How To Stop Ramping Up The Carbon Emissions Created From Electronic Junk Mail

After I finished this week’s accounts and went through my electronic junk mail, I listened to BBC Radio 2’s Pop Master. As a music lover, work stops every day wherever possible so that I can compete – and this time was no exception. I managed to gain a commendable score, but it was time to get back to work, so I turned the radio off.

By now, the post should have been delivered. Walking into the hall, I could see a small stack of letters lying prostrate on the doormat.

Scooping them up, I went back to the kitchen and opened them. Of the fifteen items, only two were proper pieces of correspondence addressed to me.

The rest was junk mail – unsolicited, and all of it irrelevant to my needs.

I sighed and tossed them all straight into my recycling bin.

What a waste of time, money and resources!

Now, we have already covered how to reduce the amount of unwanted paper junk mail in a previous article on How to stop junk mail & opt-out of receiving unaddressed promotional material. By following this advice, you should soon see a reduction in the unwanted postal mail.

But what about the electronic junk mail we all receive daily- cluttering our phones, tablets and computers?

Junk Mail In Numbers

The UK Office of National Statistics estimates that 92% of adults in the UK use the internet, with the proportion of those aged 75 years and over nearly doubled since 2013, from 29% to 54% in 2020.

According to research conducted by McMaster University (2), the relative contribution to climate change from information and computer technologies (ICT) could grow from 3.5% (2007) to about 14% by 2040.
Quite shocking when compared with global transport’s contribution of 16%!

According to The Radicati Group, a technology market research company, there were 3.93 billion email users globally in 2019, sending about 294 billion emails every day!

Back in 2018, approximately 55% of all emails were spam!

Simple maths will tell us that this equates to about 107 trillion emails being sent annually, with 59 trillion spam messages.

Globally, an average email user will receive about 75 emails daily, with about 41 spam and junk mail messages.

We estimate that every average business email generates between 0.03g of CO2e and 4gm.

If the emails include attachments, such as PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, images and video footage, that could easily increase to 26-50gm. (Professor Mike Berners-Lee).

A SPAM email is estimated to be 0.05gm per message.

On that basis, just sending our global emails pumps alarmingly high amounts of CO2e into the atmosphere each year.
About 3.4 million tonnes of it!
Of that, 2.4 million tonnes is from junk mail!

Most of us are willing and able to receive communications from official sources such as our banks, utilities and local councils by email (1).

Personally, I receive, on average 29 emails per day that are identified by my systems as SPAM, (Sales, Promotional Advertising Marketing).

A further 5 or 6 emails slip through the filters and drop into my inbox.

I have set up rules that automatically empty my junk mail file into the bin, which then auto-deletes them for me. This is important for two reasons:

  • Firstly it is good housekeeping.
  • Secondly, every single email is stored on a server somewhere in cyberspace. These servers require power – lots of power.

If everyone deleted their electronic junk mail folder and emptied their email trash regularly, there would be less demand for server memory and the subsequent power that it uses.

Most of us will have received junk and SPAM SMS messages on our smartphones. I delete these as soon as possible for the same reason.

Unwanted Text Messages

There is also the additional irritation of ‘junk’ text messages and even unwanted phone calls from individuals attempting to part us from our money.

Should you receive nuisance calls about ‘that accident that you never had’ or unwanted texts, simply forward the unwanted text message to 7726.

This number is supported by most mobile service providers and is published by the UK Government’s National Cyber Security Centre.

Once you have sent the ‘guilty’ text, you will receive a text from your provider’s SPAM service. The text will ask you to input the number from which you received the unwanted message.

Should you receive nuisance calls about 'that accident that you never had' or unwanted texts, simply forward the unwanted text message to 7726.Electronic Junk Mail blogpost.

They will then deal with the sender. I have done this on more than one occasion, and I am happy to report that I now get virtually no time-wasting SMS messages and associated environmental costs.

Whilst many of us tend to send quick text messages to family, friends and colleagues, there is still a sustainability issue to consider.

So, what can we do to reduce the electronic junk mail carbon impact?

STOP Sending ‘Thank You’ Responses

Most people are brought up to say please and thank you. As a result, we also send email responses thanking the sender for sending them.

This sometimes elicits a ‘No problem’ response from the sender.

That is two redundant emails, each one costing 0.05gm of CO2. You only need to do this a few times a day, and it will start increasing carbon emissions.

So – STOP sending ‘Thank You’ responses. Colleagues will soon get used to it – and probably would thank you for one less email to process.

Stop Covering Your Back

We are all guilty of this. How often have you CC’d a colleague or manager to prove that you are taking action or working?

Every additional individual in the send, CC and BCC fields comes at a cost.

Ask yourself – ‘Do they really need to know?’ If the answer is yes, then put them in the ‘To’ field. Try and stop using the CC and BCC fields.

Stop Sending Attachments

The need to send additional information at work is always there. It’s convenient to be able to attach your PowerPoint presentation or those Excel spreadsheets to your email with a click of a button.

To do this is expensive in CO2 terms.

You can use a system such as MS SharePoint or have a cloud drive such as iCloud, One Drive, or Google Drive (other providers are available). Just copy the hyperlink to the documents into the body of the email.

Alternatively, you can compress the attached files or adopt lighter file formats.

The same rule applies to email signatures that include the company’s logo or other images. The receiver’s computer downloads these images, increasing the energy our systems consume.

So please, consider twice before attaching files to your emails.

Use the Phone – Or Speak To Colleagues In Person

I have worked in quite small offices where it has been almost possible to have a whispered conversation from desk to desk.

Yet still, I received emails from colleagues when a chat face to face or a quick phone call would have sufficed.

I also know of people who will text from one room of the house to another.

Is there an alternative?

What about the good old-fashioned letter?

Research found that a 10gm letter, produced using recycled paper and sent at the cost of 65p, would generate in the region of 280gm CO2.

Maybe that email is a better idea after all!

Go Well!

    Sources – Further Reading:


    Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi.

    Top image by Pexels.
    Stop SPAM texts – image by Mark Charlwood.

    Mark Charlwood - Writer, Journalist and Voice Actor

    A highly qualified aviation professional who is able to write cogent and professional articles on a wide variety of subjects. Able to write interesting engaging features and articles concerning sustainability, alternative energy, AI, The Internet of Things, Biotech and ecological technology.

    View all posts by Mark Charlwood - Writer, Journalist and Voice Actor →
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