Sounding Out on Sustainability at Audio Collaborative

Sustainability was a key topic at this year’s Audio Collaborative, the annual conference for the audio hardware industry, organised by analyst firm Futuresource

Althea Ricketts, Associate VP of Corporate Initiatives at Shure, set the scene with her keynote on ‘Sustainability…What’s in it for the audio industry?’ The overarching goal at Shure, said Althea, “Is to maximise the input from people; minimise our impact on the planet; and optimise profits.” She gave examples of sustainability from the wider industry, including the Daisy robot developed by Apple to dismantle iPhones – a single robot can recycle 1.2m handsets a year – as well as highlighting B-Corp certification which ‘measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact.’

Chaired by Chris Carey, Opinium’s Head of Music, Media and Entertainment, the sustainability panel discussion featured MQA’s Head of Licensing, Andy Dowell, and Greening of Streaming Founder, Dom Robinson, alongside Shure’s Althea. Chris opened the session with the reality that consumers are unwilling to accept an inferior experience for an intangible greater good. “For example, viewers aren’t going to watch BBC’s Blue Planet series in black and white,” explained Chris, before adding, “and if something’s not easy to do, they won’t do it.”

“Is streaming even a problem?” was Chris’s first question directed at Greening of Streaming’s Dom Robinson. “Streaming amounts to 1-2% global emissions, which is equivalent to the airline industry. And 70% of that amount is video streaming,” stated Dom.

Andy Dowell explained the changes driving the current situation, “We used to have one broadcast reaching millions of households (with one TV set), we now have multiple simultaneous broadcasts to many devices.” He went on to highlight a difference between music and video files, “Hi-res music files have a lot of wasted space, as only 20% of the file is music information.”

Dom called for a systemic solution, “It’s no good innovating if it ends up shifting the problem to a different part of the ecosystem – that’s the equivalent of chucking your rubbish over the fence into your neighbour’s garden! There has to be a systemic solution across the whole delivery chain, through collaboration and transparency. You can’t ‘win’ sustainability.”

“There’s a common misconception that music streaming is more sustainable than the CD era,” stated Andy. “Whereas in fact if you play music on repeat, you’d be better off caching or even buying a physical copy.” He also referenced the idea of a central repository for the music streaming industry, rather than the existing situation where identical catalogues from different streaming services are duplicated and stored across multiple content delivery networks (CDNs) across the world.

One of Greening of Streaming’s working groups is investigating the ‘good enough’ model. Explained Dom, “Nobody pays for a 4k service to opt out of it. But how about a minimum viable product for passive viewing, and then you can press the ‘gold button’ for the highest resolution when you switch to actively watching a broadcast?” A proposition that echoed the opening remarks from the moderator: innovation mustn’t make the customer experience worse, and whatever you’re proposing must be easy to do.

Learn more on MQA’s sustainable technology here.


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