Wait… Don’t “reply all”

While email communications use under 2% the energy of a mailed letter, the volume of emails makes them responsible for perhaps as much CO2 globally as seven million extra cars (BBC’s Science Focus). The occasional letter or card has a finer and more lasting effect than the common email— don’t stop sending one now and then!

Electricity is the energy source required to display, transfer, and store email. A simple email is responsible for a mere 4 grams of CO2 emissions. Add a picture attachment, and the carbon footprint rises to about 50 grams. (Think of the carbon price of two, three, or four photos of your best roses or favorite grandchild.) In a year, the average email communicator adds an extra 300 lbs. of CO2 to the atmosphere.

We can reduce the carbon footprint of our own email traffic by unsubscribing from emails or newsletters we don’t read or deleting them when finished reading. “If every person deleted only10 of those emails, they could save 1,725,00 gigabytes of storage space and around 55.2 million kilowatts of power” (greenmatters.com, March 15, 2021). Cloud storage isn’t fluffy and light —it requires a lot of electricity generated in most of the world by fossil fuels.

The best way to curb your footprint with email is to delete the old. Consider also the effect when you “reply all” to every group email you receive. Whether “all” is two or twenty people, you’re multiplying the CO2 contribution. The next time you see Aunt Gertie, tell her you fancied the cat video. Or at least respond by email to Gertie only (without the cat video attachment), rather than to her entire address book. With effort, we can minimize replacing farmland with data centers.

An issue for another day is the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of text messages… It’s less, much less.

by Brenda Johnson Kame’enui