July 27, 2021
Video streaming is a growing environmental concern that accounts for one per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, a new Simon Fraser University study has confirmed.
A team led by School for the Contemporary Arts professor Laura Marks worked for more than a year to investigate the carbon footprint of streaming media, supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
After combing through studies in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and making their own calculations, researchers confirmed that streaming media (including video on demand, YouTube, video embedded in social media and websites, video conferences, video calls and games) is responsible for over one per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And this number is only projected to rise as video conferencing and streaming proliferate. ICT’s footprint as a whole, including cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence, is skyrocketing.
“One per cent of greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s significant if you think that the airline industry is estimated to be 1.9 per cent,” says Marks. “ICT’s carbon footprint is growing fast, and I’m concerned that because we’re all turning our energy to other obvious carbon polluters, like fossil fuels, cars, and the airline industry, people are not going to pay attention to this silent, invisible carbon polluter.”
The research team also includes engineering professor Stephen Makonin, engineering student Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva and media scholar Radek Przedpełski.
The team’s number one recommendation to reduce streaming’s carbon footprint is to ensure that our electricity comes from renewable sources. At an individual level, the researchers offer a list of recommendations to reduce energy consumption and demand for new ICT infrastructure including: stream less, watch physical media including DVDs, decrease video resolution, use audio-only mode when possible, and keep your devices longer as production of devices is very carbon-intensive.
To promote the use of small files and low resolution, Marks founded the Small File Media Festival, which will present its second annual program of five-megabyte films from Aug. 10-20.