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Email & web generates CO2: did you know it? Can we do something?

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Want to make an impact in the simplest way possible? Read this article and learn more, you will do the best favour to you, your beloved and your planet without any effort.

Do you know that by sending & receiving email you indirectly add CO2 in the atmosphere?

This applies to whatever we do online: doing a search in Google, watching a video on You Tube, posting your updates on your favourite social media,....

We tend to forget about this, but every web search, chat message, email sent or received, every status update on your favourite social media, or playing music online and streaming video (including this blog article and our social media posts) comes with a small cost: electricity is used and therefore the emission of CO2.

CO2 is emitted due to the energy needed to 1) run our devices, 2) power the wireless networks we access, 3) run data centres and vast servers to support the internet and store the content we access over it.

Of course we will continue using our emails, chats and favourite digital app and social media: we want to communicate and be connected, more and more. Also, it is true that sending an email requires less energy of delivering a paper letter – but, we have to consider that now we do send a lot of emails and we uses online services more and more!

Do we really need all of them?

Is there something we can we do?

During this article I focus on emails, because data are more known, and because there are some simple steps we can all easily apply to reduce our impact while still keep using emails.

👉🏻Regularly empty your junk and trash folder

👉🏻Clean up your inbox: unsubscribe to newsletter you never open, unfollow companies or profile you never check

👉🏻Turn off notifications from social media networks (e.g. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,...), also in email format

👉🏻Refrain from sending superfluous and redundant messages

👉🏻Reduce the size of attachments in emails, use hyperlinks when possible, to shrink its size.

For workaholic:

👉🏻When possible, limit the number of emails sent (e.g., lol, appreciated, you too,...)

👉🏻Accept online invitation without sending a confirmation email. Set up a rule in your team and agree that you use the email only in case you would like to share some comments on the invite or can not attend the meeting.

👉🏻Think before CC'ing - is it really necessary?

👉🏻You can add a personalised tag in your signature to show you are part of the solution, such as "Please consider the environment before replying to this e-mail, help me avoid CO2 emission."

On the others online activities the concepts is the same, let's try to think twice and see if there is something maybe unnecessary and likely to be avoided.

Emissions' example for emails

In average, for one text email, the electricity need is responsible for 4g of CO2 emissions.

For an email with a picture attachment, emissions rise to 50g CO2 (cause the email needs extra storage and takes longer to transmit).

If you drive a car for 1 km, you emit on average the same amount of CO2 as by sending 8 emails.

In a year, sending/receiving 10 emails per day, we add about 50kg of CO2 in the atmosphere, as much as we would do driving for more than 450km.

Energy and emissions applies, whether we open the emails we receive or not: when emails are in our inbox and therefore stored in data centers.

"It's simple....clean up your inbox and unsubscribe to companies or newsletter you never open. Also, limit the number of superfluous emails 🙌 You can save energy and avoid emissions!”

Emissions' example for web-search

For a web-search 0,2g CO2 are emitted. If we consider an average of 30 web searches per day - which applies anytime we search for something on the web, we emit around 2kg of CO2 per year, same as when we drive for 20km.

Why an email, or other activities on the web, determines CO2 emissions, and why we should be more aware

The use of the internet involves not only the use of a device directly connected to a plug or a battery charged with electricity, but also calling on millions of pieces of data stored on servers. To make it very simple, emails, applications and web services to function and being transferred require a network connection, servers to store it and a device to be displayed. All these activities need energy, a lot of energy. Data centers also consume water and need air conditioning to stay cool.

As the email travels across the internet, each server will use some electricity to temporarily store it, before passing it on.

CO2 emitted to power our devices, the internet and the systems supporting them, account for about 4% of global greenhouse emissions, around the total amount produced by the airline industry.

Although the energy needed for a single internet search, a text in a chat or an email is small, we have to consider that in 2020 more than 4 billion people, half of the global population, was using internet. Which has of course enormous advantages in many domain.

The increase speed of new users is extremely fast: between year 2000 and 2020, the number of users multiplied by 6 in Europe, by 21 in Asia and by 139 in Africa. Therefore, current emissions are predicted to double by 2025. Just imagine of how many emails, social media accounts, google search and streaming video are and will be generated by then.

All this is of course good for society, but we need to be more and more aware of the impact we produce, and try to find and put in place simple steps to reduce it.

"It's simple....regularly empty your junk and trash folder 🙌”

Personal disclaimer

I can not hide you that this article has made me aware of something I was not realising before. Of course, by writing it, creating my webpage, posting on the socials, launching my stories and reels, and so on, I am in fact myself generating CO2 emissions. Are these avoidable? Yes, for sure. I could stop doing this, and reduce my impact immediately. True. For the moment, I would like to continue, and give it a go. I hope that by sharing my simple steps I may inspire and allow many other people to apply and share their simple steps so to make a broader impact, and balancing the negative effect.

Anything else I can do?

Of course yes, but we want to make it simple for you. For now just start with this, you can already do a great impact, to yourself and the planet.

We will provide more insights soon..stay tuned 🙌

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