How streaming music could be harming the planet (BBC)

From the BBC comes this interesting article. Link here.

For those who don’t wish to read, here’s the short answer: “Once vinyl or a CD is purchased, it can be played over and over again, the only carbon cost coming from running the player. However, if we listen to our streamed music using a hi-fi sound system it’s estimated to use 107 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, costing about £15.00 to run. A CD player uses 34.7 kilowatt hours a year and costs £5 to run.”

So, friends, think about that as you stream your files! Of course, one needs to factor in the energy and potential environmental effects of vinyl and CD production in the final analysis.

Of course reading the Guardian newspaper is also harming the planet - particularly in the newsprint version.

However, I know which environmental cost I am prepared to incur!


So what happens if you listen to your CD or Vinyl through your HiFi Sound system instead of your ‘record player’ or ‘CD player’

It is a shame that they don’t add the requirements for journalism to include a brain and the ability to use it.

You’d probably connect the CD player to the same “hi-fi sound system” so this is pure BS from BBC (not The Guardian). I wonder which (or whose) agenda BBC (not The Guardian) pushes by printing this?

@ogs When I lived and worked in Europe, the Guardian was one of the few newspapers that focused on sustainability. My guess is that this article is an outgrowth of this focus.

I agree that the calculations are somewhat dubious but they have some point.
To play a vinyl record in my house I need 2 power outlets. That’s it!
To play a song from Qobuz, I need 6 (in my house) + many datacenters around the world humming at full power to get me my bits.
There is definitely a difference here.

Just the new Puritanism in a different guise - even making such a calculation implies some moral judgement as to the relative worthiness of undertaking one activity compared to another. Undoubtedly, in the minds of the Guardian, reading the Guardian is worthier than listening to music otherwise they would tell you the supposed environmental cost of newspaper publishing.


Sure. At one time in the past it was important for journalists to tell complete stories. Now there is an ‘invisible’ editorial policy that prevents this. I stopped reading newspapers on a regular basis some years ago. :smile:

Sustainability – of what? B.S.?

Um - that link is to a BBC site, not the Guardian? And they got it from The Conversation; also not a Guardian site, AFAIK.

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Does this include the costs of manufacturing CDs or vinyl? The gasoline consumed to distribute the physical media?

Not being defensive, but just asking whether quality journalism doesn’t require looking at the whole picture.


Not to mention the number of CDs I bought that didn’t make more than one spin…


@Geoff_Coupe You’re correct; my bad.

I am sure all the chemicals used to make the cd and records and the packaging are pretty damaging to the environment.

Also streaming on a phone does not use that much energy and is pretty much how the masses consume it.

Interesting! But I suspect the lifecycle analalysis is somewhat lacking and has a lot of guesstimates. LCA is a very complex issue.

But what is great about these topics is the information spread. Most people do not realise the massive amount of energy that for example Google searches takes. Since it’s not “local” energy or “local” pollution it’s much more abstract.

For the streaming services to send the file to you the energy could very well be less if you acquire a CD for music you play 30+ times.

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The majority of the energy is consumed well before the music arrives at the device.

In the long run streaming is definitely more sustainable. Much so because energy is becoming increasingly sustainable.

A better and more thought out analysis would have considered the fact that both local steaming and streaming services are using computers and networks that are already running but when playing an LP or CD one is using additional energy. On the other hand, when streaming one is just causing a very small increase in the overall energy use.

Plus the article completely ignored the energy use by the person listening to LPs or CDs versus the energy used by a person listening to streamed music:

Energy used to play a CD (similar for LP):

Get up from chair and walk over to CD rack, take CD from, walk with CD over to CD player, open CD case and take out CD, put CD in player, press “play”, walk back over to chair and sit down, listen to music, get up from chair, walk over to CD player, press “eject”, put CD back in case, walk over to CD rack and put back CD. - Wow, I for one am now totally exhausted!

Energy use to listen to streamed music:

Type in the name of music to be played, click on title, listen. Done!

The article isn’t suggesting A is worse than B. It’s saying that A and B both impact the environment. When something is intangible it’s easy to forget this.

However, I do think the article is flawed. Yes, servers and networks consume energy. But each component of a streaming service is simultaneously supporting many subscribers. Buying physical media is costly on the environment with manufacture, distribution networks and ultimately lots of white vans delivering our Amazon Prime orders direct to our door.

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That is not necessarily true. And will be even less true as cloud services such as Amazon’s AWS evolve even more. The streaming services and services delivering the data to your device adapts more and more to demand.

So when data is in demand, for example in office hours, more servers and cores etc are running both at the streaming service but also all the way to the end destination. It’s not an insignificant amount of energy spent.