Carbon footprint calculators

IT engineering colleagues Stephen Makonin and Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva and I are working on a good streaming carbon footprint calculator. Here's what we have so far.

Marks, Makonin, and Rodriguez-Silva, Calculating the carbon footprint of a streaming program
(in Marks, Clark, Lucas Hilderbrand, Jason Livingston, and Denise Oleksiczjuk, forthcoming, Media+Environment):
Length of the streaming video in hours
x gigabytes per hour for a given resolution (Summerson 2018):
480 pixels: ~792 MB/hour
720p: ~1.3 GB/hour
1080p: ~1.9-2.55 GB/hour
1440p: ~2.8 GB/hour
4K: ~3.5-7 GB/hour
x energy intensity: 4.91 kWh/GB
x number of unique viewers
x 0.007 metric tons of CO2 (Environmental Protection Agency 2020)
= carbon footprint.

Joseph Clark’s energy intensity calculator, also in our article in Media+Environment:
Multiply file size in gigabytes by 5 kWh/GB to get energy in kilowatts.
Example: Streaming a high resolution copy of a 10 minute newsreel (500MB) is about 2.5 kWh. That, according to the owner’s manual for Joe’s clothes dryer, is about the equivalent of drying one load of laundry.

Teaching online with a small carbon footprint

Streaming video’s electricity consumption responsible for 1% of global warming! (The Shift Project ; see other posts on this page)
Health effects of high electromagnetic frequencies (Denise Oleksiczjuk, in article by Marks, Joe Clark, Lucas Hilderbrand, Livingston, and Oleksiczjuk, forthcoming, Media+Environment)
Corporate-driven streaming dependency

General pedagogy
Help students become mindful of carbon footprint of streaming media and devise alternatives.
Teach the environmental impact of the media—production, distribution, and consumption—into our curriculum
The Shift Project ’s surprising charts (in Executive Summary)
Show Jason Livingston’s funny video (note footprint is likely 1%, not 3%). At 6 minutes he talks about Zoom
Streaming audit: Ask students to note how many hours they stream a day, week (Joe Clark)
Use a carbon footprint calculator: examples in next post

All online teaching
Keep in mind that all online teaching happens on small screens, so high resolution is never necessary

Asynchronous online teaching
Recorded lecture
audio-only sections: lecture, dialogue, interview. Students can listen away from the desk.
Consider stills rather than video
Video: Short clips. Consider resolution needs. 240 or 340 p is adequate for informational purposes.

Students watching media independently:
View in groups if possible—always better, and smaller footprint
For multiple viewings: Best to download, but copyright issues arise (requested opinion from Don Taylor in library). Suggest that if SFU Library has purchased the movie, we are within our rights to let students to download for study purposes.
Turn off HD, and use the lowest resolution necessary.

Synchronous online teaching
Short clips, resolution as necessary. Consider stills rather than video.
It’s more energy efficient to share video on video conferencing platform (e.g. Zoom) than for each student to view separately (Stefan’s tip).
Share video, audio from original source (e.g. YouTube, Criterion Collection through library).
*Make sure to click “Share computer sound” and “Optimize screenshare for audio” every time!
If possible, choose media already available online, rather than uploading—Youtube’s local data centers make this more efficient for international viewers (Simone’s tip)
Invite students to sign in with video, then switch to portrait with name.
Suggest they experiment with minimizing the frame in speaker view, gallery view

Teaching media makers
Consider making versions for different platforms: high resolution for theaters, lower for online
Teach small-file video making—Stills and sound, low frame rate, compression, animation; splurge on sound. Compressed movies look best with:
-slow or still camera movement
-shallow focus
Tips on
Small File Media Festival site.

Lucas Hilderbrand’s streaming acknowledgment (edit as you wish):
“Streaming media has a significant carbon footprint due to the high energy usage necessary for data storage on servers, for transmission, and for playback. The scale of emissions depends on both the energy sources (fossil fuels create more impact than renewable ones) and the amount of data streamed (higher definition streams use more energy than standard definition ones, and video requires more energy than audio). Although migration to renewable energy sources has improved, demand for streaming content and bandwidth has accelerated even more. You can reduce your carbon footprint by reducing how much you stream, by reducing the resolution of your playback, by dimming your device, and by lobbying your energy provider and government regulators to switch to renewable energy sources. Broadcast sources (such as using the radio), tangible media (such as vinyl records and DVDs), and collective viewing (such as in a movie theater) have a lower carbon footprint than everyone individually streaming music and audiovisual media.” (In Marks, Clark, Hilderbrand, Livingston, and Oleksiczjuk, forthcoming, Media+Environment)

Longer article: Laura U. Marks,
Let's Deal with the Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media, Afterimage,

Call for work, Small File Media Festival

Call for work: First Annual Small File Media Festival
Submission Deadline: May 15, 2020

What do cat videos, facial recognition and porn all have in common? You can find them at the first annual Small File Media Festival!

The coronavirus pandemic is showing us how dependent people are on streaming media. Streaming media currently is responsible for about 3% of our global carbon footprint, 1% of that from pornography streaming alone. In the worst-case scenario that figure could arise to 20% by 2030. That’s a lot of coal for cat videos, Netflix, and porn !

Use your artistic voice to contribute to climate change action and cool down the planet. We make HD, 4K, and 5G look unnecessary, unsexy, and so last decade. Small files are intellectual, innovative, attractive, creative, and fun. We encourage the exploration of experimental processes through low energy technologies to deconstruct the fetishization of the pristine image.

If we can get together physically, the Small File Media Festival will be held August 10-12 in the beautiful cinema at Simon Fraser University in glorious Vancouver, Canada, and streamed in curated programs of tiny files. Selected works will be screened live and receive a rental fee. We will be featuring an “obsolete” media viewing platform for submissions with alternative technologies, and an anti-facial-recognition fashion show and workshops alongside the festival. Additionally, all accepted works will have the option of being curated and streamed online through energy conscious means.

If we can’t get together physically, we’ll stream curated programs of tiny files.

Come join us and celebrate the beauty of the small file!
Submit through or visit us at

File size restricted to 5 megabytes of fun! Size to aim for:
1 megabyte per minute Length: 1-5 minutes Must record/submit processing/encoding time
Looping media welcomed

Aesthetic Invention Supersmall files (how low can you go!)
Narrative Documentary Porn Sports Cat videos Animation GIFs ‘Obsolete’ technologies Pre and post-apocalyptic media
Cross-platform works (one version for live screening, another for streaming. Please include one minute excerpt of the live work)
Anything Imaginable!

For tips on making small files, visit

Coronavirus shows need for small-file media

Because so many people are streaming media during the Coronavirus crisis, and under pressure from European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton, YouTube has followed Netflix Europe in the decision to restrict quality to standard definition. It's great because it sets a precedent for enjoying non-HD movies. Thanks to fellow small-filer Jason Livingston for this.

Guidelines coming soon for the First Annual Small-File Media Festival!

Some solutions to streaming media's carbon footprint

Things we can do individually:

Stream less media!

Enjoy non-streaming solutions like:
  • going to the movies!
  • embracing older technologies
  • watching actual television, listening to actual radio
  • taking the bus to the video store, like Vancouver's Black Dog Video
  • buying DVDs or borrowing them from the library
  • sharing files on USB
  • getting together with folks to watch movies, for example through Hoovie (thanks Yani Kong) This also handles another problem of device media, the loneliness epidemic

When you do stream:
  • stream at lowest resolution and trip out on those compression halos
  • skeptically follow Greenpeace's report card for streaming media companies (Netflix gets a D, YouTube an A, because Google, which owns YouTube, is relatively greener—still not very impressive in my opinion)
  • be willing to pay more for fast, high-resolution media
  • enjoy the elegance of streamlined media consumption. Bloated high-res files are so last decade!

Things we can do collectively:
  • demand regulation. As Greenpeace's report points out, telecoms, media providers, and other companies in the streaming-media economy actually want governments to force them to be more energy efficient. Yes, it will mean raising prices.
  • demand our governments speed the conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy

A later post will address what IT engineers can do.