The Environmental Impact of Online Learning

Streaming services such as Zoom and Netflix have become a pervasive part of our lives, especially in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic as many classes have shifted to an online format. But Yani Kong, doctoral candidate at the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University (SFU), is investigating a surprising downside: the considerable environmental impact of our ever-growing streaming culture. Her project is a part of SFU’s Living Lab, an initiative that supports research focused on sustainability, and will be showcased during the Burnaby Festival of Learning.

Yani is multi-talented — she is a business owner, a mother, a fashion buff, a recreational wine expert, as well as a Living Lab Scholar. Similar to many of us who have had to abruptly transition our work and studies online due to COVID-19, she experienced her own difficulties working with technology. As she was teaching a Zoom lecture one day, her computer began to malfunction. She realized that the “energy output from [her] own technology was shutting [her] own computer down.” This realization inspired her doctoral project, “Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media in Online Teaching and Learning,” which sheds light on the fact that streaming culture, unlike common thought, generates considerable greenhouse gas emissions.

Streaming services are currently an integral part of online teaching and although their effects are largely “invisible,” Yani hopes her research can highlight how it’s not just physical waste that contributes to our carbon footprint. We rarely think about how streaming a Netflix movie involves connecting to international servers that are powered by various sources of energy – fossil fuels can play a huge role in some areas of the world – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Both SFU and the city of Burnaby have played an instrumental part in the development and continued success of Yani’s project. Yani is an integral member of the Burnaby community, having dedicated all four years of her undergraduate degree studying at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Having completed graduate work in art history, she brings the unique perspective of arts and humanities to tackling one of our society’s most timely environmental problems. Although there have been challenges along the way, Yani’s resilience, insight, and expertise will undoubtedly allow her to make exciting discoveries and recommendations on how we can balance our burgeoning streaming culture with environmental consciousness.

Burnaby Festival of Learning
May 12, 2021 | 2:30pm-3:30pm
The 2021 festival has ended – thank you to everyone who was able to virtually attend.