Are Emails Really Damaging the Environment?

May 7, 2017 by


A single email has a tiny carbon footprint. But we send over 200 billion of them every single day.

Photo Credit: LStockStudio/Shutterstock

Finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint grows more urgent by the day. In some cases this means turning to technology to find greener alternatives to forms of solid waste such as paper. But as French energy regulators RTE recently announced, even that practice may need to change.

In their public statement, RTE called on companies to send less emails in an attempt to reduce energy usage. This may sound a bit extreme, but it’s worth considering the figures.

Radicati, a technology research firm, reports that in 2015 alone the world sent and received a total of over 205 billion emails a day. By 2019, estimates Radicati, that number will rise to over 246 billion. So why is this bad news for the environment?

Mike Berners-Lee lays out the reason in his book, ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’. In it, Berners-Lee explains that an average email has a carbon footprint of 4g, with that figure varying from a low of 0.3g for spam to emails with larger attachments that can use up as much as 50g of CO2. These figures relate to the total power computers and data centers use to send, filter and open these messages.

Berners-Lee put this number into greater perspective writing for The Guardian. “A typical year of incoming mail for a business user,” he wrote, generates a carbon footprint of roughly 297 lbs (135 kg). “That’s over 1% of of a relatively green 10-tonne lifestyle and equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car.”

Changing this situation will take a concerted effort. That’s not to suggest asking people to stop sending emails. Instead, like many other daily rituals and routines that need adjustment, it’s about being more conscious of your impact. So, the next time you get one of those dumb chain mails, think twice before sending it to “10 of your closest friends immediately.

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.

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