A 25-company group of broadcasters, streamers and digital publishers make up the Responsible Media Forum, which has created a spin-off project designed to calculate the carbon emissions of the downstream value chain. George Jarrett speaks to a key stakeholder to report on progress.
The fast-maturing carbon emissions project dubbed ‘DIMPACT’ was launched in 2019 and boasts a growing list of signatories, including Netflix, Sky, BBC, ITV and BT. It is a topic that William Pickett has first-hand knowledge of, with a main role as sustainability brief with management consultancy group the Carnstone Partnership, but he is also heavily involved in the Responsible Media Forum.
The subject that came up first with Pickett was the (DPP identified) caveat of many companies wanting to justify sustainability policy directly through cost savings.
“There are definitely ‘win-wins’ when it comes to sustainability. For example, energy efficiency measures can reduce emissions and save costs. However, there will be some areas where the financial benefits are not clearly tangible,” he said. “I have seen leading companies continuing to deliver despite this; they likely see this as the right thing to do.”
“There is also a wider set of metrics other than costs to evaluate decisions regarding sustainability programmes: building trust and engagement with colleagues and stakeholders, differentiation from competitors, and readiness for future requirements or requests,” said Pickett.
“The ICT sector - in which Sky is partly included in for its ISP component – is one of the leading procurers of renewable energy, according to the IEA. The challenge will be to deliver absolute reductions as the use of the ICT sector continues to grow as digitalisation continues to scale up,” he added.
“We see many ICT companies managing to deliver more data/traffic without the runaway energy consumption increases some people suggested. Media companies tend to use the ICT sector for content delivery, though some may operate their own CDNs or data centres.”
Picket sees an opportunity for collaboration between the media and ICT sectors, and in particular eyes many companies making leading commitments in terms of emissions reductions.
“I also think the media sector has a unique role to play in effectively engaging its audiences on climate change and environmental issues. We see a lot of great work here such as the Climate Content Pledge, and the Responsible Media Forum’s Climate Pledge,” he said.
DIMPACT’s first desire was to measure the emissions and energy consumption of their various streaming/publishing businesses, and to put up credible numbers via an online tool that assesses hot spots. This was created by The University of Bristol computer science department, and the BBC R&D sustainability team.
The new methodology has unleashed specific data already, as well as laying the groundwork for the future: “See the Carbon Trust White Paper that was released. That uses the DIMPACT methodology, which shows that, on average in 2021 that the emissions from one hour of streaming came up as 55g CO2e. As more companies use DIMPACT and report their results, we hope to see similar figures for publishing,” said Pickett.
“In terms of what can be done, we see engagement across the value chain as a key area of focus for us going forward,” he added. “We are currently exploring ‘extensions’ to our online tool, but at the moment we support DIMPACT participants to use the tool based on the data available, and their specific use case. For the future we are exploring how to provide country specific outputs for those with a global audience.”
Although DIMPACT is a subscription-based option, collaboration and wider adoption are very much part of the value proposal, according to Pickett.
“It offers access to the tool as well as a series of working groups looking at specific areas, such as how to use DIMPACT for different reporting purposes. For example, whether the results are to be added to Scope 3 footprints. It could also be companies looking to publish a product footprint for their digital services,” said Pickett.
“There is also a group looking at how to better understand the emissions from end user devices, and engaging the manufacturers of those devices. We want to understand their focus areas in terms of reducing the energy consumption of consumer devices, and whether they can provide more granular data for DIMPACT assessments,” he added. “We are always open to collaboration with other industry groups, and we have had preliminary conversations with several of them to explore how we might work together.
The latest evidence
In an earlier conversation Picket had said DIMPACT was looking at about 10-15% of network responsibility in terms of hot spots. Could his group create an app to sit in consumer sets so data comes from both sides of delivery?
“The thing with networks is that the latest evidence is that the energy consumption of networking equipment does not necessarily change with data volumes. Here people should see Jens Malmodin’s work. Testing devices in situ could help to confirm this, and we are keen to work with anyone exploring this area,” said Pickett.
“In terms of monitoring end user devices there is that promising work with the device manufacturers here. They have set up a group to standardise how consumer device power is measured, and improved in terms of efficiency,” he added.
Sharing the learnings
The first big focus seems to be reducing energy consumption. Zixi for example gets 5X the throughput on compute with its moving video since it moved HQ. This saves energy and compute costs. How does Pickett assess this?
“I see it as a huge positive, and a great example of how companies are evolving to make their activities more efficient. We hope that these companies are sharing their learnings with others (like customers) to increase the scale of impact of their innovations,” said Pickett.
What has he made of the values offered by AI? Most media companies are already quite experienced in using it around data gathering.
“With data gathering we have initially started with the tool being very ‘hands-on’ in terms of data gathering, which helps with transparency and allows the companies to understand what goes into the calculations,” said Picket. “In 2023 we hope to start to automate/operationalise the data gathering a little more.”
Look into the future
Sustainability should be part of all decision making, but how does he break down sustainability into its many parts?
“DIMPACT currently focusses on energy consumption, and associated carbon emissions. The other challenge is developing models that can inform decision making. These need to be able to look into the future,” said Pickett. “It is a very different question than allocating responsibility for historical usage of shared systems like networks – which the DIMPACT tool currently does,” said Pickett.
This helps for companies reporting, which is generally retrospective.
“This is covered quite extensively in our latest paper. Better data is needed to inform these models and understand how the whole system behaves in the real world under different scenarios,” said Pickett.
“Many of the DIMPACT participants also use BAFTA Albert for measuring the emissions of their productions,” he added. “The idea is that DIMPACT picks up where Albert leaves off, once the content is created. The reason they are treated separately is that they deal with different functional units – as per GHG Protocol terminology.
“For streaming the question is what is the emissions from our streaming platform that serves all the content in our catalogue, and, what are the emissions per hour? In terms of the GHG Protocol, it really depends on the standard you are looking at.”