Is excessive surveillance bad for the planet? Netflix finally responds
What is worse for the planet? Drive to the supermarket for your weekly shopping or spend the whole day on Zoom calls while binging Office repeat? Now, finally, we have an answer. Kind of.
For the first time, Netflix has revealed specific details about its carbon footprint. Using a tool called DIMPACT, developed by researchers at the University of Bristol, Netflix claims that an hour of streaming on its platform in 2020 used less than 100 grams of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) – this is less than driving an average car for a quarter mile. For folks who use Netflix, that’s a useful background, but for the streaming giant, it provides crucial data to help it reduce its vast carbon footprint.
“The BBC or Netflix, or any other provider, can’t just plug a power meter into the infrastructure and find out how much carbon is being released into the atmosphere,” says Daniel Schien, one of the founders of DIMPACT and professor of computer science at the University of Bristol. And that’s where DIMPACT comes in.
The tool, which is partially funded by industry, is essentially an elaborate calculator designed to help digital media companies map and manage their carbon footprint. There are four modules, each representing different industries: video broadcasting, advertising, publishing and business intelligence. In Netflix’s case, Schien explains, the video streaming mod is a superset of all the processes Netflix would find in its organization: a simulation of our favorite show coming to us from a data center, for example.
The advantage here is that DIMPACT can provide detailed information about a company’s Scope 3 emissions i.e. pollution caused by suppliers and customers. “For media companies, if you are involved in entertainment, then Scope 3 would be the upstream production of films,” says Christian Tonnesen, senior partner at Carnstone, an independent management consulting firm involved in the project. “And downstream, it would be you who deliver the media content, as well as the people who consume that content. So any company in the media industry that sets a goal based on science must now have a good understanding of these Scope 3 broadcasts.
Reducing emissions is essential if Netflix is to reduce its carbon footprint. In this regard, Netflix has fallen behind its competitors. In january 2020 Microsoft has pledged to go carbon negative by 2030; later that year, Apple announced its own plans to become carbon neutral on the same date. Facebook also pledged to net zero emissions from all vendors and users, and Google pledged to run exclusively on renewable energy. On the other hand, as The New York Times Netflix pointed out last month that it did not announce emissions reduction targets, although it said it wanted to reduce its impact on the climate.
These new figures attempt to remedy this situation. Netflix says it will release a white paper to validate its findings at the end of March and reveal its climate targets this spring. For now, he’s used DIMPACT to determine that one hour of streaming equals a typical 75-watt ceiling fan running for four hours in North America or six hours in Europe, or a typical window air conditioner of 1000. watts running for 15 hours. minutes in North America or 40 minutes in Europe.
“My first impression of this claim is that it seems reasonable,” says Bernardi Pranggono, senior lecturer in computer network engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. But streaming, he explains, matters comparatively. So what could people do instead of just sitting at home watching Office on Netflix? If they went out for a walk, it would be greener. But if they drove for 30 minutes to the movies, they wouldn’t.
The tool allows Netflix to identify program hot spots in order to rethink its services to make them greener. TV shows broadcast by users in the UK could be hosted by data centers in the UK, for example. Or devices could be turned off faster if no one is watching what’s on the air. Netflix will also be able to talk to other companies in its supply chain, such as Amazon Web Services, which it uses for hosting, to help cut emissions.