The carbon footprint of emails

Have you ever stopped to think of the carbon footprint associated with email?

Chances are, you’re one of the 72% of people in the UK unaware of the hidden environmental cost of digital communication.

Carbon emissions may not be the first thing on your mind when you hit that send button, but emails are responsible for as much CO2 globally as seven million extra cars.

Recent research has found that UK adults send around 11 unnecessary emails each day, contributing to a carbon footprint of over 16,000 tonners per year. So, what constitutes an ‘unnecessary’ email? Those with simple one or two word replied such as ‘Thanks’, ‘You too’ or ‘LOL’.

Sending just one less of these per day would reduce our collective carbon output by the equivalent of 81,152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.

So how is email creating carbon emissions?

Every email we send uses electricity to display it, and the network connection uses electricity while the email is being transferred. As the email travels across the internet, each server will use some electricity to temporarily store it, before passing it on.

For a typical email, this electricity is responsible for 4g of CO2 emissions. If it has a picture attachment, this needs extra storage and takes longer to transmit, so the carbon footprint rises to an average of 50g. Spam emails are mostly deleted automatically by the email servers before you see them so they don’t travel as far and only produce 0.3g each.

Still, sending an email only uses about 1.7 per cent of the energy of delivering a paper letter. But, think of how many more emails we send each day compared to sending a letter!

For many of us, we send short replies as part of a good service measure, to acknowledge an enquiry or a reply from a customer, giving peace of mind it’s come through.

But, there are many unnecessary emails sent every day. The study, commissioned by OVO energy, found that 49 per cent of Brits confess to emailing a colleague or friend within talking distance every single day. In these circumstances, walking across the office to speak to a colleague face to face can harbour far greater benefits, aside from the environmental factors outlined above.

It’s fair to say, none of us are going to cease sending emails, it’s a form of communication we rely on, but perhaps we just need to think twice about whether any email is really necessary or not. Each of those little steps can make a big contribution to protecting our environment.