Which is Greener: Streaming Video or Watching a DVD?

Written by Michael Graham Richard

Streaming video over the internet is becoming more popular with every passing year. While Netflix might be the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear about streaming video, all the major players are also betting big on the technology (Apple, Google, Amazon, cable companies and telecoms, etc). Meanwhile, DVD sales are going down. This raises the question: Is streaming video more environmentally-friendly than the technology that it is replacing?

Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and McCormick School of Engineering have decided to look into it. Using life cycle analysis tools, they were able to estimate the primary energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions associated with watching video via streaming or on a DVD. The results were not as clear-cut as some might as believed:

Credit: Environmental Research Letters/CC BY 3.0

Credit: Environmental Research Letters/CC BY 3.0

This shows that streaming is about on par with DVD watching as long as you get your DVD via the postal system (which is how Netflix began). If you have to drive to a store to get it, this skews things pretty clearly in favor of streaming in both the energy used and CO2 emitted.

But these are averages. You can adjust to your specific case. For example, if you drive an electric car that is charged from a clean source, driving to the store doesn’t produce much pollution, and your DVD player’s operation will also be powered by clean power. Streaming should also become cleaner over time as more datacenters are powered by renewables, and as Moore’s Law means that it takes fewer servers to power the same number of video feeds. On the other hand, people are probably watching more video now than they did in the DVD era because streaming is more convenient and often an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. But on the third hand, people watching more video might mean that they don’t drive as much for their entertainment, so it could be a net gain… See how everything is connected and there are many variables?

Back to DVD versus streaming: This study only presents us with a snapshot in time, not an immutable truth for all time, but it gives you an idea of where each option stands.

Via Environmental Research LettersArs Technica

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Photo Credit: MoneyBlogNewz via Flickr

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Liberty Goodwin
Liberty Goodwinabout a year ago

Unfortunately, even Care 2 folks seem oblivious of another serious concern - EMFs (Electromagnetic Fields). Evidence is piling up that these, in the form of Wi-Fi, "Smart" Meters, etc., can have really troubling effects, especially on kids.

Barbara P.
Barbara P.about a year ago

If I was to rent a movie, I would walk to get it and walk to take it back, so no energy use there, other then my own. Whether I use my computer or my DVD player, I think the energy use of those is probably par. Streaming could possibly use less energy, since DVD's require manufacturing and transport and that uses up a lot of energy and water and resources, but I'm sure streaming has its side effects too. I'm curious about the validity of this study.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K.about a year ago

It's nice to see that one's back of the envelope sketch-a-guess is so accurate. And no, that's not bragging. It means I've finally learned enough to quickly and almost intuitively figure out the energy costs of products and activities, and I'm not alone. As more of us start thinking this way, more of us will start making different decisions and push society as a whole in the right direction.

Marie W.
Marie W.about a year ago

Do we need the video?

Marianne C.
Marianne C.about a year ago

The book is always better than the movie, anyway.

Marianne B.
MARIA B.about a year ago


Janet B.
Janet B.about a year ago


John chapman
John chapmanabout a year ago

How about reading a real book.

That ought to be pretty green, especially if you get it from a library, used book store, or a yard sale.

Barbara L.
Past Member about a year ago

How about instead of streaming or renting/buying DVDs, etc. -- go for a nice walk, plant some flowers -- I say this of course as type on my tablet -- but I am also outside listening to the birds sing away.

JL A.about a year ago

good to know