Are Emails Really Damaging the Environment?
Mar 26 2017
From carbon emissions to unnecessary plastic waste – there are plenty of things we’re aware of that damage the environment. But could emails be added to the list? French energy regulators RTE seem to think so, as they have asked companies to cut the amount they use their emails in an attempt to reduce energy usage. Keep reading to see if emails really do damage the environment.
You’ve got mail
Most of us have an email account. In fact, a lot of us have multiple to our names. According to technology research specialists Radicati, there were nearly 2.6 billion email users worldwide in 2015, with an average of 1.7 accounts per user. Each day, these users collectively send and receive a total of over 205 billion emails. And by 2019, this figure is expected to rise to over 246 billion.
It’s clear that we use emails in abundance. And because of this abundance, even a small impact on the environment would surely stack up. But how much do they contribute to the mass environmental problems we’re facing? In his book ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’, Mike Berners-Lee quantifies their impact on the environment by estimating each email’s carbon footprint. And, yes, he’s the brother of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
The energy in an email
According to Berners-Lee, a normal email has a carbon footprint of 4g. For spam emails, because they are sent automatically to lists of addresses, the average is a much lower 0.3g of CO2. On the other end of the scale, emails with large attachments might carry a carbon footprint as big as 50g. These totals are made up by power used by computers and data centres to send, filter and open the messages.
Typically, Berners-Lee suggests, incoming mail adds 136kg to each user’s carbon footprint. This equates to around 200 miles in the average car. More broadly, data centres contributed around 130 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2010 – 0.25% of all emissions that year. And he predicts that by 2020, this will rise to over 250 million tonnes.
Fewer emails, less emissions
It’s clear that the emissions stack up from sending and receiving emails. And while it isn't realistic to ask people to remove emails from their life, simply reducing the amount of emails you send could take a significant chunk off the total. At present, however, we are discovering increased levels of greenhouse gases all over the world. Greenhouse gas fluxes have been discovered in the Arctic, which are enhanced by even slight increases in temperature, as discussed in the article ‘Enhanced Nitrous Oxide Emissions Found in Field Warming Experiment in the Arctic’,
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