globally.

In an effort to help readers visualise the immense effects of air pollution, the New York Times wrote an article entitled See How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s”. They also created an accompanying AR mobile experience to help readers visualise the microscopic pollution particles as virtual particles in the air.

The great thing about this experience is that it allowed users to compare the population in their local area with some of the most polluted in the world, using geo-location.

The particle measurement used a concentration of an air pollutant given in micrograms per cubic meter air and was shown using the equation µg/m3. The lower the number, the better the air quality.

Creative lead Graham Roberts confirmed that, "the experience was created based on a belief that geolocated experiences that create a data layer over our physical environment have great potential. 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?  By making the pollution particles of our environments visible to the human eye using AR, NYT’s app may help push individuals to take air pollution – or any pollution for that matter – more seriously."

As visual and interactive technologies, AR and VR have the power to create emotional and meaningful connections with users. Using these mediums for powerful storytelling and integrating purpose can then help to drive action with audiences.

Hopefully, you found a little inspiration from some of the examples we included in this post. The VI team are passionate about using interactive technologies to drive awareness, to educate and to inspire action, especially on important topics like the environment.

If you would like to talk to the team about how you can integrate technologies like AR, MR, VR into your campaigns then please reach out via

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