60-Second Earth

Another Reason to Hate Shopping Sound Tracks

The background music in stores and shopping malls designed to spur sales also spur emissions of greenhouse gases. David Biello reports

Do you find the incessant background music in stores and shopping malls distracting? Even annoying? Well, here's another reason not to like it: The malls of America consume more than a gigawatt of electricity per month playing the anodyne sales-spurring pop.

Enterprising Stanford students crunched the numbers on how much energy it takes to play all that pop and came up with a figure of 1.18 gigawatt-hours. Given the present energy mix that means Mantovani adds more than 3,000 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year.

To put that in perspective, the world as a whole emits roughly 30 gigatons of greenhouse gases per year. So mall music isn't exactly singlehandedly changing the Earth's climate. But malls do contribute an outsized portion of the heat-trapping gases from buildings, given their need for immense amounts of heating and cooling as well as always-on lighting.

In fact, temperature control and lighting account for more than 80 percent of a mall's energy consumption. Simply changing to more efficient light bulbs or HVAC systems would more than muffle the discordant thought of mall music's contribution to climate change.

—David Biello

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