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Does video streaming have an environmental impact?

3 min


Behind its virtual mask, digital technology actually consumes a lot of material and energy. As a result, it emits a lot of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Today, it accounts for 3 to 4% of global emissions and its energy consumption is skyrocketing. Among all the uses of our daily lives, one is particularly harmful: watching videos online.


Slightly more than half (55%) of digital emissions are linked to electricity consumption. This energy (which is more or less carbon-intensive depending on each country's energy mix) is consumed first and foremost by the billions of devices we use, smartphones, televisions and computers that operate simultaneously throughout the world, but also by the data centers and telecoms networks, which are gigantic and energy-intensive pieces of equipment necessary to operate our digitalised world.

According to leading think tank The Shift Project, video viewing is growing rapidly and already generates 60% of global data flows. Streaming alone emits almost 1% of global GHG emissions - as much as a country like Spain!

The impact of video streaming is even greater when viewed in high definition.

“A film like Pulp Fiction, available on Netflix in very high definition (4K), weighs around 10 gigabytes, which is 300,000 times more than an email without an attachment (30kb)”.

points out the NGO Greenpeace

Can we still watch a film without polluting?

 Watching videos online has an inevitable impact on the environment. However, you don't have to give up your favorite series, film or unfollow your favorite youtuber. It is possible to reduce the ecological footprint of streaming at your own level with a few prior adjustments. Very high definition is not always essential. “[It] increases digital pollution on two levels: it encourages the purchase of larger and more complex screens (and therefore more polluting) and requires more energy to play (because it is heavier)”, notes Greenpeace.

A high definition video consumes 100 times more energy when viewed on an LED TV than when viewed on a smartphone. A laptop screen uses five times more energy than a smartphone.

 Recently, regulation of the sector has been emerging - in France in particular, a law on “reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology”, a pioneer in this area, was adopted in November 2021. Other measures would also encourage more virtuous practices, according to Hughes Ferreboeuf, such as “banning autoplay [automatic video launching]. Video providers could also make the carbon footprint of a content visible according to its definition”. 

Of course, not everything depends on individual efforts alone. Citizens can change their habits to reduce the impact of digital technology, but streaming can only be low-carbon if there is a transition to decarbonised energy production.