What’s The True Impact Of Streaming Netflix On The Climate?

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Netflix is not as bad for the environment as previously thought. Image: Pixabay

What’s the true impact of streaming Netflix on the climate?  Measuring those emissions took a lot of guesswork, resulting in studies with inaccurate estimates and myths – until now, says Emma Stewart, Netflix’s Sustainability Officer.

“Some studies have tried to answer this question, but it is hard to get right. Delivering an episode of your favourite streaming series to screens requires different technologies that are constantly evolving – from the data centres where the data is housed, to the infrastructure that brings the internet to your home, to the electricity powering how you enjoy the show,” she said.

Researchers at the University of Bristol spent a decade developing a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of streaming and other everyday internet uses, such as browsing news stories, to answer this question. The calculator uses the latest scientific protocols to measure emissions and data directly from the entertainment and media companies who rely on streaming delivery themselves, compared to the generic estimations of past studies.

This research is the subject of a new independent white paper, released by sustainability researchers at The Carbon Trust. There are four key findings:

  • The average carbon footprint of one hour of streaming in Europe is approximately 55 gCO2e (grams of carbon dioxide equivalents). That’s about the same as microwaving four bags of popcorn, or three boils in an electric kettle in the UK. Previous guesswork profiled in the media had this figure as high as 3200 gCO2e, or as much as microwaving 200 bags of popcorn.
  • Adjusting picture resolution makes a very small difference in carbon emissions. For example, changing from standard definition to 4K resolution increases emissions from just under 1g CO2e/hour to just over 1g CO2e/hour. Why? The internet is “always on,” so the additional energy it takes to transmit higher resolution to your TV is marginal compared to the energy it takes to constantly operate the internet. Past studies overestimated this increase to be as high as 500g CO2e/hour.
  • While streaming and internet use have grown these past few years, energy consumption from those activities has actually decreased over time. This is because data centre, internet, and utilities providers can take on more demand without consuming more energy. They’re continually updating their equipment to be more energy efficient, as well as buying and using more renewable electricity. The white paper looks at past trends to break this down.
  • Consumer devices (TVs, laptops/PCs, smartphones, tablets) make up more than half of the carbon emissions from streaming (over 50 per cent), compared to other components like data centres or internet service, so the device you choose to stream on, and using renewable electricity at home, can have a big impact on emissions and energy consumption. Devices, including TVs, are becoming more energy efficient over time.

“The tool’s validation by Carbon Trust’s research brings us one step closer to accurately and consistently assessing the climate impact of streaming — be it from data centres, internet providers, or device manufacturers, and entertainment and media companies who rely on streaming. Better understanding this footprint means we can better focus on reducing those emissions across industries, countries and the world,” Emma Stewart added.

Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check The Euro Weekly News for all your up-to-date local and international news stories.


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Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.