Netflix announced today that by the end of this year, the company will “fully neutralize” all emissions it can’t avoid internally by investing in projects that prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere; by the end of 2022, the company says it will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Netflix’s carbon footprint in 2020 was 1.1 million metric tons. Roughly half of that footprint was generated by the physical production of Netflix-branded films and series (including those managed directly, those developed through a third-party production company, and licensed content). The remainder (45%) comes from its corporate operations and purchased goods. Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and the Open Connect content delivery network, used to stream the service, account for 5% of the company’s footprint.
“We don’t include emissions from internet transmission or electronic devices our members use to watch Netflix,” wrote Netflix sustainability officer Emma Stewart, Ph.D., in a blog post. “Internet service providers and device manufacturers have operational control over the design and manufacturing of their equipment, so ideally account for those emissions themselves.”
With the goal of net-zero emissions growing by leaps and bounds among major corporations, pressure is rising on voluntary carbon offset markets to help companies reach their goals, and environmental groups are monitoring industry to see whether companies will cut their own pollution or whether they will rely too much on offsetting their energy use without “fundamental change to operations,” writes MarketWatch.
Netflix outlined a three-step “Net Zero + Nature” plan:
Step 1: Reduce emissions — The first step will be to reduce its internal emissions with a goal of reducing Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 45% by 2030, based on the Science-Based Targets Initiative Guidance.
Step 2: Retain existing carbon storage — By the end of 2021, for emissions the company can’t avoid internally, including Scope 3 emissions, Netflix will neutralize them by investing in carbon capture projects, beginning with conserving at-risk natural areas like tropical forests that are “critical to meeting global climate goals.”
Step 3: Remove carbon from the atmosphere — By year-end 2022, the company will incorporate investment in the regeneration of critical natural ecosystems to achieve net zero. These projects, such as restoring grasslands, mangroves, and healthy soils, capture and store carbon, in addition to other benefits.
One Hour of Streaming Equals Driving a Quarter Mile
The company says it has joined a research effort called DIMPACT that is establishing consensus on how to measure the footprint of streaming and other internet uses. It is led by the University of Bristol, where researchers have built a calculator tool the company used to validate its own estimates. Those estimates concluded that one hour of streaming on Netflix in 2020 to be well under 100gCO2e, equivalent to driving a gas-powered passenger vehicle a quarter mile (or 400 meters). “These results are consistent with our peers and validated by our independent advisory group,” wrote Stewart. “Carbon Trust will publish a white paper on the topic this spring. By better understanding the footprint of streaming, our industries can better reduce it.”
DIMPACT, which is partially industry-funded, is a calculator meant to help digital media companies map and manage their carbon footprint, according to Wired. Its four modules cover video streaming, advertising, publishing and business intelligence.