What is the carbon footprint of an email?

Oluwatoni Olujinmi

Everyday tasks like running the air conditioner or the car require energy, and that energy is often generated by burning fossil fuels. This combustion process releases greenhouse gases into the sky, leaving a carbon footprint.

The environmental impact of ordinary, seemingly little things, like emails, has come to light in this digital era of immediate communication. In our pursuit of a sustainable future, it is essential to comprehend the effects of emails on the environment.

In this article, we’ll look into what email carbon footprint is, its components, how email creates carbon footprint, factors, and how to reduce your email carbon footprint.

Definition of carbon footprint of an email and its components

The amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the environment due to the creation, transmission, storage, and consumption of emails is known as the “carbon footprint” of an email. The carbon footprint of these activities is increased because the energy they use is derived from the combustion of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases.

The carbon footprint of an email contains diverse elements, with three primary components:

1. The storage and transmission of emails rely on data centers and servers, which use a lot of energy. 

2. Message transmission and reception contribute significantly to carbon emissions, which are mostly the responsibility of the transmission and network infrastructure. 

3. Lastly, the energy consumption of the end-user device rounds out the trio and adds to an email’s total carbon footprint. 

The average carbon footprint of an email

A specialist on carbon footprints, Mike Berners-Lee, said in his book “How Bad Are Bananas?” that different types of emails have different carbon footprints.

  • As soon as your spam filters detect an email, it releases 0.03 grams of carbon dioxide gas (CO2e);

  • Just two short emails sent across phones release 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e);

  • The amount of carbon dioxide gas (CO2e) emitted by a brief email transmitted between computers is 0.3g;

  • It takes 10 minutes to compose, 3 minutes to read, and 17 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to send a lengthy email from one computer to another;

  • Just one hundred emails sent in ten minutes result in 26 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

While the electricity consumption of the gadget and the networks and data centres that handle the transmission and storage of these emails do contribute to some emissions, the embodied carbon of the device itself is the primary source of these emissions.

Factors influencing the carbon footprint of an email

1. File size and attachments

The size of the files and attachments sent in an email is a major component in its environmental impact. More data needs to be transported and stored for larger files, which immediately translates to higher energy use. By compressing files, using links to cloud storage, or choosing more efficient file formats, users can greatly lessen the environmental impact of email.

2. Frequency of communication

The total environmental effect is directly proportional to the number of emails sent and received each day. Constant server activity and higher energy usage are symptoms of heavy email traffic, which is more common in big organisations.

Reducing the frequency and, by extension, the carbon footprint, can be achieved by the implementation of simplified communication techniques, such as choosing for collaborative platforms or compressing information into fewer emails.

3. Energy efficiency of data centers

A crucial factor in establishing the environmental impact is the selection of data centres that house email servers.

To maximise energy efficiency, modern data centres use cutting-edge technology and design their architecture with this goal in mind. Supporting environmentally friendly email providers is easy: just look for ones that use energy-saving measures and green hosting technologies.

Impact of email carbon footprint 

1. Increased in demand of energy 

A greater demand for energy resources is directly proportional to the growth in the use of email services. Data centres need a lot of power since they run all the time to process the increasing number of emails sent and received around the world. Existing power infrastructures are already under stress from this increased demand for energy, and our limited energy resources are being used at a faster rate.

2. Ecological imbalance 

As the number of people using email services continues to rise, the demand for energy resources will also rise. In order to handle the ever-increasing volume of global email traffic, data centres must operate continuously, which results in a high energy demand. This rising demand for energy is putting a strain on our already-stretched electricity infrastructures, and we are depleting our scarce energy resources at an alarming rate.

3. Societal awareness and responsibility

Besides ecological issues, email’s carbon footprint has far-reaching consequences for the environment. People and businesses alike are beginning to see the value of ethical online behavior as more information becomes public knowledge.

This understanding has the potential to motivate people to take action, which in turn can lower digital carbon footprints by increasing the use of sustainable technology and creating a sense of personal responsibility.

How to reduce your email carbon footprint 

In order to lessen the environmental impact of emails, we must all work together. Encouraging the usage of data centres that consume less energy is the first step in reducing environmental impact.

Encouraging eco-friendly email habits like decreasing attachments and using efficient transmission techniques helps lower carbon emissions. To further contribute to a greener digital communication landscape, technological developments can be made to improve energy efficiency.

Read also: Green computing: the path to eco-friendly technology solutions

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