Book or reader? CD or stream? Ademe assesses the impact of digitized culture

Given our impact on the environment, should we prefer an e-reader or a good old book? A DVD or movie streamed? To help us make the right choices, Ademe published on Thursday 17 November a first large-scale study (1) on four “cultural services” among the most common – reading a book, listening to music, watching a film and playing a video game – and comparing the “physical” and “digital” versions.

The study considered all phases of the service life cycle – production, use, end of life – and evaluated their impact on various environmental criteria (GHG emissions, resource mobilization, air pollution, etc. ). Ultimately, the study does not provide a black-and-white conclusion. “This study does not allow for a general conclusion that digital cultural services are better than their physical alternatives, underlines the Ademe. The environmental impact of a digital or physical cultural service depends in part on the intensity of use that will be made of it. »

In order to choose the least harmful behavior for the environment, the consumer-amateur must therefore consider the use he intends to make of the coveted cultural asset. Listening to music on a CD has a greater environmental impact (over its entire life cycle) than digital formats, but this will decrease as you listen. This also applies to DVDs, even though these are globally less reused than CDs. However, the study is adamant that“purchasing a CD or DVD for a single viewing is not environmentally relevant”.

Readers reserved for very avid readers

The Ademe studio will delight book lovers. Among the cultural practices studied, reading a book – here a 300-page paper novel – has the least environmental impact on all the indicators taken into consideration (resources, CO2 emissions, etc.). If we compare the reader to reading a new paper book (disposable), the carbon footprint of the reader is, according to Ademe, amortized after 50 books read. In the case of reused or second-hand books, the impact is amortized after 100 books read. On the other hand, the reader’s impact on the resources needed to manufacture it is only amortized by 210 books read.

For music, the study proves it “Listening to streaming music can be superior to listening to a CD when using equipment such as speakers or hi-fi equipment”. He also recommends watching streaming videos on “small screens (who) are the least impactful, and reduce the resolution.

Slow down equipment renewals

Overall, the agency warns that digitization has resulted in an explosion in the consumption of cultural services, “previously controlled by physical media”. He points out that streaming video will soon account for 80% of global web traffic. With the risk of a headlong rush, in terms of intensity of use and permanent renewal of equipment. When watching a film or a video game, the equipment (TV, TV box and video game console), respectively account for more than 60% and 80% of the environmental impacts. Not surprisingly, Ademe recommends it “limit the number of equipment purchased for a service and extend its duration as much as possible”.

Finally, in terms of best practices, Ademe recommends downloading music and visual content during off-peak hours, turning off the video when you simply want to listen to music, downloading music titles rather than streaming them with each listen, to adapt the resolution of the video aimed at the equipment to limit its weight, to favor the use of wi-fi over mobile networks whose infrastructures consume more electricity.

The fact remains that true good attitude is to consume culture responsibly, avoiding excessive consumption and waste: carefully choose your books, CDs, DVDs and the equipment (players, speakers, hi-fi system, etc.) to use them several times, before giving them away or reselling them to increase their life cycle.

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