After a long day at work, there’s nothing like hitting the sofa and diving into your favourite TV show. But amongst all the juicy plot developments and drama, do we take the time to consider the environmental impact of our Netflix sessions?
Since many of us have been spending more time inside lately, our streaming habits have more than likely increased. And as we watch more and more TV, those unwanted environmental effects are bound to rise too.
That’s why we’ve done our own investigation by taking a closer look at which shows are taking their toll on the environment the most. From Breaking Bad to Rick and Morty, our research shows that sitting in front of these iconic series for too long might be doing more than just giving us square eyes.
Check out what we found out below…
What did we do?
In our research, we took a list of every show (and there are currently around 6,500+ titles across all genres) on Netflix and ranked them in order of their IMDB user ratings. This gave us a list of the world’s favourite shows to watch online.
We then took the top 200 and listed them in order of how long it would take to watch them from start to finish in hours and minutes. We also discovered that streaming one hour of television produces about 36g of CO2.
With this in mind, we were able to estimate how much CO2 the world is producing when they sit down to binge-watch their favourite TV shows on Netflix.
CO2 Emissions of the Top 10 Highest-Rated Netflix Shows
Despite coming in ninth place, far and away the show with the highest CO2 emissions was Friends. Running for 10 years, it racked up 121 hours of viewing, which equates to 4356g of CO2 – over 2,000 more than Netflix’s highest-rated show, Breaking Bad.
Taking the second-place spot was Our Planet, which is somewhat ironic for a show about the impacts that humans have on the environment. Still, it had a fairly low carbon emission count compared to other shows on the list, so we’re sure Attenborough will still be happy.
The 10 TV Shows with the Highest CO2 Emissions
Occupied by shows like Gilmore Girls, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family, a trend seems to appear from the top 10 shows in the table above. They’re all American, they all run for long periods of time, and with over 100 hours of running time to their name for the most part, they’re all highly binge-able. Basically, they’re the kinds of TV show you can sit back and make an evening of without even realising.
Elsewhere, only one show in the top 20 was animated: Voltron Legendary Defender. Interestingly, when taking the rest of the animated shows from the table into consideration, it seems that animated shows have less potential to produce as much CO2 compared to live-action.
Additionally, it seems that shows released after 2020 seem to be those that emit the most CO2.
CO2 Emissions of 2020’s Most-Streamed TV Shows
For this part of our research, we took a list of the most-streamed shows on Netflix in 2020, assuming that each person who streamed these shows had watched the series from start to finish.
We then multiplied the number of times each show had been watched by the number of hours and minutes it would take to watch it. This provided us with the total volume of hours and minutes spent streaming each show.
Then, we multiplied the number of hours and minutes by 36 to give us an overall value of CO2 emissions produced last year by streaming each show. Below, you can find the number of tonnes of CO2 produced by each show, along with what that amount is equivalent to in the grand scheme.
So, what did we find? In 2020, Netflix users spent around 3.2 hours a day (around 115g of CO2) watching Netflix. Taken together, that’s about 6 billion collective hours a month, which equates to 2,160,000 tonnes of CO2– the equivalent to 392,348 homes’ electricity use for one year.
Watching one season of Money Heist – which took the top spot – creates more CO2 than watching the Queen’s Gambit, the most-streamed TV show of 2020, in its entirety.
Despite being streamed fewer times than early lockdown favourite Tiger King and forced-celibacy game show Too Hot To Handle, The Umbrella Academy season 2 on its own emits more CO2 when watched from start to finish.
Top 10 TV Show Genres that Produce the Most CO2
- TV Dramas – 80,473
- US TV Shows – 64,510
- TV Comedies – 57,895
- Sitcoms – 38,013
- Crime – 37,106
- TV Action & Adventure – 17,512
- TV Sci-Fi – 15,925
- TV Fantasy – 14,875
- Animated – 14,046
- Teen TV – 10,244
American TV shows collectively produce the most CO2, due in part to the sheer number of them, along with their season length compared to British shows, which were dwarfed by their US counterparts.
Elsewhere, we found that:
- Dramas are the most CO2-producing genre overall, followed by comedies and sitcoms
- The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and Friends are the comedies/sitcoms that, in theory, could produce the most CO2 since they are the longest
- The Vampire Diaries is the longest show on Netflix as well as being the TV Drama with the potential to produce the most CO2
- Sons of Anarchy is the most environmentally damaging crime show
How can we reduce the environmental impact of watching TV?
If the results of our research have surprised you, then luckily, there are several things you can do to minimise the impact your viewing habits have on the world. Try doing the following, for example:
- Unfortunately, one of the best ways to limit the effects that streaming has on the environment is simply to ease off on streaming. Try to limit yourself to a set time of streaming each evening, and in lower definitions when possible. Standard definition is a far greener alternative
- Instead of using 4G when browsing for shows and streaming them, use Wi-Fi instead: it consumes much less energy than the mobile network does
- Avoid watching TV via ADSL. Many TV channels allow you to watch them via ADSL – which basically means accessing the content using the Internet through your laptop or tablet – which consumes a lot more energy
- Try turning your internet box off before going to bed. Leaving it switched on consumes energy when you aren’t even online
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