The Carbon Footprint of Streaming
October 11, 2023
Many of our everyday activities have environmental consequences: how we dispose of waste, what we eat, how we move around. Most of us are familiar with the impacts that these activities have on our planet. Each one uses energy, produces emissions, and therefore contributes to a carbon footprint. But what about the activities that aren’t so straightforward? Have you ever wondered how streaming—something billions of people do every day—impacts the environment?
Streaming relies on a vast infrastructure of data centers, networks, and devices like computers, phones, and TVs. All these elements contribute to the carbon footprint of streaming, accounting for a significant portion of global carbon emissions. The demand for high-definition streaming continues to rise, leading to the expansion of this infrastructure.
When considering the environmental impact of streaming, it’s essential to consider the production of the devices used for streaming. The manufacturing of these devices is energy-intensive and often reliant on fossil fuels, further contributing to carbon emissions.
Video streaming has a carbon footprint comparable to activities like boiling a kettle or microwaving popcorn. While individual streaming habits do matter, the continuous operation of data centers and networks independent of the number of users streaming is a significant part of the problem. Switching to renewable energy will significantly decrease the emissions of these data centers, and therefore the emissions of streaming in general. Many of the big players in the streaming industry have committed to sourcing their energy from renewable sources, which will be a major step in making media consumption more sustainable in the future.
Although much of the impact of streaming is out of the consumer’s hands, there are several things we can do to reduce the environmental impact of streaming. When possible, stream from a less energy-intensive device. Watching on your laptop or phone uses a fraction of the energy required to stream on a TV. Download files when you can. And most importantly, use your devices for as long as you can. Dispose of old devices correctly. You can drop off old TVs, computers, and smartphones at Recycle Utah!
Streaming is a popular and convenient way to consume media, but it’s not without environmental consequences. By being mindful of our streaming habits and supporting sustainable initiatives in the industry, we can work towards a more environmentally friendly streaming future.
By Chelsea Hafer