Mercy Tips to Care for Earth

Environmental Impact of Watching Movies Online

By Jason Giovannettone, Climate and Sustainability Director

Mike’s tip to watch The Letter, which I also highly recommend, led me to consider the carbon emissions that result from watching movies online and listening to music online. We can help reduce these streaming emissions through a few simple actions. According the The Shift Project, which is a French carbon transition think tank, watching online movies and videos accounts for about 60% of global internet traffic. It is by far the highest compared to any other category, equaling about 1% of total global emissions. This is due to two major factors: the emissions due to the energy that your device (e.g., TV, computer, phone) is consuming and the emissions due to the servers and networks (e.g., Netflix, Amazon, Sling, YouTube) that are storing and distributing the content you are watching.  

Another consideration includes the type of online content that is contributing to these emissions. According to the BBC, in 2020 the types of content emitting the most carbon emissions were on-demand video services such as Netflix and Amazon videos on social media including YouTube. To put this in context, the BBC article mentioned that in 2020 the total energy consumed by Netflix in one year could power nearly 37,000 homes.  

Rather than giving up streaming media entirely, here are a few tips for cutting down on these kinds of emissions: 

  1. Avoid falling asleep while watching or listening to online content. Many platforms automatically play the next episode. On some streaming services, this setting can be changed.  
  2. Always select SD (standard definition) over HD (high definition) or UHD (ultra-high definition) when renting a movie or show. SD streaming emits less carbon because it requires less power. 
  3. Use your wireless internet rather than your cellular data network when streaming content. Using cellular data causes over twice the emissions than accessing the internet does.  
  4. Use your phone or laptop rather than your TV when possible. Your TV uses much more energy than a smaller device. 
  5. Purchase a physical CD over listening to music online if you plan to listen to a particular song at least 25 times. If you don’t plan to listen to a CD or song more than that, listen online as it is more environmentally friendly than producing or shipping a CD.