Some time ago, sustainability author and professor Maja Göpel remarked in a podcast of the Handelsblatt series “GREEN” (04.11.2021) that other leisure patterns would emerge if the consumption of resources were adequately priced: “Maybe we’ll then see more like like going to the movies, dancing, theatre, music, chatting with friends, …”.

Following this idea, I wanted to find out what carbon footprint my hobby music – more precisely: ePiano – actually has. After some research, I can say that this can at best be answered approximately … but as always with blog writing, the path (i.e. the research) to this blog is lined with interesting anecdotes and insights. I’ll share them below.

The easiest way to determine your carbon footprint today is for a flight … . For some products (product categories), too, some manufacturers have boldly stepped forward and provide information, of course subject to data collection, which in part has to rely on estimates.

One of these pioneers is the European steel trader Klöckner. A Handelsblatt-Article (30.01.2023) recently read: “Europe’s largest independent steel trader creates CO2 transparency for almost all 200,000 products in the group’s portfolio. (…) For over a year, emissions were determined across the entire value and supply chain. The data collection covers supply chains that span almost the entire globe.”

Another example: DELL gives the carbon footprint for its devices. Here I can also find my laptop, for example, and there is an easy-to-understand product sheet with carbon footprint product information. My laptop has a carbon footprint for the TOTAL lifetime of about 270kg. Due to estimates and also due to different electricity mixes for operating the laptop, the actual value may differ by about 20% more or less.

And it is broken down very comprehensibly how DELL arrives at these figures:

Here you can also see that about 22% of the CO2 footprint comes from electricity consumption. It is based on approx. 29 KwH per year; you can then simply check whether this is correct. According to information from the Federal Environment Agency, one kWh causes about 0.5 kilograms of C02 (this fluctuates, of course, depending on the share of renewables in the electricity mix; unfortunately, the reactivation of coal-fired power plants has not improved this).

Nota Bene: Research by Jens Gröger, Senior Researcher at the Öko-Institut, comes to much lower values: About 76 kg for the product – plus 12 kg per year of use. On the one hand, this shows that there is still considerable uncertainty about the CO2 footprint of products – and DELL definitely doesn’t embellish its numbers.

There is also a good publicly available information base for smartphones: Over the entire life cycle, the CO2 footprint is about 50kg. This does not include network and internet use (but electricity consumption is priced in, accounting for about a third).

There is also an interesting figure for video streaming: on a BBC-Blog there is a reference that a “Carbon Trust whitepaper found the carbon emissions from one hour of online video streaming in 2020 to be 56 gCO2e/device-hour”. In Germany, we consume an average of 7 hours of media per day; if this media consumption consisted exclusively of online video streaming (which of course is not the case), then that would be 143 kilograms per year per head. Wooooow!

So, now back to my ePiano. The easiest thing is the power consumption: An ePiano like mine consumes (at medium volume of the speakers) around 10 to 20 watts (even less played only with headphones). Let’s assume I play 8 hours a week, that makes 8h * 52 * 15 Wh, which results in: 6.2 kWh. From the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, see above) we know that one kWh causes 0.5kg of CO2 (so: one Wh = 0.5g C02), so we are at 3 kg. In total! That is very manageable … especially compared to video streaming. By the way, for one hour of online video streaming I can play the e-piano for seven and a half hours … .

Determining the carbon footprint for production and transport of the ePiano is much more difficult. I asked ChatGPT, this AI has already scoured the vastness of the internet. Answer: “According to a study conducted by the Carbon Trust, a typical electric piano has a carbon footprint of around 100 kgCO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) when considering its entire life cycle, from production to disposal.”

So, if you calculate 50kg for a smartphone (of which about 40kg is production), then I have to put a question mark behind 100kg for an ePiano. I haven’t found a study by the Carbon Trust with references to ePianos, but then the Carbon Trust‘s page is not particularly productive; so I have to verify that – possibly ChatGPT is “hallucinating” here …

What about a TV set, for example: that has speakers, is comparable in size … let’s take a look, there are figures here: According to research by the Öko-Institut the production of a TV set causes about 170 kg; this probably depends very much on the screen size, which is not further differentiated here. Another study by the same institute puts the figure at 200 kg. As an “upper” value for determining an approximate value for an ePiano, I will take another product from the DELL portfolio: an all-in-one screen+desktop, the “Dell OptiPlex 7780 All-in-One Desktop”. The CO2 footprint during production is 320 kg.

Let’s take the 320kg (for manufacturing) for a product that has a useful life of 10 to 20 years (in the best case even more); That corresponds to …

  • the 18th (!!!) of a flight (round trip) from Frankfurt to Thailand
  • half (!!!) of a return flight from Frankfurt to Majorca
  • a flight (one-way) from Frankfurt to Rome (source: atmosfair)
  • 1,280 kilometres with a passenger car (combustion engine)
  • Author

    The author is a manager in the software industry with international expertise: Authorized officer at one of the large consulting firms - Responsible for setting up an IT development center at the Bangalore offshore location - Director M&A at a software company in Berlin.