My Netflix Love Affair and My Carbon Footprint

By Liz Schmitt 8-21-2013

I love Netflix. I love that from the comfort of my couch, I can watch almost an endless selection of movies and TV shows. I’m re-watching all of The West Wing right now, along with most of Washington and probably much of the country. My friend Kat told me recently that she and her fiancé are watching it for the fifth time on Netflix, despite it sitting in a deluxe DVD set above their TV. Why get up to switch DVDs when your streaming player automatically starts the next episode for you?

So I wasn’t too happy when I read that my Netflix habit is seriously energy intensive. In a new article on, I learned that watching Netflix streaming for an hour a week uses more energy each year than two new refrigerators. In my household we definitely watch a lot more than an hour a week.

The reason Netflix seems to be not-so-good for the environment, although it saves me buying many material DVDs, is the fossil fuels eaten up by the “cloud” – a deceiving name for the huge data storage centers across the country. The fact that more people are aware of this, and that there are some companies out there pushing for their more efficient formats, is a good thing. But what do I do in the meantime? If my binge watching The West Wing is directly contributing to climate change, what do I do?

I can watch less Netflix. And I can channel that time into something more positive.

My roommate is out of town this week, so this is an easy time for me to take a break from nightly Netflix watching. My goal is to spend my time more fruitfully, so that it doesn’t feel like sacrifice, but like a more positive experience.

Last night, when I would have turned on Netflix, instead I flipped through cable. Not exactly carbon neutral or a groundbreaking change in behavior, I realize – but I ended up watching the PBS three-part series on the life of Mohammed, which was far more enlightening than even a great West Wing episode like “Two Cathedrals.” Tonight, I’m going to meet with a friend from church to talk about events coming up in the fall. Tomorrow night, I might spend some time in silence, praying, or reading.

I’m already feeling better about this week’s lifestyle change – sure, my American lifestyle still requires a lot of energy. I still go to the gym, I still brought some clothes to the dry cleaner this morning, and I still need a computer to do my work at Sojourners. But many of the lifestyle choices I’ve made have felt less like sacrifices and have actually made my life better. By not owning a car, I got to know my city better by Metro, bus, bicycle, and foot. By growing some of my own food in a community garden, I’ve learned new recipes for beets, Swiss chard, and more. And by taking a break from my Netflix habit, I’m freeing up hours to learn, to connect with friends, and to pray. I might go back to West Wing next week, but I encourage you to take a week off too, lessening your carbon footprint, to see what happens with your newfound free time.

Liz Schmitt is Creation Care Campaign Associate for Sojourners.

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