With the appointment of PhD and scientist Emma Stewart in 2020 as their inaugural sustainability chief, things GHG at Netflix became way more scientific, focused and intent(ful?). But no amount of scientific 'proof' seems to be able to hide the missing 14 million CO2e elephant in the room. (e isn't for elephant by the way. It's for equivalent.)
Netflix is experiencing incredible growth - aided by an extended lockdown with COVID and the growth of its own productions and that means a growing pile of CO2e emissions. Netflix also seem to be becoming a sustainability film producer with the most recent controversial Seaspiracy and before that the various David Attenborough films, Mission Blue, A Plastic Ocean, Rotten and so on.
In 2019, Netflix disclosed that its total energy consumption was 451,000 megawatt-hours — enough to power around 40,000 average homes for the same year. 2019 was up 84% from the 245,000 megawatt-hours Netflix said it used in 2018. Until 2019, Netflix's estimated direct and indirect non-renewable power use was matched with renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets.
Their 2020 carbon footprint as reported by Emma Stewart, was 1,100,000 tons. Roughly half (50%) of that footprint was generated by the physical production of Netflix-branded films and series and the remainder (45%) comes from corporate operations and purchased goods. It also (apparently) includes their streaming service, which is 5% of footprint, according to Netflix.
All the environmental qualifications in the world haven't been able to hide Netflix's elephant in the room.
IN THEIR CALCULATIONS, NETFLIX DON’T INCLUDE EMISSIONS FROM INTERNET TRANSMISSION OR ELECTRONIC DEVICES THEIR MEMBERS USE TO WATCH NETFLIX. IN ESSENCE THIS EXCLUDES 93% OF NETFLIX CARBON IMPACT.
It turns out that while Netflix are happy to point out how much CO2e is emitted for each hour of streaming, they aren't so interested in taking responsibility for it. Stewart is quick to quote sources, scientists and top shelf universities to validate claims and then go on to market at will.
According to Stewart, researchers have built a calculator tool that Netflix used to validate their own estimates, concluding that one hour of streaming on Netflix in 2020 to be well under 100gCO2e, equivalent to driving a gas-powered passenger vehicle 400 meters.
THE SCIENTIFIC BIT IS THE PRECISE, VALIDATED MEASUREMENT OF EMISSIONS. THE MARKETING BIT IS THE METAPHOR OF THE SHORT DRIVE IN YOUR GAS CAR. THE REST IS DUCKING AND WEAVING.
According to Netflix, their average user streams two hours a day. There are currently 203 million subscribers. This means streaming produces around 41.3 tons of CO2e each day or 15 million tons per year.
Netflix says this 15 million tons is the responsibility of the device sellers, not them. And Dr Stewart, to her credit has clearly spent hours deflecting the peels of laughter and counter arguments all over social and mainstream media. One punter suggested they make a doco about how they calculate their 'Net Zero' commitment so we can all understand it better.
Stewart is clear about Netflix's position on streaming - the 15 million tons of unclaimed CO2e. They are working hard to calculate it carefully so that others can take responsibility for it.
"BY BETTER UNDERSTANDING THE FOOTPRINT OF STREAMING, WE CAN WORK WITH THE DATA CENTER/INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS & DEVICE MANUFACTURERS TO TACKLE IT."
If this all sounds like Coca Cola telling consumers and citizens that they just make soda that goes into plastic and it isn't their fault the plastic isn't being recycled or is trashing the planet, then you aren't mistaken.
Bearing in mind that Netflix acknowledge around 1 million tons of CO2e and most believe the real responsibility is 15 million tons CO2e, it is interesting to hear Steward way that Netflix "have drawn our target boundary very expansively (e.g. including all Netflix-branded productions) and have adopted the Science-Based Targets' Initiative's "supplier engagement target" for all Scope 3 emissions."
I wonder if they will be at the same climate conferences as Coca Cola this year?