In brief: Those who remember when music came on CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records might think that in today’s digital age the industry isn’t as harmful to the environment. Surprisingly, they might be wrong. According to a new report, the move from physical media to downloads and streaming has seen an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
The report, called The Cost of Music, comes from a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo. It states that while the recording industry’s use of plastics has fallen from 61 million kilograms to around 8 million kilograms between the years 2000 and 2016, the amount of GHGs it produces has increased significantly.
During vinyl’s heyday of 1977, 58 million kilograms of plastic was used by the industry, translating to 140 million kilograms of GHGs. During the peak of CD sales in the year 2000, 157 million kilograms of GHGs was produced. In 2016, the amount of plastic used had decreased eight-fold, but downloads and streaming were producing between 200 and 350 million kilograms of GHGs.
Digital music services require a massive amount of power for storing all their content, and there’s also the electricity people use when downloading and streaming. Additonally, consuming digital music today is cheap, with most services charging around 1 percent of the weekly US salary, meaning consumers are using the likes of Spotify more than ever before.
The researchers aren’t trying to stop people from listening to digital music; they just want them to be aware of the hidden environmental costs behind their behavior. “We hope the findings might encourage change toward more sustainable consumption choices and services that remunerate music creators while mitigating environmental impact,” said Dr. Matt Brennan, a Reader in Popular Music at the University of Glasgow.