Is YouTube eco-friendly?

Is YouTube eco-friendly?

Video streaming emits 300 Mt of CO2 per year, or 1% of global carbon emissions. That's half the impact of civilian air traffic, but the proportion is growing. YouTube alone is responsible for about 20% of these emissions.

Does YouTube respect eco-design rules?

Without judging the merits of the various uses of video, whether useful or futile, or the strengths and weaknesses of YouTube, it is appropriate to ask whether everything is done in terms of eco-design so that the impact of the service is minimal. The Temesis agency has studied the subject in depth and here are its main conclusions.

Do you have any idea what’s going on?

  • When you embed a YouTube video on your website?
  • When you arrive at the YouTube online application and start looking for a video to launch?
  • When you watch an entire video, or half of it, before launching another and another?

YouTube video integration

A YouTube integration into a web page (i.e. pasting the embeddable code of a video into one’s site) calls for 9 different domains. That’s:

  • At least 20 requests.
  • 2.9 MB decoded.
  • 880 Kb transferred.

We refer you to the Temesis article for detailed explanations.

Even before the first second of the video has been loaded, almost 3 MB of data is received and almost 1 MB is sent. In what is pre-loaded, there is a high-resolution cover image and… the profile image of the user who posted the video!

Note that these data transfers occur as many times as there are YouTube videos embedded in a page: nothing is shared. In the same way, at each visit on the page, everything is requested again, nothing is kept locally (« cached »).

To be compliant with the GDPR, if the deposit of third-party cookies is blocked (pending consent or in the absence of consent), most of the player’s resources are nevertheless loaded.

Once playback starts, the video loads in small chunks without being cached locally. Many transactions take place during playback, of which about a third of the data transferred is not directly related to the video.

The article suggests a method of compressing cover frames that would save YouTube between one-third and one-half of the amount of data transmitted, but it is not implemented.

Playing a video on YouTube

We have already talked about the integration of videos in a website. Let’s move on to playing a video on the YouTube site. It’s on average:

  • 77 requests,
  • 3.11 MB transferred,
  • 15.3 MB decoded.

The two black spots when it comes to eco-design and video integration best practices are auto-start and addictive design. These are characteristic of social networks, from YouTube to LinkedIn, to Instagram or Tiktok.

What is less common and practiced by YouTube on its pages is the automatic playback of videos when hovering over the thumbnails. Whether you hover over them from one end of the screen to the other or drag your mouse over a thumbnail, the videos are started without even being cached. In other words, they are reloaded with each new hover.

The streams transmitted by YouTube

Audio and video are transmitted separately, from two different sources. The audio is in WebM format and the video in MP4 format. This would allow in theory to broadcast only the audio when the video is not watched, which is a very frequent case as we mentioned in this article.

A study from the University of Bristol showed that music videos represent 27% of what is viewed on YouTube, but between 10 and 50% are simply listened to without being watched. If audio was streamed alone, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be between 100 and 600 KT of CO2 equivalent per year, or 0.5 to 3.5 days of French car traffic!

Listening to the audio stream alone is only offered to YouTube Music Premium subscribers. A simple measure of digital sobriety is therefore conditional on a paid subscription.

YouTube is not green, so what?

In short, YouTube does not practice responsible streaming. It is a counter-example of eco-design and its model goes against digital sobriety. When a service is free, its users can spend without counting the cost: obsolete videos are kept for life and quantity is preferred to quality (because quality has a cost…).

The price of this free service is more and more datacenters built, 60 MT of eqCO2 emitted each year and a change of habits that will not happen, despite the warnings of the IPCC. When visitors are asked to consent to the use of their personal data by YouTube, they are implicitly asked to consent to global warming.

When you are an individual or an influencer looking to create a buzz, YouTube’s power as a social network and search engine makes it indispensable. But when you are a company, an administration or an association, you always have the choice of your environmental impact.

Illustration : image generated by thanks to Midjourney

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