Research Projects

Examining the Carbon Impact of Streaming Media in University Teaching and Learning

Last March, university teaching shifted abruptly to remote methods, but this increased reliance on information and communications technologies (ICT) comes at an environmental cost that is rarely acknowledged.

Yani Kong and her team of researchers intend to make tangible the otherwise invisible impact of streaming by measuring university outputs and developing education and policy shifts for SFU.

Project Summary:

  • Driven by data servers, networks and consumer devices, information and communication technologies (ICT) currently emits 2.7-3.3% of global greenhouse gases and is projected to increase to 7% by 2030 and by 15% by 2040. Streaming media contributes more than any other sector to this increase.
  • This project responds to the need to reduce ICT’s contributions to the greenhouse gas emission by measuring the university’s outputs and developing education and policy shifts for SFU.
  • The project seeks to determine the specific technology needs, to calculate the resulting CO2 emissions using the measurement model under development by SFU Engineering, and finally to develop best practices for video conferencing and online media streaming. The project will build awareness and help incorporate its findings into the mindful media consumption practices at the university.

How will this project benefit society?
Because our lives are so enmeshed in streaming practices, and even more so since the pandemic, it’s important to develop a consciousness around our own contributions to this invisible energy drain. 

The project intends to make tangible the otherwise invisible impact of streaming, beginning with online teaching and learning. Because streaming does not hold a physical weight, many people feel satisfied in the thinking that streaming contributes to less material waste and fossil fuel burning. In South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, streaming comprises one of their top energy uses, yet Korea’s energy is coal reliant, so when you are watching Netflix, you are burning coal.

In BC, we are fortunate to rely on renewable hydro-electric energy, but the dams utilized to produce this energy impact the environment and displace Canadian Indigenous People. Not to mention that most streamed content must pass through up to five servers across the continent, so for Bridgerton to arrive in your home in Vancouver, it is burning energy from places elsewhere, often in the states that rely on fossil fuel and nuclear power.  

Research Team
  • Yani Kong, PhD student, School for the Contemporary Arts
  • Laura Marks, Professor, School for the Contemporary Arts
  • Stefan Smulovitz, Manager, Technology & Resources, School for the Contemporary Arts, and SFU IT Services

Research Projects

LCA Analysis for SFU Fleet Electrification

Sustainable Living Indoor Gardens  

Sustainability and Management of Bioplastic Food Service Products