Netflix Tuesday joined a growing group of companies exploring the environmental footprint of their businesses as the streamer committed to pollute less and increase investment in prevention, conservation, and regeneration projects. It is committing to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of next year and years thereafter.
In a blog post, the company’s first Sustainability Officer, Emma Stewart, outlined steps to reach that goal with a plan informed by climate science — and perhaps with some backup from the content side. “We acknowledge the reach of sustainability stories on Netflix,” she said, noting that in 2020, 160 million households watched at least one sustainability related title. Some 100 million households tuned into Our Planet since the launch in 2019 of the series of nature and ecology documentaries hosted by David Attenborough.
“When it comes to entertainment, sustainability is an epic story creators are already telling said Stewart’s post, called The Story of Sustainability. In it, she outlined the giant streamer’s current carbon footprint of 1.1 million metric tons last year.
Roughly half is generated by physical production of Netflix-branded films and series including those managed directly (The Midnight Sky) or through a third-party producer (Our Planet, You vs. Wild). It also includes Netflix-branded licensed content (My Octopus Teacher and Down to Earth with Zac Efron). The rest is generated by corporate operations like offices, and purchased goods like marketing spend. Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and the Open Connect content delivery network uses to stream the service account for 5% of our footprint.
Netflix has joined a research effort called DIMPACT that is establishing consensus on how to measure the footprint of actual streaming and other internet uses, which is not included in the footprint yet. The study is led by the University of Bristol, where researchers have built a calculator tool that Stewart says Netflix uses “to validate our 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 a quarter mile (or 400 meters).” “These results are consistent with our peers and validated by our independent advisory group. 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.”
“I’m fortunate to be able to combine my love of science and storytelling at Netflix, where we aspire to entertain the world. But that requires a habitable world to entertain,” Stewart said.
Scientists around the world agree with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement that that its crucial to stabilize global warming at no more than a 1.5ºC temperature rise to avoid the worst results of climate change.
Netflix’ three-pronged approach starts with reducing internal emissions aligned with that goal. Step 2 calls for the company to “retain and neutralize” carbon emissions it can’t avoid internally by investing in projects that prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere. It will start by conserving at-risk natural areas like tropical forests that are critical to meeting global climate goals.
Step 3 would help remove carbon from the atmosphere by investing in the regeneration of critical natural ecosystems to achieve net zero — like restoring grasslands, mangroves, and healthy soils.
This approach buys time to decarbonize the economy, while restoring these life support systems, she said.
Netflix strategy was shaped by the advice of more than 60 experts at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, ENGIE Impact and Natural Resources Defense Council. It also formed an independent advisory group of expert volunteers.
Initiatives the company already has in place include the Lightning Creek Ranch project in Oregon that helps preserve North America’s largest bunchgrass prairie. In Kenya, it supports the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project, protecting the dryland forest that’s home to hundreds of endangered species and provides local residents alternative incomes to unsustainable activities like poaching.
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