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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • energy;
  • information and communications technology (ICT);
  • industrial ecology;
  • life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • technology and environment

Summary

The impacts of information and communications technology (ICT) on the environment have been a rich area for research in recent years. A prime example is the continuing rise of digital music delivery, which has obvious potential for reducing the energy and environmental impacts of producing and delivering music to final consumers. This study assesses the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with several alternative methods for delivering one album of music to a final customer, either through traditional retail or e-commerce sales of compact discs or through a digital download service. We analyze a set of six (three compact disc and three digital download) scenarios for the delivery of one music album from the recording stage to the consumer's home in either CD or digital form. We find that despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40% and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery, depending on whether a customer then burns the files to CD. Despite the dominance of the digital music delivery method, however, there are scenarios by which digital music performs less well, and these scenarios are explored. We suggest future areas of research, including alternative digital media services, such as subscription and streaming systems, for which Internet energy usage may be larger than for direct downloads.