A collection of our thinking about digital emissions, DIMPACT company case studies, as well as wider research that’s shaping the understanding of digital sustainability.
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Assessing embodied carbon emissions of communication user devices by combining approaches

Research Paper Link
23 Aug 2023

This study focuses on embodied carbon emissions of user devices associated with accessing networks: Tablets, smartphones and feature phones, laptop and desktop PCs and customer premises equipment (CPEs).

The paper investigates the embodied carbon emissions by applying different approaches:
-the commonly used approach where estimated product carbon emissions are scaled up by shipments
-allocation of the electronic sector companies’ reported data combined with materials data for the products, and the upstream carbon emissions reported by user device vendors (final manufacturers).

Despite its sensitivity to allocation the second approach is considered to give the most reasonable overall result of about 180 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) related to chosen user device types and shipments in 2020.

  • End-user devices

Assessing energy and climate effects of digitalization: methodological challenges and key recommendations

23 Aug 2023

Digitalisation is a major ‘wild-card’ in the pursuit of a cessation of global warming. Digital technologies can directly and indirectly increase or decrease GHG emissions, and these effects can be categorised into three types of effect:
1. First-order effects: direct GHG emissions from the raw material acquisition, production, use and end-of-life treatment of digital technologies (i.e., those comprising data centers, data transmission networks, and connected devices); also referred to as the footprint or lifecycle impacts of digital goods, networks or services or, using another categorization, of devices and digital infrastructure;
2. Second-order effects: indirect effects on emissions resulting from digitalization—the use of digital technologies and services—which can increase or decrease emissions beyond their footprint; positive second-order effects that decrease emissions are known under names such as ‘enabling effects’, ‘abatement’ and ‘avoided emissions’; this effect is sometimes also referred to as the ‘handprint’; negative second-order effects can be referred to as ‘added emissions’;
3. Third-order effects: other indirect effects on emissions stemming from the first- or second-order effects of digitalization, such as rebound, changes in consumption patterns, lifestyles and value systems, which can result in increased or decreased emissions. They are sometimes referred to as ‘other’ effects or ‘higher order’ effects.

This paper assesses the methodological challenges in estimating each of these effects, and thus the future of digitisation as a tool to combat global warming.

Moving from insights to action on digital carbon impacts – A London Tech Week event

20 Jul 2023

A summary of our recent event at London Tech Week with 80+ attendees, featuring key points and insights from our expert speakers.

Literature Review and Policy Principles for Streaming and Digital Media Carbon Footprinting

Research Paper
24 Mar 2023

This publication is a follow-up that provides additional insight into a question that has naturally arisen from the seminal Carbon Trust study: “now that it is clear that emissions from device use make up the majority of internet uses like streaming, what should we do next to continue reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions?

Contents of this paper include:

  1. Principles for evidence-based policy decision-making, built upon a technical review of academic and industry input.
  2. Key messages distilled from academic and industry experts on the historical progress and future-facing opportunities for decarbonisation of the digital sector.
  3. Reframing of some misconceptions about the digital sector’s energy consumption trends, which have arisen from (a) a lack of insight into different modelling types and their limitations, and (b) an incorrect association of demand growth for digital services vs. energy consumption and carbon footprint changes.

The DIMPACT Methodology

DIMPACT Publication
21 Oct 2022

This document describes the over-arching DIMPACT approach to estimating the emissions from serving digital products and services. It outlines the data sources used, assumptions made, and some of the challenges with modelling digital emissions.

The carbon footprint of streaming video: fact-checking the headlines

Methodological Contribution Link
17 Oct 2022

In this updated analysis, George Kamiya challenges the assumptions made by some estimates of the carbon impacts of video streaming. The article provides an estimate of the emissions based on the most up-to-date information (at the time of publishing).

  • Streaming

Using behavioural data to assess the environmental impact of electricity consumption of alternate television service distribution platforms

16 Sep 2021

Research has been conducted on electricity use associated with adigital services, but to date no complete study of television distribution has been conducted. Here the authors present the first assessment of electricity used for distribution and viewing of television over different distribution platforms terrestrial, satellite, cable and online streaming. It uses a novel methodology that combines life cycle assessment techniques with models of the diversity of actual user behaviour, derived from detailed audience monitoring and online behaviour analytics data.

The true carbon impact of streaming

13 Sep 2021

What’s the true impact of streaming on the climate? Some studies have tried to answer this question, but it’s hard to get right. Delivering an episode of Shadow and Bone to your screen requires different technologies that are constantly evolving - from the data centers where the data is housed, to the infrastructure that brings the internet to your home, to the electricity powering how you enjoy the show. Measuring those emissions took a lot of guesswork, resulting in studies with inaccurate estimates and myths - until now.

Does not compute: Avoiding pitfalls assessing the Internet's energy and carbon impacts

13 Sep 2021

Koomey and Masanet published a peer-reviewed commentary in the journal Joule, discussing the pitfalls that plague estimates of the internet’s energy and carbon impacts.

The paper describes how these errors can lead well-intentioned studies to predict massive energy growth in the information technology sector, which often doesn’t materialize. “We’re not saying the energy use of the internet isn’t a problem, or that we shouldn’t worry about it,” Masanet explained. “Rather, our main message is that we all need to get better at analysing internet energy use and avoiding these pitfalls moving forward.”

White paper: The carbon impacts of video streaming

11 Jun 2021

A new white paper published by the Carbon Trust estimates an average carbon footprint of 55gCO2e per hour of video streaming in Europe in 2020, with viewing device as the largest determining factor. The white paper was developed in close consultation with DIMPACT.

Netflix's streaming emissions assessment featured in Wired

15 Mar 2021

Streaming platforms finally have a tool to evaluate the size of their carbon footprint.

Major streaming companies join pioneering initiative to monitor media industry’s digital carbon footprint

9 Feb 2021

Netflix, BT and Cambridge University Press are the latest to sign up to the operational DIMPACT tool.

Media giants team up on pioneering tool to tackle climate crisis

26 Feb 2020

Some of the world’s largest media companies have teamed up with computer scientists at the University of Bristol to tackle their carbon footprint.

Pioneering tool to manage media industry’s digital carbon footprint

21 Feb 2020

A collaboration between computer scientists at the University of Bristol and nine major media companies, including ITV and BBC, will help the media industry understand and manage the significant carbon impacts of digital content.

UK media rivals come together to measure industry's climate impact

21 Feb 2020

BBC, Sky and ITV collaborate on project to create calculator that could be used by any company offering digital products and services.