Did you know that if the internet was a country, it would be the sixth most polluting nation in the world? With this in mind, account planner and arts blogger Hattie Bottom turns her attention to emails in order to find out how we can reduce our carbon footprints online.
Sometime last year, a piece of advice from my manager was passed around the juniors in my office: “don’t be a slave to your inbox.”
Why did this feel like something worth sharing? A lesson easy to brush off as obvious, yet the dopamine-hitting email notifications often catch us off guard. Some mornings, my inbox seems to swallow me up.
Every day, the average office worker is bombarded with 121 emails, and over half of these will be spam.
If you do click through the majority of your inbox, are you wasting time… losing focus on your priorities for the day? Have you just reappeared from a wave of inbox procrastination? And if you have better focus than I, and skip past reams of unread’s in your inbox, how much energy has been wasted by those emails?
What exactly is the carbon footprint of an email?
Whilst we’re now familiar with the idea that each of the objects in our homes has a carbon footprint, the energy to send and store an email is elusive. It’s not surprising that almost three-quarters of the UK (72%) are completely unaware of the carbon footprint attached to their inbox.
Here’s a little ‘behind the scenes’: an email travels an average of 15,000 km before getting to your screen, there’s a huge amount of power that data centres and computers need to use to send, filter, and store messages. The most recent research suggests that 64 million unnecessary emails are sent every day in the UK, contributing to 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year. That’s 115,931 flights from Heathrow to Madrid.
Mike Berners-Lee, researcher and author of ‘There is no Planet B’ and ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’, says: “Whilst the carbon footprint of an email isn’t huge, it’s a great illustration of the broader principle that cutting the waste out of our lives is good for our wellbeing and good for the environment. Every time we take a small step towards changing our behaviour, be that sending fewer emails or carrying a reusable coffee cup, we need to treat it as a reminder to ourselves and others that we care even more about the really big carbon decisions”
Going back to the advice ‘don’t be a slave to your inbox’, I’ve listed a few ways to alleviate your inbox dread and digital footprint; It’s not dissimilar giving your sock drawer the full Marie Kondo makeover.
Here are my seven top tips to start reducing the carbon footprint of your emails:
The first step is to de-clutter your inbox. Use an app to help you unsubscribe from any newsletters you don’t want. The best ones I’ve found are: CleanFox and Unroll Me (outside of EU and the European Economic Area)- I unsubscribed from 665 newsletters in one fell swoop.
Say goodbye to your childhood email address
Reducing the number of email addresses you use is an instant way to cut down your digital footprint. Do you have any 90s cringeworthy email addresses still in existence? I deleted my email@example.com after over a decade of ignoring it…
Carbon Capper by Ovo is the first Chrome extension that gives you a ‘planet-friendly prompt’ every time you might be about to send an unnecessary email. It tracks your word count, flagging emails under four words. According to OVO, “each UK adult sending one less ‘thank you’ email a day, would save over 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – the same as taking 3,3343 diesel cars off the road.”
To CC or not CC
Each time you copy in a colleague, you’re adding to their to-do list of unread’s. As well as starting a new energy trail. If you streamline the number of people copied in your emails, you’re saving colleagues from another lump of inbox dread and its carbon footprint.
Shrink those attachments
What you send in your emails affects the email’s carbon footprint. If you compress email attachments, adopt lighter file formats or replace the attachments with a hyperlink it uses less energy.
iCloud is for essentials
Try to back up only what’s essential. One stored email is equivalent to 10g of CO2 per year. That’s the same CO2 emission as a plastic bag. So, with your spring clean, why not delete all those emails that are uselessly taking up space?
At the root of all this, is the energy that powers your inbox screen. The biggest step you can take to reduce your digital footprint is to choose a renewable home energy supplier and ask if your office can do this too.
Follow these five simple changes to make your businsess plastic free.
Looking to lower your carbon footprint at home too? See our pick of low carbon hobbies.