Your Digital Footprint: How Emails Add to Your Carbon Footprint and What You Can Do About it

Many of us have gotten into the habit of treating emails like instant messages, replying with a ‘thank you’, or a ‘LOL’. To say that we generally don’t think about the carbon footprint of our emails would be an understatement, but the truth is that our gadgets, the systems supporting them, and the internet as a whole account for about 3.7% of our global greenhouse emissions (some context: airlines produce a similar percentage of emissions.). And with a total of 59.5% of the world’s population connected to the internet, and around 4 billion users who use emails, this estimate is predicted to double by 2025. 

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Some Facts and Figures from a book called How Bad are Bananas? Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners Lee 

– A single spam mail creates 0.3g of CO2 
– A standard mail creates 4g of CO2  
– A long email with attachments/high resolution images creates around 50g of CO2  

We get it. These figures are small, but when you add them up… (According to The Good Planet, nearly 107 billion spam emails were sent and received a day in 2019) we can see how the mindless sending of emails can become problematic.

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So, how do Emails Create Carbon? 

Everything you do on your computer uses electricity. Every email you type and send uses energy. Every email that travels across the internet takes energy. We don’t think about it because we can’t see it, but the carbon footprint is there. Check out this email calculator

Remember this stat (nearly 107 billion spam emails were sent and received a day in 2019)? Now, imagine everyone deleted 10 of those emails. We could save 1 725 00 gigabytes of storage space and around 55.2 million kilowatts of power. 

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How Can we Lessen our Digital Footprint? 

1. Stop treating emails like instant messages. Skip needless, one- or two-word replies, or GIF replies.  
2. Unsubscribe to mailing lists that you never open.  
3. Think before you CC: you’ll lower your digital carbon footprint, and your colleagues will appreciate it too.  
4. Delete old email accounts. Simple enough.  
5. Swap email attachments for links to documents: If you can, ditch attachments and link to documents or images in your body copy. If you must send images, reduce their pixel quality. 
6. Backup carefully: When you back up your email, you unintentionally backup all the emails you have in your mailbox (essential and non-essential). If you choose to backup only those emails which are necessary for the future, you can reduce several grams of carbon. 

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Even if the small but real contribution your inbox makes to your personal emission count doesn’t give you pause, the other waste created by an unmanageable inbox—lost time, wasted storage, annoying notifications— may.   

We’re always looking for ways to lessen our carbon footprints, and this seems like a win-win situation: less emails (read: less stress) to deal with, and less impact on the environment.

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