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The Carbon Footprint of Email

In addition to being a successful environmental consultant, Mike Berners-Lee is, according to The Guardian, the brother of World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee. So it seems fitting that, along with Guardian journo Duncan Clark, he’s undertaken to calculate the carbon footprint of email.

But email is all online, so it can’t have an environmental impact, right? Not so: According to the pair, an average year’s worth of email for a business user has a footprint of 135 kg of carbon: “over 1% of of a relatively green 10-tonne lifestyle and equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car.”

The Guardian drops some amazing statistics:

According to research by McAfee, a remarkable 78% of all incoming emails are spam. Around 62 trillion spam messages are sent every year, requiring the use of 33bn kilowatt hours (KWh) of electricity and causing around 20 million tonnes of CO2e per year.

McAfee estimated that around 80% of this electricity is consumed by the reading and deleting of spam and the searching through spam folders to dig out genuine emails that ended up there by accident. Spam filters themselves account for 16%. The actual generation and sending of the spam is a very small proportion of the footprint.

Although 78% of incoming emails sent are spam, these messages account for just 22% of the total footprint of a typical email account because, although they are a pain, you deal with them quickly. Most of them you never even see. A genuine email has a bigger carbon footprint, simply because it takes time to deal with.

Their radical proposal: A one-cent tax on every email, which would wipe out spam instantly. It’s unlikely to happen, however.

More at The Guardian.

(title pic via v12 Group)

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