Media Delivery - Physical versus Broadband

Here is a summary of studies on the e-delivery of software, movies, music, and books, compared with physical delivery, based on three studies from 2009.

Software/Movies

A study of Microsoft Office distribution comparing DVD delivery to e-delivery concluded that e-delivery can reduce CO2e up to 88%. (More about DVDs.)

Google reports, "…the servers needed to play one minute of YouTube consume about 0.0002 kWh of energy…You’d have to watch YouTube for three straight days for our servers to consume the amount of energy required to manufacture, package and ship a single DVD." Google assumes in this calculation that the manufacturing, packaging, and delivery of a DVD emits 3 kg CO2. Our previous analysis indicates that most of a DVD's carbon footprint is its delivery to the end user.

Music

The Energy and Climate Change Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods examines six use cases. "We find that despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40 and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery…"

Books

The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle is based on a use case of an e-reader displacing 22.5 purchased books a year, about one every two weeks. The study finds that the negative impact of the e-reader is about the same as one year's positive impact of the e-books. "That indicates that an e-reader device would have no net environmental impact in its first year of ownership for the typical user, but every year of subsequent use would compound its benefits. The same holds true when looking at the total number of e-reader devices sold across the globe. We estimate that the emissions prevented by e-reader devices in 2012 will be more than double the amount of emissions created in the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the devices." The paper notes that the savings from additional e-delivery of magazines and newspapers make the comparison even better.

The use of tablets like Apple's iPad as e-readers likely improves the e-book equation, as the device's footprint is spread over multiple uses, including e-delivery of music and movies.