Streaming an hour of Monday's No. 1 show on Netflix, Sweet Tooth, consumes about 55 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per hour, about as much carbon footprint as microwaving four bags of popcorn.
The data comes via a white paper published by London-based non-profit carbon-reduction advocacy group The Carbon Trust, which used research provided by the University of Bristol.
The Bristol study attempted to take the guesswork out of what impact consumer behaviors on the internet had on climate change. Previously, it was speculated that the impact of all those servers, network pipes and video playback devices generated a toll of about 3,200 carbon dioxide equivalents per hour (expressed as gCO2e/hour)—which would be 200 bags of microwave popcorn.
With sea levels now rising at an accelerated rate of 0.13 inches per year, and Phoenix, Arizona hitting a record-breaking 119 degrees Fahrenheit Monday, this is actually some good news on the climate issue for once.
Notably, the Bristol research found that even though internet usage keeps increasing dramatically over time, efficiency improvements for data centers, internet infrastructure, TVs and computers have kept electricity usage by the streaming industrial complex from growing at a commensurate level.
Also, the playback device used to stream video—whether it be TV, laptop, smart phone, etc.—generates more than half of the carbon footprint when you stream a show.
And choosing to stream video in 4K vs. standard definition has only a nominal effect on carbon impact— less than 1g CO2e/hour. That’s because the internet is “always on” anyway. Netflix notes that previous studies over-estimated that impact to be as high as 500g CO23/hour.
“Carbon Trust’s research brings us one step closer to accurately and consistently assessing the climate impact of streaming--be it from data centers, internet providers, or device manufacturers, and entertainment and media companies who rely on streaming,” reads a Netflix company blog post (opens in new tab) jointly bylined by Netflix sustainability officer Emma Steward, Ph. D., and Daniel Schien, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at University of Bristol.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!
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