Want to Save the Planet? Stop Buying CDs, Start Downloading Music

cdIt seems intuitive enough that downloading music would be less carbon-intensive than buying a CD that has been transported in a truck and wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. Now a study (PDF) funded by Intel and Microsoft and performed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University has confirmed it: Purchasing digital music cuts carbon emissions by 40% to 80% compared to buying CDs.

The study compares CDs shipped from online outlets like Amazon, CDs purchased at a store, albums downloaded and used solely on computers and MP3 players, and albums downloaded and burned to CDs, both with and without jewel cases. Even when consumers download an album, burn it onto a CD, and add a jewel case, carbon emissions are 40% less than with traditionally-purchased CDs.

Does this mean that illegal downloads are good for the world? Not exactly. The study only looked at purchase-for-download systems like the iTunes stores, but streaming music (like on Pandora or Last.fm) could have a significantly bigger carbon footprint. And file-sharing services like Bittorrent are also still up for debate. The researchers also neglected to look at the carbon impacts of CD players versus MP3 players. As anyone who still has their boombox from the '80s knows, CD players tend to last longer than MP3 players.

In the end, the study makes it clear that record labels really have to move beyond the CD model--if not for monetary reasons, then for planetary ones.

[Via Green Inc.]

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5 Comments

  • Michael Brown

    Whatever...

    You really want to "save the planet"? Kill N.A.S.A. Run the numbers on how big a carbon footprint is left behind for every single shuttle launch - not to mention the resources necessary for even one single mission. Then take its nearly $18 BILLION annual budget http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnew... and help those in need right here on earth rather than funding a non-necessity.

  • Paul Noble-Campbell

    Great article!

    I particularly enjoyed the life-cycle analysis.

    The other aspect to consider here is that so many people now are buying CD’s, ripping them,and then the CD’s stay in a shelf mostly unused.

    The experience of owning and collecting an album of music has been steadily dimished since its heyday of the record LP. I believe this is also a factor behind the attitude toward the “disposibles” associated with physical music distribution and the plethora of waste associated with it - the paper sleeves, packaging and jewel cases. These items are seen as junk - not something to be kept and treasured.

    In 2006, myself and a group of other designers at M3 Design challenged ourselves to come up with a new concept for listening to and collecting music that would restore the experience to a richer, more inter-active one.

    http://twitter.com/pauljnc/sta...

    It seems that Apple has also been looking at how to make the experience of collecting music a richer one also, if the rumor mills building around the expected up-coming tablet are anything to go by.

  • Jamie Neuberger

    This is great news for the future of digital music. Hopefully now record labels and brands will start utilizing digital music more in their marketing and promotional giveaways since going green has become so important in society recently. I've heard about a company called VerveLife who creates digital music promotions for brands and often highlights their eco-friendly aspects. It's worth checking them out if you're interested in green marketing as related to music. www.vervelife.com

  • Jamie Neuberger

    This is great news for the future of digital music. Hopefully now record labels and brands will start utilizing digital music more in their marketing and promotional giveaways since going green has become so important in society recently. I've heard about a company called VerveLife who creates digital music promotions for brands and often highlights their eco-friendly aspects. It's worth checking them out if you're interested in green marketing as related to music. www.vervelife.com

  • Jamie Neuberger

    This is great news for the future of digital music. Hopefully now record labels and brands will start utilizing digital music more in their marketing and promotional giveaways since going green has become so important in society recently. I've heard about a company called VerveLife who creates digital music promotions for brands and often highlights their eco-friendly aspects. It's worth checking them out if you're interested in green marketing as related to music. www.vervelife.com