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Design – The hidden cost of digital services

The University of Bristol is calling on technology and media companies to rethink the design of digital services, following research highlighting the impact that Sustainable Interaction Design (SID) can have on carbon emissions (Evaluating Sustainable Interaction Design of Digital Services: The Case of YouTube).

Chris Preist, Professor of Sustainability and Computer Systems at Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, said: “Digital services require significant energy to deliver globally – not only in data centres, but also in networks, mobile networks and end devices – and overall can have a big carbon footprint.” Human-computer interaction researchers calculated that in 2016 the energy used to stream 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day had a carbon footprint of 10Mt CO2e (million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent), the same as a city the size of Glasgow.

They worked out that redesigning services to avoid sending images to users who only use YouTube to listen to audio could reduce carbon emissions by between 100 and 500Kt CO2e annually, equivalent to the annual footprint of 30,000 UK homes.