Do you like to browse Netflix? You’re not alone – but you should also think about the environment. Because digital streaming services like Netflix also cause CO2 – and a lot of it.It is better to enjoy your time with blackjack online. Streaming is the new television. Surveys also point to this: Here, more than half of the respondents said they use paid video streaming services. Thanks to Corona, streaming providers have had tremendous growth. Netflix alone gained 5.5 million users in the first half of 2021 – the number of subscribers in Germany is currently 10.7 million.
Many use streaming services because it’s convenient – some perhaps also because it seems more environmentally friendly. After all, DVDs and Blu-rays and their packaging are made of plastic – which is no longer needed when streaming. But are Netflix & Co. really better for the environment?
How Harmful They Are
Everything on the Internet consumes energy, from googling to reading on Utopia.de. But how much of this is actually accounted for by streaming services?
Researchers are not in agreement about this. In 2019, researchers from the French think tank Shift Project published a study with shocking figures. According to the study, video streaming caused more than 300 million tons of CO2 equivalents in 2018 alone. That is equivalent to the amount emitted by the entire country of Spain in one year. So the number is enormous. According to the researchers, 80 percent of global data traffic is video data.
The researchers also showed how global video consumption is made up:
- 34 percent video-on-demand services: Sites like Amazon Prime and Netflix generated more than 100 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent – as much as all of Greece emitted in 2017.
- 27 percent pornographic videos: These led to 80 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2018 – as much as all households in France produced in the same year.
- 21 percent video platforms such as YouTube
- 18 percent “Other,” for example social media videos on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat
Some media outlets criticize studies like Shift Project’s for being of little value because they have to work with rough estimates. This is because the exact power consumption when streaming via streaming services depends, among other things, on the power used by the data centers, the end device used to stream, and where a video stream comes from. These factors are difficult to determine.
The Network Is Crucial
Since the Shift project study, many other analyses and figures on streaming services and their CO2 consumption have been published, for example:
A study by the German Federal Environment Agency concludes that transmissions over the fiber-optic network are the most climate-friendly: Anyone who streams series in HD quality over it for an hour causes only 2 grams of CO2e emissions. A broadband connection via copper cable (VDSL) produces twice that amount.
The mobile network also makes a huge difference: according to the study, 5G produces around five grams of CO2e an hour, 4G 13 grams and the 3G network (UMTS) still in use 90 grams – this data also relates to one hour of video streaming in HD quality.
Another important factor is the data center that transmits the data: Some generate 105 kilograms, others up to 153 kilograms per terabyte of storage capacity per year. Unlike previous studies, this is not based on estimated values but on collected user data.
According to a study from February 2020, data traffic has increased by a factor of 6.5 and the number of servers by a factor of 26 in the last eight years, but energy consumption has only increased by six percent in the same period. According to the researchers, this is because data exchange is becoming around 20 percent more efficient every year. The share of data centers in global energy consumption is stable at one percent.
Netflix itself has published figures on its own carbon footprint in 2021. According to the group, its own carbon footprint in 2020 was 1.1 million tons. About half of that (50%) was generated by series and film production, it said. The test largely came from “corporate activities” (e.g. offices) and “purchased goods” (e.g. marketing expenses).
Why Do We Watch So Much Online Videos?
One thing is certain: Streaming requires a lot of data to be transferred – and we’re streaming more and more. Our massive video consumption is made up of multiple sources. “Some videos we watch because we want to, others because the digital system forces us to,” explains Maxime Efoui-Hess, one of the authors of the Shift Project study, in an interview with Utopia.
Websites such as Facebook, for example, would often play clips automatically to grab attention. Streaming services, such as YouTube, would use autoplay to keep the attention of users. In this way, we would be enticed to watch videos without specifically choosing to do so. And that drives up data transfer.