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Your e-mail has a carbon footprint, and is it a cause for concern?

Yes, internet is also part of our carbon footprint. Although, in this article we'd just focus on e-mail carbon footprint.

By aasthakapoor2628
New Update
How emails leads to carbon emission

While one might think that communicating over email is the most sustainable form of communication, this isn't the case. While internet spam may seem annoying, they have bigger repercussions on the environment. Yes, the internet is also part of our carbon footprint. Although, in this article, we'd just focus on e-mails a.k.a. electronic mail carbon footprint.

A single internet search or email only requires a little amount of energy, almost 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the world's population, presently access the internet. The number of an individual maybe insignificant, the fact that millions of users access emails is a cause for concern. Post-pandemic has also changed our mode of discourse or at least corporates have become more virtual. Back to the point, these energy slivers, together with the greenhouse gases they release with each online action, can pile up. This is also because you consume more electricity the longer you spend writing, reading, or responding to a message. Even a brief email that is prepared and read correctly emits 0.3g CO2e, which is ten times more than a spam message.

You've probably already responded to a few emails, sent some chat messages, and perhaps even done a fast Google search today. Later, you'd probably spend more time exploring online, uploading photos, listening to music, or watching videos. With one of the cheapest internet, that's a regular day our lives. A few grammes of CO2 is released for each of these online activities. This energy is basically what is required to run your devices and power the wireless networks you use. The massive computers and data centres required to run the internet and store the stuff we access through it are less evident but consume a lot of energy to function efficiently without lagging.

E-mail: a brief

The first email was sent in 1971, about 20 years before the internet (as we know it) came into being. Ray Tomlinson, who at the time was working on "ARPANET," (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network ) a precursor to the internet, invented this novel communications method.

Ray Tomlinson, Creator of e-mail | Courtesy: Wikicommons

Before 1971, a user could only read a digital communication on the device from which it had been received. The device-overarching communications through the network utilising the FTP(File Transfer Protocol), was thus a true accomplishment. Additionally, he pioneered the use of the "@" sign to designate message recipients.

Firstly, lets understand the data structure of emails and the types of information they generally contain before evaluating the levers to reduce CO2 emissions. A header and a body are the two main components of an email. The header includes fields like "To," "Cc," and "From" that are linked to the message transit. The message's real content, which the sender finds interesting, is contained in the body section. Text, a signature, and attachments are the typical components.

These factors suggest that the body of an email is the primary factor influencing its size.

What is my carbon footprint?

The amount of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) produced through human actions is known as a carbon footprint. The average carbon footprint of a person in the United States is 16 tonnes, one of the highest in the world. The average carbon footprint across the globe is closer to 4 tonnes, per person.

By 2050, the average worldwide carbon footprint per year per person must fall to under 2 tonnes in order to prevent a rise in global temperatures of 2°C. Individual carbon footprint reduction from 16 tonnes to 2 tonnes will take time!

The Statistics

A CO2 emission from a single email can be anywhere between 0.03g CO2e to 26g CO2e, based on data. Due to the various ways emails are utilised, both by individuals with good intentions and those without, this vast variety is due.

Spam, which emits only 0.03g CO2e, is the least harmful offenders. What about the sheer amount of spam that is transmitted, which is what makes them so annoying to begin with? According to Statista, email users exchanged more than 306 billion emails every day in 2020, with slightly under 50% of those being spam. If that ratio shocks you, your inbox spam filters are probably doing their job and preventing unwanted spam.

Spam only makes up a small portion of the energy used by these invisible communications. The cause? as it turns out that the quality of each email sent is just as crucial as the quantity of email. That's because, you consume more electricity the longer you spend writing, reading, or responding to a message. Even a brief email that is prepared and read correctly emits 0.3g CO2e, which is ten times more than a spam message. 

The Good Planet estimates that the average American has 500 unopened emails, the majority of them are probably spam. We are dealing with an additional 150 grams of carbon dioxide per American person, if we estimate that each email produces 0.3 grams of CO2. However, Science Focus estimates that the energy required to send an email is approximately 1.7% of that required to deliver a paper letter. That data point demonstrates that email is unquestionably a more environmentally friendly option than snail mail. The outlet also calculated that, in terms of energy, sending 65 emails is similar to driving a mile in a car.

While, there might be question of how much an email might cost to the environment, but do we have a better solution? The hard answer would be a: NO!

How does it lead to carbon emissions?

How does email lead to carbon emissions?

The emails that are sent and received online are saved somewhere. They are typically spread out among numerous servers all over the world. Large data centers, which use absurd amounts of electricity daily, house the servers. Additionally, the majority of electricity is still produced from fossil fuels, which contributes to global carbon emissions (CO2e).

The weight of the email itself immediately comes to mind when considering the carbon footprint of a single email. You will require more electricity to power it across the Internet pipes the more megabytes it has. However, earlier data showed that the actual amount of CO2e produced by a 1 MB email is closer to 3.5 g than the earlier estimates of 35 to 50 g per 1 MB email. But that doesn't mean we should stop caring. Even with all of these extra-large emails you're sending, the weight of your emails still matters. 

The exact number depends on many factors, as pointed above. So, to pin point how much carbon emission takes through one-mail would be difficult. Although, the connection that emails contribute to greenhouse gas emissions is obvious.

Spam is one of the main issues when it comes to the environmental effects of email. After all, unwanted emails consume energy in addition to annoying people. Energy is used in their transmission, reception, and even unintentional storage. Additionally, there are a tonne of them; just think of the amount of energy spammers globally physically waste. Fortunately, spam filters find and eventually remove all of this junk mail, making sure that these unwelcome emails aren't kept in your inbox indefinitely. hence, deleting the spam lowers the amount of CO2e associated with these unrequested communications.

How can I help?

Start eliminating spam and junk emails to solve the problem. You might try setting aside some time to organize your mailbox. Every day, remove everything from the Spam folder and unsubscribe from all the emails that social media and other unwanted websites send you as notifications. Around 2.3 billion people use email worldwide. About 75 kb is the size of a typical email. Therefore, consider the possibility that if everyone deleted 10 undesirable emails (both spam and non-spam), it would prevent the storage of 1,725,000 GB of data on servers all over the world. You can now also calculate your carbon footprint online. 

Every day, remove everything from the Spam folder and unsubscribe from all the emails that social media and other unwanted websites send you as notifications.

Every day, almost 300 billion emails are sent by people. These emails are all produced and transmitted using electric devices, each of which leaves a very small carbon impact. However, when everything is considered, the electricity required to produce, send, and store these emails is equal to burning 2 billion US gallons of gasoline annually. You reduce your carbon footprint by a small amount for each email you delete from the inbox. If you delete 1 GB of outdated emails on your server, you would have saved 32kWh of electricity.

Here are some tips for becoming more environmentally conscious online and minimizing your email/text carbon footprint.

  • Spend some time canceling your subscription to any newsletters you don't read.
  • Delete previous spam messages.
  • Make it a habit to save or delete emails after you have read them.
  • Keep in mind that emails with huge attachments have the biggest environmental impact.

Also, Read

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