Streaming Sustainability and Imaginary Bridges in the Cloud

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From the far side of the Atlantic, neocon Liz Truss’s fleeting tenure as British prime minister last Autumn had a certain “don’t doomscroll too fast or you’ll miss it” quality. But I was gob­smacked when Truss identified left-leaning historian Rick Perlstein—master chronicler of the rise of America’s New Right from 1960–1980—as a favourite author by whom she’d “read anything.”

Apparently, Truss is particularly enamoured of the epigraph of Perlstein’s third book, Invisible Bridge—a bit of advice Richard Nixon once received from Nikita Khrushchev: “If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.”

Perlstein argues that recognising New Right icon Ronald Reagan’s talent for making voters see imaginary bridges is essential to understanding how the former president sold supply-side fantasies (recently rebranded “Trussonomics” in the UK) to the American people. Leaving no one more baffled than Perlstein himself, Truss apparently took the quote as a model for winning governance and perhaps imagined she was honouring the historian by crediting him with the idea.

This is roughly equivalent to Amazon Web Services (AWS) crediting Dom Robinson and Tim Sig­lin—who have consistently called out green­wash­ing in the streaming industry in their Green­ing of Streaming articles—as inspiration for the company’s deceptive sustainability initiatives. Amazon (like fellow tech giants Apple and Google) was greenwashing well before Streaming Media or Greening of Streaming started talking about it, and it’s long profited from fashioning imaginary bridges to a sustainable, carbon-neutral future.

AWS continues to trumpet unverifiable claims of its reliance on carbon-footprint-minimising “green” electricity, allowing the company to under­estimate its environmental impact by 90%–95%, and mask projected 20% YOY increases in indirect, supply-chain emissions. But help may be on the way in the US, as new climate risk disclosures mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for publicly traded companies should dramatically increase accountability, particularly for Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, which pertain specifically to an organisation’s supply chain. As Kibo121 principal and CEO Barbara Lange said on a sustainability panel at Streaming Media West last November, “That’s going to push that sustainability discussion down the chain, because every company is a Scope 3 component to somebody else.”

Meanwhile, Draft European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS E1) recently became available as well, with detailed disclosure requirements and assessment criteria for sustainability-related performance, climate-related material impacts, energy consumption and mix, climate-specific targets that companies have adopted, and more. As with the SEC mandate, the ESRS document includes disclosure requirements for Scopes 1, 2, and 3 and total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These reporting standards apply to any organisation in the EU engaged in international trade.

Given that very few organisations currently meet the standards outlined in the document, with most falling considerably short, opinions vary on how effectively the EU will succeed in enforcing these standards and whether imposing them too rapidly will only drive non-compliant companies and accomplished greenwashers to greater lengths to avoid or feign compliance. Regarding the streaming industry in particular, Greening of Streaming founder Dom Robinson contends than any concerted efforts “to rush the industry into reporting is causing a lot of nonsense data to emerge” and thus increasing “the risk of (consciously or not) greenwashing entire swaths of significant power demand.”

Only time will tell how successful these measures will be in the near-term (or how much of the long-term their failure might costs us). There are certainly ethical and efficient ways to approach sustainability, even for companies beyond the reach of the SEC and ESRS, and some of them are outlined in Tim Siglin’s upcoming article on sustainability best practices (watch this page). Beyond following Tim’s recommendations in that piece, here’s the best advice I can give you: don’t just read anything by Tim Siglin and Dom Robinson on the subject—read everything.

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