Your annual work email could be adding the same amount of warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere a flight between London and Bruges.
A new online tool estimates the carbon footprint of your email and suggests various strategies for reducing your communicative carbon costs.
Email has a carbon footprint because of the power demands to create and run the computers, servers and routers that transmit each message.
The average email reportedly adds an extra 4 grams of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — but this can increase 12 fold in email chains or with big attachments.
Office workers on average process over 34,000 emails each year and can spend around 13 hours a week working on their inboxes.
Your annual work email could be adding the same amount of warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere a flight between London and Bruges, a new online tool suggests (stock image)
The environmental cost of each email has been calculated by UK-based IT careers board CWJobs, who have released a free online Email CO2 Calculator (above) that can estimate the environmental impact of your very own emails.
The calculator is inspired by, and based on, Mike Berners-Lee’s book ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’.
The average person spends a whopping 13 hours a week reading and responding to emails — and the new carbon footprint tool considers the electricity that goes into processing every single one.
This includes not only the cost of running your computer but also the relevant servers and routers, as well as the power required to manufacture this equipment.
The average office worker, they calculate, sends and receives around 34,300 emails a year — equivalent to 370 lbs (168 kg) worth of carbon dioxide emissions and more than is produced by a commercial flight between London and Bruge.
'For individuals who consider themselves environmentally conscious about their use of plastic carrier bags, this amount of carbon dioxide is equivalent to a customer having used 16,800 such bags in a single year,' a spokesperson for CWJobs said.
Just sending single, short email adds around an extra four grams of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, they calculate.
Of course, this is still considerable more environmentally friendly that posting a letter — which comes with a typical carbon footprint of around 29 grams.
Not every email is equal, however, as adding a single 1MB attachment to your digital correspondence is predicted to raise its carbon output up to 19 grams.
'A particularly long and tiresome email chain produces more than just hot air — it can generate as much as 50 grams in CO2 emissions,' CWJobs said.
Email has a carbon footprint because of the power demands to create and run the computers, servers and routers that transmit each message. The average email reportedly adds an extra 4 grams of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (stock image)
'With global email traffic predicted to rise by 18 per cent, from 294 billion items per day in 2019 to 347 billion in 2023, our email habit could end up becoming a growing problem for the environment,' CWJobs said.
This increase would result in an extra 620 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year — a figure which is more than the present-day annual carbon footprint of Australia.
Fortunately, the IT jobs board has also published a series of recommendation for how people can cut down on their communicative carbon footprints, in tandem with the Stop CO2 foundation.
These include only adding necessary people in email chains, replacing attachments with links to material online where possible and talking to people in person.
They also calculate that the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) initiative has been having a significant spam-busting — and therefore environmentally-beneficial — impact since its launch in May 2018.
The rules have reportedly reduced the total number of unwanted emails by 1.2 billion messages a day, which is the equivalent of 360 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions cut every single day
'To put it another way, GDPR has had the same impact on carbon emissions as would saving 260 hectares – or 650,000 trees from deforestation,' CWJobs said.
Digital technology companies could reduce the carbon footprint of service like YouTube by making changes to how they are designed, the study said.
The energy used to power servers and networks which allow users to watch millions of videos a day is roughly the same amount as Luxembourg or Zimbabwe.
The researchers suggest that making sustainability the primary focus of projects involving the use of technologies has more potential to offer in terms of carbon savings than companies currently explore.
'Digital services are an everyday part of our lives,' said lead researcher Chris Preist, Professor at University of Bristol.
'But they require significant energy to deliver globally -- not only in data centres, but also in networks, mobile networks and end devices - and so overall can have a big carbon footprint,' Professor Preist said.
The reductions that could be gained by eliminating one example of 'digital waste' - or having the option to have the screen inactive to people who are only using YouTube to listen to audio.
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They estimated this could reduce the footprint by up to 500,000 tonnes of CO2 annually - the carbon footprint of roughly 30,000 UK homes.
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