The unsustainable use of online video

28 July 2019

The report published July 2019 “Climate crisis: The unsustainable use of online video – A practical case study for digital sobriety” was led by Maxime Efoui-Hess, an engineer specialized in climate and computer modeling, who graduated from ISAE-SUPAÉRO, Université Paul Sabatier and the French Meteorology University.

The environmental impact of digital technology is now recognized as unsustainable, but continues to grow. The energy consumption of digital technologies is increasing by 9% a year, and already represents 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The use of digital technology accounts for 55% of its energy consumption, compared to 45% for the production of equipment. This was demonstrated by our report “Lean ICT – Towards digital sobriety” published in 2018.

Getting this impact under control implies requires a transition from digital intemperance to digital sobriety. This means prioritizing the allocation of resources as a function of uses, in order to conform to the planet’s physical boundaries, while preservingthe most valuable societal contributions of digital technologies.

4 main types of contents generate 60% of global data trafic.

We live in a world where only one form of digital use, online video, generates 60% of of world data flows and thus over 300 million tons of CO2 per year. This use is far from being “dematerialized”. On the contrary, it represents 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of all digital devices (use and production included), and 1% of global emissions, i.e. as much as Spain. The rest of the uses of digital technologies comprise 20% of other types of video, and 20% of non-video uses – the latter covering all the non-video possibilities opened by digital technologies.

Online video, which is the subject of this report, is therefore a particularly significant practical case for the implementation of digital sobriety. In this 60% of global data flows generated by online video, there are 4 main types of content, none of which is negligible.


Full report: The Shift Project 2019