The stereotype that young Americans prefer to spend time at home binging on TV shows or playing candy crush on their phones earns us millennials a little derision from other generations. Fortunately, there is now evidence that this homebody behavior is good for the environment.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that the recent trend of staying in is actually helping to drive down national energy consumption levels.
Their study, published in the journal Joule, used national surveys to uncover that people passed a larger proportion of their days at home in 2012 than they did in 2003; correspondingly, they spent less time traveling or in non-residential buildings.
“[Our] model suggests that Americans are saving energy by spending more time at home," the authors wrote. "While energy use at home increased, this was accompanied by reduced driving (the most energy-intensive activity per minute) and operating fewer commercial buildings, primarily offices and retail outlets."
Overall, Americans spent eight more days at home in 2012 than they did in 2003. But when stratifying by age group, those aged between 18 and 24 spent 14 additional days at home in 2012, plus four fewer days traveling. The authors calculated that these cumulative lifestyle changes reduced national energy consumption in 2012 by 1.8 percent, saving roughly 1,700 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of heat.
For reference, that’s approximately equal to the total energy consumption of the state of Kentucky for all of 2015.
The cause of this shift was, unsurprisingly, driven by greater reliance on the Internet for both work and entertainment. Watching TV, using computers, and working from home (as opposed to commuting) all took up substantially more time in people’s lives in 2012 compared with 2003. The survey data also showed that people spent less time shopping for non-food and non-fuel items, implying that their material needs are being increasingly met by online shopping instead (millennials really love online shopping).
“This is a little tongue in cheek, but you know in ‘The Matrix’ everyone lives in those little pods? For energy, that’s great,” author Eric Williams told the New York Times. “In the Jetsons, where everyone is running around in their jet cars, that’s terrible for energy.”
“Energy intensity when you’re traveling is actually 20 times per minute than when spent at home,” added lead author Ashok Sekar.
One caveat, however, is that the calculations did not include changes in energy consumption driven by the increased demand for Internet services. Data centers, containing the networks of servers and other hardware that make up the web, were major energy hogs between 2003 and 2012. Although the efficiency has improved in recent years, the ethernet and wifi flowing into our homes still come with hefty tags.
According to the paper, the growth in server energy use during the time period in question counteracts 15 percent of the 1,700 trillion BTU saved by our homebound behavior.
Keep in mind that results of this study are only estimates due to the imprecise nature of time use data, but that the pattern of decreased energy usage from staying at home is likely accurate.
Now, let's all get in our sweatpants and settle into the couch.