Netflix’s good resolutions: greenwashing or sincere ambition?

At the edge of a new year, many people write down their good resolutions. As for companies, they usually make big announcements about the launch of a new strategy, new research and development, new project… Recently, corporations have increasingly made good resolutions to become more sustainable (or at least, appear to be).

A study led by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and the Oxford University exposed that among the 2,000 largest listed companies, one in five has committed to neutralizing its carbon footprint. However, only 20% of commitments actually meet the basic criteria of a credible zero-carbon plan, as defined by the UN’s “Race to Zero” campaign.

What about Netflix? 

In 2021, the streaming company disclosed their plan “Net Zero + Nature”. “Netflix will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2022, and every year thereafter.” declared Emma Stewart, the Netflix Sustainability Officer.

The plan is divided into 3 types of action. First, they aim at reducing their scope 3,2 and 1 emissions, focusing on direct emissions by the end of the coming year and reducing indirect emissions by 45% by 2030. Second, they wanted to support initiatives preserving existing carbon storage. For instance, they have planned to invest in the Lightning Creek Ranch project (protecting the largest bunchgrass meadow of Northern America) or the Kasigau Corridor REDD+, preserving forests in Kenya. Third, Netflix would invest in the regeneration of critical natural ecosystems (restoring grasslands, mangroves to depollute soils and capture carbon).

In September, the company published an update and explained their strategy “Optimize, Electrify, Decarbonize.” In other words, Netflix works on its energy efficiency, then tries to replace assets using fossil fuels by others running with electricity (such as cars). Finally, when they can’t electrify, they choose lower carbon options.

More specifically, they apply this strategy when shooting a new program (Bridgerton season 2 in the UK) and in the offices (implementing energy efficient plans in the buildings for example). They also invest in the decarbonization of aviation, since air travel accounts for roughly 15% of their carbon footprint.

However, some researchers assert that the concept of carbon neutrality isn’t really reliable. According to Jean-Marc Jancovici (president of the think tank The Shift Project), becoming “carbon neutral” is more complex than it seems. Most of the time, calculation wouldn’t be completely accurate because there is no way to know exactly what resources would have been consumed, how much carbon would have been emitted, how much biodiversity would have disappeared… If Netflix hadn’t changed its consumption or invested in sustainable projects. Also, the benefits from financed projects are likely to happen way after the financial compensation, thus we can’t measure them now.

To say it briefly, Netflix may help save what can be saved on the planet but there is no sure way to prove that they compensate for the amount of carbon they emit. Their first step (reducing their direct emissions) is thus the one which really has a measurable and effective impact.

Sources: Konbini, Netflix official website and declarations, Jean-Marc Jancovici

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