Carbon Pollution From Your Emails

A Financial Times report based on work by Tim Berners-Lee has highlighted how sending fewer emails could help tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Emails and Carbon Production

The idea from Tim Berners-Lee, referenced also by Ovo Energy, is that although emails appear to be more environmentally friendly than using paper, a lot of energy is expended (and carbon produced) in order to allow emails to be used.  For example, for emails to be written and sent energy must be used by servers, home wi-fi, and a laptop.  Also, the carbon emitted to construct data-centre buildings could also be taken into when assessing the environmental impact of email as this represents significant greenhouse gas (carbon) production.

How Much?

Although each individual email is likely to be responsible for producing an incredibly small amount of carbon as a proportion of the 435.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses produced by the UK last year, there is likely to be a cumulative impact. This impact is likely to be made greater by the sending of “unnecessary” emails.

For example, Ovo Energy commissioned (Censuswide) research shows that the 64 million “unnecessary” emails sent every day could be responsible for contributing 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year to the UK’s carbon footprint. Unnecessary emails are categorised as those sent to friends within talking distance, or those containing replies such as ‘thank you’, ‘thanks’, ‘received’, and similar.

Polluting Anyway?

There is, of course, and argument that whether sending emails or not, having laptops, computers, Wi-Fi routers (and more) switched on all the time is contributing anyway to the production of carbon and that separating out the individual contribution of emails is difficult. It could also be argued that game and video streaming and cloud storage have more of a negative impact than sending emails.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many bigger businesses and big tech businesses try, where possible, to reduce any obvious environmental impact but also rely upon carbon offsetting and the funding of environmental projects.  Google, for example, says that, due to carbon offsetting, it became carbon neutral in 2007, has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created and plans to run all of its data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030. Organisations such as Friends of the Earth which points out that “in most cases, it seems clear that carbon offsetting doesn’t work in practice” and Greenpeace which says that “the way out of the climate emergency is just not that simple” and that “Offsetting projects simply don’t deliver what we need” are clearly more sceptical about offsetting.

Reducing the numbers of “unnecessary” emails sent sounds like a good, time-saving and hopefully, energy-saving idea anyway, but businesses clearly need to look at the bigger picture and concentrate more on higher-impact elements too.