A new report put together by Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University examines how environmentally friendly digital music distribution is in comparison to traditional methods. Turns out, carbon emissions and energy use can be cut by 40% to 80%, depending on a few factors, including packaging, shopping methods and delivery methods.
The report, entitled The Energy and Climate CHange Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods, looks at energy and CO2 emissions associated with how we get our music - either delivery of an album of music in the traditional way or via the Internet. While we can guess that just in materials and fuel for delivery of CDs to your house, online would be more efficient, the degree to which it is an improvement is surprising. Online purchases show a 40% and 80% savings.
The scenarios the researchers looked at are:
1) Album published on CD and delivered via traditional retail methods
2) Album published on CD and delivered by light-duty truck through an online e-tail provider
3) Album published on CD and delivered by express air through an online e-tail provider
4) Album downloaded as mp3/mp4 files from an online music service and used digitally
5) Album downloaded as mp3/mp4 files from an online music service and burned to CD-R for digital and CD use (no CD packaging)
6) Album downloaded as mp3/mp4 files from an online music service and burned to CD-R for digital and CD use, stored in individual CD packaging, i.e., slimline jewel cases
As Gizmag points out, there is one situation where online music is no more efficient than printed discs, and it's all in how you get to the store. This is interesting: Whether or not a consumer walks rather than drives to a store, when compared to the file-size of a downloaded album, could equate to the same CO2 output due to the energy it takes for your computer to connect to the Internet and download the file.
But the report is conclusive: "Based on our assumptions, online delivery is clearly superior from an energy and CO2 perspective when compared to traditional CD distribution."