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The Carbon Footprint of Emails
 Dec 4, 2014  Blog, December 2014 Newsletter

It Does The Job December Newsletter with Robin's help  More December Newsletter articles this way... 


...The 3rd and final article in our 3-part series on the carbon foot print of some of our most common uses of the internet.  
To see the first on Social Media, click here and to see our second on Cloud Computing click here

We’re talking much bigger than philosophy here... we’re talking about the big bad internet

The carbon footprints from things you can see, smell, feel, taste and touch, such as of factories, traffic and food are obvious… But what about what our online activities?  
Like many people these days, we try to run a paperless office as we don’t like the waste and it turns out it makes our lives more convenient.   But there are still carbon costs of using in the internet so we thought we’d take an educated estimation of what they are.  

We thought we ought to get a little expert advice so turned to SingleHop (cloud computing experts) to help us bring you a short-but-sweet series covering social media, cloud computing and emails…



With all the Christmas cards wizzing back and forth and an increase in e-cards, we were keen to have a quick peek at the carbon footprint of emails...    

Sending an email is really green, right…? 
Going paperless is great, but electronic communications aren’t exactly carbon free. According to Mike Berners-Lee — professional carbon-emissions consultant and brother Tim — every time you send an email into the ether(net), you’re using up 4 grams of carbon. And that’s if you don’t add any attachments and not a lot of time is spent reading it.  

Here’s a quick breakdown: 

  • 0.3g CO2e: A spam email; 
  • 4g CO2e: A proper email; 
  • 50g CO2e: An email with long and tiresome attachment; 

According to McAfee, 78% of incoming emails are spam though it’s only 22% of the total footprint of a typical email account simply because a genuine email takes more time to deal with.  

So, 4 grams doesn’t sound like much, and in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t. But think about how many emails you send each day, then multiply that by 365.

  • Basically, each year the average person emails an amount of carbon equal to the exhaust of a 200-mile car ride. All the emails sent in a single day generate more than 44,000 tons of carbon per day; 
  • Emails use roughly 1/60 of the carbon footprint of sending a letter.  However, if you send 60 times the amount of emails as you would letters (which many individuals and certainly companies do) then you could actually have a higher carbon footprint than you would otherwise. 

The carbon footprint of emails- It Does The Job


So it is important to seek to streamline your emailing.  Here are a few quick steps:

  • Stop replying to all: The “reply to all” function works by sending duplicate emails to all of the people listed in To: box. So instead of sending one email to lots of people, it’s actually sending separate emails to individuals — and multiplying your email-generated carbon footprint at the same time. Before replying to all, take a quick moment to see if everybody on the list really needs to get your message. You’ll save a few grams of carbon, and you’ll avoid aggravating all those people who might otherwise ask, “Why did you send me that?!”  
  • Learn to search: Becoming intimate with your email app’s search functionality can save carbon, time, and sanity. Instead of asking your colleague to re-send that document you need for the big presentation, do a quick search of your inbox and archives to see if you have it already;
  • Cut the spam: Nobody likes to think they’re a spammer, but it happens. The sending, sorting and filtering of spam email alone accounts for 33bn units of electricity each year.  Even reputable companies with great products tend to carpet-bomb people’s inboxes with marketing messages that go mostly unread, in the hopes of finding just one more loyal customer. Just because you can send an email to anyone and everyone doesn’t mean you should. Tailoring your audience help you increase conversion rates while cutting back on carbon; 
  • Unsubscribe: On the flip side, if you’re receiving emails that you don’t have time to read, take a minute to remove yourself from the mailing list. It’ll help keep your inbox clean, and you can feel even better knowing you’re helping to trim your carbon footprint; 
  • Start a conversation: We’ve all done it; emailed that person who is sitting close enough that you could literally talk to them without even raising your voice. Instead of sending that email, have a little chat. Even if they’re down the hall, get up and go talk to them. Guaranteed, you’ll use less carbon by talking than you would by sending that email.  


So how many Christmas cards are you sending this year and perhaps it’s time you were guilt-tripped into visiting that distant aunt…


Here's a few of our sources

  • Berners-Lee, Mike. “An email.” How Bad Are Bananas? Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2011. EPUB file; 
  • Bellona, David and Tash Wong. Tweet Farts. tweetfarts.com. Accessed Aug. 7, 2014; 
  • “Carbon & Energy Impact.” Facebook. n.d. Web. Aug. 7, 2014; 
  • Wilson, Jacques. “Your smartphone is a pain in the neck.” CNN.com. Sept. 20, 2012. Web. Aug. 7, 2014; 
  • Wortham, Jenna. “Feel Like a Wallflower? Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall.” The New York Times. nytimes.com. April 9, 2011. Web. Aug. 7, 2014; 
  • http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/oct/21/carbon-footprint-email)
  • http://www.energysavingwarehouse.co.uk/learning-portal/carbon-footprint-emails/
  • http://inspiredeconomist.com/2009/03/09/greening-print-marketing-whats-your-mails-carbon-footprint/
  • http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/aug/12/carbon-footprint-internet
  • http://newsroom.mcafee.com/images/10039/carbonfootprint2009.pdf