Streaming & Ecology: Understanding and Acting to Reduce Environmental Impact

Digital entertainment has become a standard, with video-on-demand platforms like Netflix gaining increasing popularity. As a major user of the Internet, these new practices raise questions about their environmental impact. Here are some actions to take to reduce it.

The Unrecognized Impact of Video Streaming: The Case of Netflix

In 2022, video accounted for 60% of internet traffic, which is more than 300 million tons of CO2 per year and generated 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite its virtual and dematerialized nature, streaming has an increasingly significant environmental impact. With a growing content catalog, users are spending more and more hours watching series or movies on Netflix, Prime Video, or OCS.

However, behind every online video are the equipment necessary for its successful delivery:

  • Data centers: for storing videos and the platforms hosting them,
  • Networks: infrastructure for delivering content to users,
  • The device used for viewing.

All of them have significant repercussions.

Considering that a subscriber spends 3.2 hours a day, which is over 22 hours a week on average on Netflix (in 2020), ADEME estimates the consequences at 36 kgCO2e per year for such usage in France (excluding the impact of the device's manufacturing).

To get a better idea, this would be equivalent to more than 15,254 km traveled by train, the creation of nearly 6 t-shirts, or the production of 135 liters of bottled water.

These data can vary depending on the country's energy mix (coal vs. nuclear), the device used (TV, tablet, smartphone), and the chosen internet connection (4G/5G or Wi-Fi/Ethernet).

Some Simple Actions to Adopt

Reduce Screen Time

The most obvious action would be moderation: spending less time in front of Netflix. To do this, one should resist the loop set up by the company to encourage us to stay in front of the screen for longer. It is possible to disable the automatic playback of the next episode in the user profile settings.

This way, we remove the cognitive bias of default choices. It is more comfortable for our brains not to make a decision and therefore to let the automatic mode take over.

One can also set limits by planning a certain number of episodes or movies not to exceed.

Prefer a Wi-Fi or Ethernet Connection

You can opt for a Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable connection rather than using 4G/5G to watch your movie or series. Mobile data would consume 23 times more energy to perform the same task as Wi-Fi.

Download Content in Advance

It is possible to download content in advance when connected to your home Internet box to watch them later without a connection and avoid streaming.

Downloading can also be useful for videos that you watch regularly, such as a child's favorite cartoon. Because a streaming video will be (re)downloaded as many times as it is viewed, unless you pre-download it in advance to watch it offline. It's a fairly simple way to avoid unnecessary energy consumption.

Choose Lower Resolution

Another gesture that can help reduce impact is to reduce the resolution of the viewed video. Watching a movie in 4K on a smartphone is not necessarily necessary. Sound synchronization and adding subtitles require a lot of resources from many components of the phone, such as the processor. The phone could become overloaded and/or slow, risking missing a call that cannot be answered in time because the person has hung up.

This high resolution also requires a lot of energy. The battery will drain quickly, which can reduce its lifespan. It is very easy to do without it, without disrupting the viewing of what you are watching.

According to Netflix, watching a movie in high quality would consume 3 GB per hour and up to 7 GB in 4K. It is therefore better to choose an image quality adapted to the size of your device.

By adopting these actions, we become agents of change. It is time to rethink our way of consuming online content for a more responsible and sustainable digital future.

[Cover Photo: Solen Feyissa]

Tiphaine Pabou
Tiphaine Pabou
I am Tiphaine PABOU, a specialist in communication strategies and content creation for organizations with a positive impact. My passion for ecology informs my professional practice. I am interested in eco-communication and responsible digital practices, and I share tips for minimizing our carbon footprint.


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