Netflix ramped up production last year as pandemic restrictions eased. But it still managed to make strides toward its net-zero goals, according to its new sustainability report.
It’s been a year since Netflix, the popular film and television streaming platform, launched Net Zero + Nature, its first public climate commitment. Now, in its 2021 Environmental, Social, and Governance Report, it details the hits and misses on its journey to becoming climate-positive.
In a post accompanying the report, Emma Stewart, Ph.D., Netflix’s sustainability officer, said the company is on track to meet its science-based climate targets. Stewart cited a reduction of 14,000 metric tons of emissions last year, reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by more than ten percent.
“This means we’re on track to cut 45 percent of our Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030,” Stewart said. “Working with our utilities, landlords, and streaming partners to switch to renewable electricity; swapping in batteries, renewable diesel, and electric vehicles on our productions; and buying sustainable aviation fuel all helped contribute to this reduction. The 2030 carbon reduction roadmap in our report charts how we plan to deliver our climate goals in more detail.”
Despite the drops there, the platform’s overall carbon footprint increased significantly—by 46 percent—increasing from 1.05 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) in 2020 to 1.54 million MTCO2e in 2021. That increase includes Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Netflix says the rise was expected due to increased production as a result of filming resuming post-pandemic.
But it says it’s taking steps there, reducing a combined 27,380 gallons of fuel from 2021 productions by adding more EVs on set and replacing some diesel generators with mobile electric batteries, which it says it did on Virgin River Season 4. It added green hydrogen power units to some productions including Bridgerton Season 2, with more to come this year, it says.
A 2021 study from the Carbon Trust found that streaming an hour-long program is the environmental equivalent of boiling a tea kettle for six minutes or popping four bags of popcorn in the microwave. That’s about 55 grams of CO2; half of those emissions come from the device the content is streamed on—older computers, smartphones, and televisions created the most emissions. The rest came from routers and distribution networks and the digital hubs where Internet data are processed and stored.
“There was a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the carbon impact of video streaming,” said Andie Stephens, lead author of the white paper and associate director at the Carbon Trust. “We therefore wanted to put this into perspective, and help to increase the knowledge and understanding of the impact of video streaming.”
In its ESG Report, Netflix said it designed its 2030 decarbonization roadmap “as part of our low carbon transition planning process.” This move includes milestones for internal decarbonization in order to meet its 2030 emissions targets.
Netflix says it set and implemented science-based targets for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, aiming for 46.2 percent absolute emissions reductions from 2019 levels.
Last year, it announced that for emissions it “can’t avoid,” namely its Scope 3 emissions, it said it would fully neutralize them by investing in projects that prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere. It named the conservation of at-risk natural areas such as tropical forests as part of that plan.
By the end of this year, Netflix says it will “incorporate investment in the regeneration of critical natural ecosystems” as part of its plan to achieve net zero before the end of the year. These projects include restoring grasslands, mangroves, and healthy soils, capture and store carbon, among others.
The new report also pointed to its products, specifically its first Sustainability Collection of titles, which was in partnership with the COP26 Presidency, and the Oscar-nominated film Don’t Look Up. Directed by Adam McKay and starring a roster of A-listers including Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Jonah Hill, and Jennifer Lawrence, the feature film takes a satirical approach to climate change in the form of a comet headed to earth.
“The breakout success of Don’t Look Up, our second most-watched film of all time, confirmed our analysis from last year’s report: that hundreds of millions of households choose to watch sustainability-focused stories,” Stewart said.
“[W]e still have a lot of work to do within Netflix and across our industry before we reduce absolute emissions,” she said. “It’s why finding new ways to meet our reduction goals is so important.”