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Want to reduce pollution? Send less emails

So, this is 2021 and we meanwhile know that Bitcoin mining is a dirty business. Thousands of server farms running mostly on fossil fuels and crunching enormous amounts of data worldwide even had Elon Musk fall out of love with the much hyped cryptocurrency.


While it is easy to point our fingers at the vast amount of energy the digital currency uses, our internet habits are not that innocent either.


Those small emails we send all the time without much thought? They are not just irritating but also have a massive carbon footprint. So how can a little email destroy the planet?





The hidden environmental costs of your emails

Each form of online activity carries its own carbon footprint and every email you send has a whole energy-consuming infrastructure behind it. Those emails add up to an incredible amount when you take the world's collective usage into account.


On a average, an office-based employee sends around 140 emails per day. That adds up to over 34,000 emails per year which in turn creates around 168 kg of CO2 per year.


So how does the carbon output of hitting "send" on those 34,000 emails compare? To using 16,800 plastic bags or 2,100 disposable cups. That is per employee, per year!


Like to copy in the entire team when sending emails? Add those to your email count too.


For some eye-opening calculations, try the email CO2 calculator to see how much impact your email habits actually have.


The damage of a "thank you"

While I am not proposing a total crack-down on email contacts, we should nevertheless consider the incredible number of unnecessary emails that are delivered every single day. I am thinking of those thanks-a-lot, appreciated, noted and LOL messages.


According to the BBC, if every adult in the UK sent one less “thank you” email, it could save 16,433 tons of carbon a year. That is the equivalent to taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road or the pollution caused by more than 81,000 flights from the UK to Madrid.


This should of been a link, not an attachment

The numbers are even less pretty when you send an email with a heavy attachment, which puts up to 50g CO2 into the air. That is up to 5 times more than an email with no attachment.


Yup, it's your emails that are contributing to the pollution of the planet.


Emails are convenient, but they come with a cost. With the average person spending 13 hours a week just reading and processing emails, it’s not only a cost to the planet, but also to your time and productivity.


Your emails are not good for the environment - and not for you either

I will give you another reason to cut back on those pointless emails: your well-being.


Especially with all the remote working it has been harder than ever to disconnect and many people feel the constant need to be "visible" by increasing their email communication.


There have been numerous studies showing that employees get a burst of anxiety when opening their emails accounts in the morning and seeing a flurry of unread emails in their inbox. Sound familiar?


"Approximately 92% of employees show elevated blood pressure and heart rate when handling emails at work, according to Harvard Business Review. Especially many unread emails serve as a stress factor for workers."

The reason employees feel anxious and overwhelmed is that each message represents another demand of their time and decision. Even when ignoring emails, it often bothers a person's consciousness, causing immediate stress and drawing attention away from actual work.


So what can you do?

In today's digital world we create a huge amount of trash, including many of those (pointless) emails we write day-in and day-out. They eat into precious storage space on our smartphones, laptops and tablets wasting energy, including mental energy.


So how about incorporating some of these easy fixes and cut down on all that clutter:

  • Simply stop with all those unnecessary email pleasantries and stop being trapped in a pointless email chain of thank you's. Nobody will miss those messages, trust me.

  • Only send emails to people who should know, including only copying them in if beneficial. No more blanket emails.

  • Make sure you include all relevant information in your emails. This reduces follow-up emails. And also saves everybody’s time!

  • Use targeted distribution lists if you need to send to wider audiences. Remove those that have unsubscribed and update any email changes.

  • Could this email have been a quick walk to your colleagues desk instead? Try face-to-face or - if working remotely - a phone call, whenever possible. You will be surprised how efficient that can be!

  • Need to share an attachment? Store the file in the cloud and send a link instead. An email with attachment produces around 50g CO2 while an email just around 5g CO2. That's a saving of 90% in CO2! If you don't have cloud storage space set up already, companies such as WeTransfer or Dropbox provide a good alternative.

Whilst the carbon footprint of a single email isn't huge, it's the quantity that creates the issue. By cutting out the waste and de-cluttering, this is a good reminder of how small changes contribute to the bigger picture. This is not only good for everyone's email inbox and the environment, but also our minds.

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