01 Aug The impacts of video on our environment
It’s not always straightforward to see the ways video and the environment are connected, but in reality there is considerable interplay between environmental issues and video, sometimes in very consequential ways. This blog examines some of the ways video interacts with our environment, both the positive and negative effects.
Video as an alternative to travel
Very simply put, video has had a positive influence on the environment due to the ease at which video content can be distributed over large distances, consequently limiting the need for more environmentally damaging alternatives. Through broadcast television and the internet, people can live experiences from their own homes that in years gone by would have required gas-guzzling travel. This is the most obvious and straightforward way in which video has impacted the environment. The same logic applies to meetings, gone are the days of business people having to fly to another country to talk to a foreign business associate or potential partner/client, the likes of Teams and Zoom have made this wholly unessential. Likewise, corporate video services have made employee training and communications much simpler and less environmentally damaging. What once often required training days at specific locations can often be done by live action and animated explainer videos for instance. The streaming and broadcasting of live events must also be seen as responsible for great reductions in greenhouse gasses from travel, wether it be a sporting event, a jubilee or a festival like Glastonbury, we can now get major parts of the live experience from our own homes.
This live streamed DJ set we helped create for Koven’s album ‘The Butterfly Effect’ reached over 500,000 people from their home, no travel required.
The importance of knowledge
Probably the most important way in which Film and Video have had a positive impact on the environment is through the mediums ability to both spread information and persuasively make arguments around environmental issues. A good example of this is the former US Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which released in 2006 and warned of the growing threat of global warming at a time when it wasn’t the subject of as much debate as it is today. The documentary film was credited for reenergising the environmental movement, and because of the persuasiveness and importance of its arguments it was put into the curriculum of many schools across the globe. It’s true that these same arguments could be put through radio, a book or simply said in person, but it’s the entertainment factor of the visual medium that entices people. To be clear, this was a movie in itself that people paid to go and see, picking up nearly 50 million at the box office; a film that was both entertaining and informative.
Animated explainer videos like this one we created for Unilode are a great low-carbon way to educate and inform over large distances, even acting as interactive video product demos when required.
Another example of where the entertainment factor of video has been used to great persuasive effect regarding environmental issues is the BBC’s Planet Earth. Planet Earth spends most of its runtime using the visual medium to the persuade the audience of the beauty of the natural world through quite entertaining videos of wildlife, because of this, when the show switches tone at the last showing the destruction caused by climate change and desperately calling for action the point is all the more effective – this is only possible thanks to the video format. Of course, films can be made which argue against environmental policies, and those films exist, but they are mostly relegated to fringes of the internet, there is no doubt that in this respect video overall has had a very positive impact on the environment. Moreover, the impact of this has to be seen as of the utmost importance, for long term change to be made winning over the hearts and minds of people is the ultimate tool for achieving policy change, film and video are great at doing that.
This infomercial we created for the Zero Carbon Campaign is an example of how video can be used to spread awareness of environmental issues.
Video’s negative impact…
But video isn’t a perfect environmental medium, there are necessary limitations to video and some areas which can be and are being improved. Without electricity, there is no video, and as we know, without green sources of said energy, anything running off of electricity will be contributing to carbon dioxide entering our environment. During the peak of the pandemic there were false reports and articles claiming things such as 30 minutes of Netflix streaming gave off as much pollution as driving a car for four miles, not only because of the electricity needed on the user end, but importantly the electricity needed by the many data centres which hold and feed the internet data to us users. These claims have however been thoroughly debunked, ‘CarbonBreif’s’ fact check states that many reports exaggerate the effect of streaming by up to 90 times the truth. In one entertaining example, Channel 4 dispatches had claimed that streams of the song Despacito consumed 900 gigawatt hours of electricity per viewing hour, however, when extrapolated over a year this would equal 600 terror watt hours, the equivalent of 2.5% of global electricity use; clearly streams of Despacito did not equal a twentieth of global electricity usage. Streaming does use electricity, but at a fraction of what has been reported, it’s insignificant in comparison to the environmental costs of driving a car. In fact, the energy efficiency of data centres is improving rapidly, as much as doubling every couple of years, so not only does video streaming have a relatively small carbon footprint, but it’s one that’s diminishing over time.
Another way in which video, but specifically film and TV has an environmental cost is through the the specific by-products of the video production process, especially in big budget productions. Hollywood blockbusters are extravagant by their very nature, that extravagance is shown on our screens, it’s no surprise then that the means to make these films are so as well. Film crews come to some of the world’s most beautiful and remote locations for filming at times, disrupting local populations of people and animals. There’ve been some notable examples in recent years of film crews damaging the environment around their filming locations. The video production of Pirates of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017) was accused of dumping chemical waste around one of their filming locations in Australia and similarly the production of Mad Max Fury Road (2015) was said to have damaged sensitive areas of the Namibia desert leaving tire tracks, damaging plant life and potentially harming the small reptiles that live there. Luckily, these instances are rare, but that it happens at all is unacceptable from studios with massive budgets who can do better and who have a duty of care to the areas they film in.
So, despite what many first assume, film actually has quite a complicated relationship with the environment. While video does have a carbon footprint, it’s a relatively small one, and as video mitigates the pollution that comes from travelling, video might have had an overall positive effect on the environment, but that is speculative. What isn’t speculation is the effect that video has had in convincing he masses on the importance of environmental issues, winning over the hearts and minds is the best way to ensure that our environmental issues are dealt with long-term, this will surely be the greatest environmental legacy of video.