Since waking up today morning, you have definitely sent or received one email in your inbox. What if we told you that every single email zooming in and out of your inbox has a carbon footprint of its own? As the environmental crisis begins to escalate, carbon literacy has become of the utmost importance. Carbon literacy is often defined as the awareness of the carbon dioxide emitted by everyday activities, and the motivation to reduce these emissions on an individual, community and organisational basis. Once you’ve made the decision to become carbon literate, there is no ignoring the impact of everyday activities, however big or small — this includes the carbon footprint of every single email in your inbox.
How is the carbon footprint of an email calculated?
Once you hit the send button, the email might be out of your sight but its journey across the world wide web is only just getting started. The science is simple: Every time you see an email, there is some amount of electricity employed to display it. When the email travels across the web, every server uses electricity for temporarily storing it, and then it is passed on further through the chain. By the time an email reaches its destination, the carbon footprint can be tallied up to 4g of CO2 emissions. This may not sound like an intimidating figure… until you take stock of the sheer amount of emails being sent and received on a daily basis. Roughly put, sending 65 emails in a day is the equivalent of driving 1 kilometre in your car. When put together on an annual basis, a person living in a developed country is responsible for contributing 136 kilos of CO2 emissions purely from emails alone.
How to dial back the carbon footprint of emails
In the conventional sense, carbon footprint has always been relegated to vehicles and gas guzzlers. However, every single email in your inbox holds responsibility for adding to the current climate crisis. When you factor in the sheer amount of spam emails that are sent on an everyday basis, the problem gets further compounded. Think we can all do better? Here’s how:
Heavy attachments can lead to a direct spike in the carbon footprint of your emails. When possible, it is preferable to link to files and information that is available online to avoid generating further bulk by adding multiple attachments.
Likewise, the weight of attachments can be reduced by sharing compressed images that will exact a lesser toll on the environment. If it’s not vital, images should be shared in a lower resolution as well.
Spam is one of the most common culprits of your email footprint. It pays to opt for regular maintenance of your mailing lists and to unsubscribe from anything that you don’t have any use for.
Before sending your emails, pause for a second and do a quick scan if all the information has been conveyed to cut back on follow-up emails in the future. The ‘think before you thank’ movement has been further called on to reduce pointless thank you emails. In Britain, it is estimated that the carbon output could be reduced by 16,433 tonnes if every adult sent one less email every day. For context, this is the equivalent of 81,000 flights from London to Madrid.
While emails might be a great way to communicate and keep track of work, they aren’t as friendly as we thought. When it comes to saving the environment, some activities might have a bigger impact than others, but every single endeavour — no matter how big or small — can play a meaningful role in preserving the planet that we call home.