The level of global video streaming has skyrocketed since the Covid-19 crisis began, with more people staying at home, watching video across all their devices. The carbon footprint of this nonstop viewing isn’t easy to calculate, but it’s fair to say that it’s significant. One aggressive claim cites a six-hour video binge on Netflix as equivalent to burning a liter of fuel. Streaming involves a complex mix of data center capacity and electricity -- both of which produce carbon dioxide, the levels of which vary depending on the technology being used.

No matter how you stream, there is a carbon cost to pay.


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Add to this energy-related impact the live and VoD streaming landscape and its explosive growth, which includes platforms, such as Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, ESPN, YouTube, among an expanding host of others. These giants and niche-content upstarts alike will push streaming forward with next-generation streaming solutions and more sustainable technologies, such as 5G and its enhanced mobile broadband possibilities. 

The added content burden may pose challenges, but if 5G rollouts go as planned, it could be the go-to solution for combating technology’s environmental overload. 5G will offer new levels of speed, network capacity and connectivity, providing opportunities for enabling better resource use and reducing emissions.

It remains to be seen how future technologies will emerge and help green up the streaming landscape. In the meantime, though, we can consider the consequences of unbridled streaming and what technology can do to reduce environmental harm while continuing high-performance content delivery to users.