When consumers think of ways to reduce their carbon footprint, driving fewer cars, eating less animal food, and reducing waste are likely to come to mind.
But there is another, perhaps easier, way to reduce emissions. It’s about deleting old emails.
Your overflowing email inbox is a little-known climate change culprit, consuming energy totaling hundreds of thousands of tons every day for years, even decades. It also produces carbon dioxide.
Last year, 4.2 billion email users sent and received 333 billion emails per day, and Statista predicts that number will reach 400 billion by 2026. On the other hand, the data centers and servers that send and store each email consume large amounts of energy.
But little research has been done on the energy and environmental costs associated with email, said Mike Berners-Lee, a carbon emissions researcher at UK-based Lancaster University.
He estimates that the amount of electricity used in email, equivalent to CO2, ranges from 0.05 grams for a filtered spam email to 29 grams for a long email sent to 100 people. .
It takes into account the power used to create the email, power the devices used to send and receive it, the length of the email, the number of recipients, and the power consumed by the network and data center used in the process.
Berners-Lee estimates that the typical user receives about 75 emails every day, which equates to an average of 1.38 grams of carbon dioxide, resulting in 38 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It will generate quantity. This is equivalent to traveling 200 kilometers in a small gasoline car.
Moreover, the cost of long-term email storage remains largely a mystery.
Email can last for years, and major email service providers like Google and Microsoft don’t disclose how much power they use to maintain email in their data centers.
Microsoft declined an interview request, and Google did not respond to questions about the amount and age of email stored in its data centers and its associated carbon footprint. However, according to International Energy magazine, the world’s entire data centers consumed about 340 terawatt hours in 2022. agency. This is enough to power New York City for six years.
With the use of email becoming so popular for consumers and businesses looking to reduce their impact on the environment, there are no easy solutions.
“There’s a status quo bias that says you need new incentives to change behavior,” says Nir Eyal, behavioral design expert and author of Hooked.
“Unless there’s some new momentum, some new action that drives that behavior, things are going to continue to move forward the way they are. So when it comes to email in the minds of users, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to email in the minds of users, it’s likely that the cost of email will exceed the cost.” There’s really no benefit to deleting emails.”
Amber Cushing, associate professor at University College Dublin, said emotions also play a role in email archiving, highlighting the context of maintaining digital information over time.
“People find meaning in leaving emails. It could be from a close family member, or it could represent a relationship with someone. Maybe that relationship continues. It could be a family member who has passed away. There’s also the aspect of it being a kind of memento,” she said.
A widespread solution to the email-related CO2 emissions problem will have to come from major service providers such as Google and Microsoft. Because these service providers account for a large amount of traffic. Improving data center power efficiency and educating users about email management best practices are the simplest initial solutions, Eyal and Cushing say.
Artificial intelligence plays a role by helping users better manage their emails with an AI-trained virtual assistant that can categorize emails by importance and effectively create a trash pile. may be fulfilled.
Microsoft’s Copilot AI assistant, released in November in its enterprise suite of office applications such as Outlook and Word, and Google’s move to connect its Bard AI to Gmail in September are steps in that direction. be.
For Eyal, that makes sense.
“The average consumer is just trying to raise a family and pay the bills. …Rather than asking customers to change their behavior, it’s much better to have email service providers come up with green solutions. It’s easy,” he said.
On the other hand, for email users looking to take immediate action regarding their carbon footprint, the following good habits are foundational.
–Use appropriate communication apps for the situation. Use instant messaging for things you don’t need to save, like quick work questions or “I’m going to be late” messages.
— Use automatic deletion features such as WhatsApp’s “messages disappear” option.
— Archive saved emails. It compresses and shrinks in size in the cloud, requiring less power to operate.
— Avoid replying to everyone. Send emails only to people who need to see them. Fewer people means fewer devices, less email network traffic, less power usage and less emissions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023.