How often do you send a pointless email? Perhaps a quick “Thank you,” “Much appreciated,” or “Have a good weekend” when the conversation ends? That may seem like proper etiquette, but at scale, these unnecessary emails contribute a great deal to your carbon footprint. A recent survey study commissioned by OVO Energy — the leading energy provider in England — has uncovered the actual gravity of email traffic on carbon emissions.
How Emails Increase Your Carbon Footprint
Using the UK as a case study, researchers found that Brits send more than 64 million pointless emails each day — a habit releasing 23,475 tons of carbon emissions per year. Just by reducing each adult’s email traffic by one email a day, the UK could reduce its carbon footprint by 16,433 tons a year. That’s as much as 81,152 flights to Madrid or 3,334 diesel cars getting taken off the road.
Professor Mike Berners-Lee, one of the study’s authors, and coincidentally brother to Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web), argues that these small behaviors, such as sending unnecessary emails, add up.
“When you are typing, your computer is using electricity,” he says. “When you press send it goes through the network, and it takes electricity to run the network. And it’s going to end up being stored on the cloud somewhere, and those data centers use a lot of electricity. We don’t think about it because we can’t see the smoke coming out of our computers, but the carbon footprint of IT is huge and growing.”
And although he’s not too sure about the exact statistics, Berners-Lee agrees with OVO Energy’s point. “[Every small step is] a reminder to ourselves and others that we care even more about the really big carbon decisions,” he says.
To Email Or Not To Email
The study’s bottom line? “Think before you thank,” according to OVO Energy. Doing so could save 16,433 tons of carbon each year.
And the good news? Most Brits are more than willing to limit their email traffic for the sake of the environment. According to the study, 71% of UK adults wouldn’t mind not receiving that extra closing email if they knew it would reduce carbon emissions and benefit the environment. And despite their stereotypical British politeness, 87% would happily “reduce their email traffic to help support the same cause.”
At the end of the day, simply understanding the environmental toll of emails may be enough to inspire people to change their email habits.
So the next time you consider sending that “Lol” or “Sounds good,” instead consider saving your time. In doing so, you may also be saving the environment.
In short, when in doubt, leave that “Thank you” out. (And maybe unsubscribe from your grocery store mailing list while you’re at it.)