A perfect relaxing night. “I’m going to go home, relax, drink a glass of wine, and binge watch my favorite show on Netflix.” Who hasn’t heard at least one person say this is at least once? You might substitute that glass of wine with another beverage of choice, but streaming TV shows from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or YouTube has become a favorite pastime for many.
But if you’re worried about your carbon footprint, you might want to think again. A new report released yesterday by Greenpeace International says that streaming-video services not only cost customers a good chunk of their data when they stream videos to their mobile devices, but they also use a lot of energy. Most of the time, that energy does not come from renewable resources. The Greenpeace report notes the increasing energy footprint of the IT sector already consumes approximately 7 percent of global energy. This number is expected to rise significantly as Internet usage rises. The report cites an increase in individual data consumption as well as the spread of Internet usage to a billion more users globally.
While Apple, Google, Facebook and Switch were praised for their progress towards using 100 percent renewable energy to help offset their carbon footprints, other companies were doing little to increase their renewable energy investments.
Why are some companies transitioning to renewable energy sources?
Prioritizing a transition to renewable energy is becoming more common for several reasons. Some companies are working harder to increase renewables because their customers demand it. Others note the volatility of the fossil fuel markets as well as new regulation of such energy sources that could affect the cost associated with using them. Still others are transitioning because of the concern over how fossil fuels affect climate change and they’ve committed to doing all they can to ensure their companies are participating in the fight against a slowly warming planet. The Greenpeace report also notes that some companies are motivated by sheer competitiveness among IT companies to link brand identity with renewable energy, reflecting the concern of its employees and customers about climate change.
Jude Lee, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, also implies that its far more than just a moral decision:
Leading tech companies in the US have shown that clean power can be both good for the environment and for business. East Asian companies must step up to embrace that reality as well.
Video streaming report card: Who gets an “A”?
Video streaming accounts for 63% of global Internet traffic in 2015, and is projected to reach about 80% by 2020, according to Cisco Network Traffic Forecast, 2016. With so many people streaming video directly to phones, tablets, and other devices, and marketing companies turning to video as a prime way to advertise, the percentage of video streaming of global Internet traffic isn’t likely to decrease any time soon.
Greenpeace scored companies based on energy transparency, renewable energy commitment and siting policy, energy efficiency and mitigation, renewable procurement, advocacy.
For video streaming, only YouTube received an A. Amazon Prime was scored with a “C.” HBO, Netflix, and Vimeo all received “D” scores. Hulu flunked out with an “F.” Music streaming scores were miserably low as well among many popular streaming services. iTunes was the only company to receive an “A.” Popular NPR, Pandora and Soundcloud all received “F” scores. Spotify got a “D.” Greenpeace USA Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook commented on Netflix specifically, since it now occupies such a large share of the video streaming market:
Like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels and it must show its leadership here.
Netflix has one of the largest data footprints of the companies profiled in the report, accounting for one third of internet traffic in North America and contributing significantly to the worldwide data demand from video streaming. The company announced in 2015 that it intended to fully offset its carbon footprint, but a closer examination reveals it is likely turning to carbon offsets or unbundled renewable energy credits, which do little to increase renewable energy investment.
However, cutting back on fossil fuels isn’t an easy task. The report reminds us:
A fully renewably powered internet will not happen overnight, but for sector companies to adopt a 100% renewable commitment is an important first step. This commitment must be matched with deeds that also show true leadership, taking successive steps in the same direction.