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Going green? Stop streaming 4K videos on your phone, warn experts

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
(Image credit: Srivatsa Ramesh)

Want to make a small contribution to the planet's climate health? Then consider dialing back the high-resolution streams, say experts from the UK's Royal Society.

A study from the world's oldest independent scientific academy has found that switching from a HD stream to a standard definition stream reduces emissions generated by as much as eight times, as server load, data costs and processor efforts are strained more by the high resolution output.

The authors rightly noted that, on a smaller screen, such dips in resolution may not be even noticed, but could lower emissions from a streaming service by 5% overall – the equivalent of a service like YouTube moving its servers to a renewable energy source.

Other green-friendly tech tactics

Streaming is just one way we can change our tech habits to help the planet, the report finds. Holding onto devices for longer can help reduce emissions; if someone buys a new smartphone every two years, its manufacturer represents half its lifetime emissions, but that contribution is halved if you double the amount of time you keep the phone for.

Likewise, trading devices rather than throwing them away helps with reducing emissions, while the report also states that cloud computing use can prove more efficient by reducing the amount of local hardware sitting idle.

“There are many routes to net zero [carbon emissions], but digital technology has a central role to play,” said lead author Professor Andy Hopper from Cambridge University.

“We must stay alert to digital demand outpacing the carbon emission reductions this transition promises.

For the full report, here's the Royal Society's 'Digital Technology and the Planet' research in PDF form.