This article was contributed by Alex Mawby of FCC partner IASP.

There’s nothing more annoying than having to sift through a mountain of spam emails or arrive at work only to have to read message after message, but did you know that emails also come with a surprising environmental impact? It might only be miniscule, but when added up the impact that our inboxes have on the environment is concerning.

According to Eco2Greetings, sending a single email that is solely text based emits 4g of CO2e, as every single one requires electricity to be sent. This isn’t just in powering your phone, computer or even router, but also in manufacturing the equipment and infrastructure required to send them. Spam emails cause just 0.3g of CO2e, but this impact increases to 50g for emails with multiple attachments.

These grams quickly multiply into a bigger impact. The average office worker receives 126 emails per day with around 50% being spam. Assuming that of the messages that aren’t spam a quarter have multiple attachments, that would mean a total daily impact of 825.9g.

0.3g x 53 = 15.9g

4g x 40 = 160g

50g x 13 = 650g

That might seem insignificant, but in other words, every day spent receiving emails in the office is the equivalent to driving 2km in a fossil fuel powered car. More concerning, however, is that when you consider the number of days worked each year in the UK for example (typically 223), it gives an annual impact of 184kg, or 0.184 tonnes. Put into perspective, the average Tanzanian produces just 0.18 tonnes per year, email and everything else.

The possibilities to make a dent in this impact are huge given the number of us who use emails regularly. Ovo Energy says that if every Brit sent just one email less per day, 16,433 tonnes of carbon would be saved per year, or the equivalent to 81,152 flights from London to Madrid. This is definitely achievable, and would also save us a significant amount of time as well.

Deleting emails and clearing out your spam inbox is another way to reduce your impact too. It’s not just sending or receiving them which produces emissions, but storing them on servers. Although it may not seem like it, the cloud is actually huge servers storing data for us to access at any moment, and these big data centres consume massive amounts of fossil fuels each day. A study in France, for example, showed that if everyone deleted 50 old emails that would be the equivalent of turning off 2.7 billion light bulbs for one hour.

The permanent solution isn’t to go back to sending handwritten letters through the post, which have a much higher environmental impact due to the materials needed, miles driven and often air miles flown, but to consider if the emails you are sending are truly necessary. This won’t just be time saved, but with collective action, make a difference for the environment. Consider this advice to reduce your impact, and make the world greener.

  • Clean out your spam inbox
  • Don’t send short emails such as “thanks”
  • Consider if attachments are necessary
  • Use email carbon calculators to understand your impact
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