Digital pollution (or IT pollution) caused by e-mail refers to the environmental impact produced by the excess energy used to generate, manage, transmit and archive email messages.
In recent decades, sending emails has been considered one of the least polluting free methods of communication (and it certainly is when compared to sending paper letters), but the number of emails sent worldwide every day has become such as to create a certain concern in terms of environmental sustainability.
According to estimates by the Internet Live Stat portal, which monitors web statistical data in real time, there are approximately 230 billion emails sent daily around the world, the majority of which is spam (junk mail).
How polluting is sending an email
According to a study conducted by the French Agency for Environment and Energy Control (Ademe), each 1 megabyte email sent is equivalent to an emission of 19 grams of CO2.
The digital carbon footprint depends, however, not only on the number of emails sent and received, but also on the nature of each individual email.
The carbon footprint of a text-only email is certainly lower than that of an email with attachments such as documents, images or other types of files, especially if they are large.
How emails pollute
The pollution produced by an email is the sum of the carbon footprints left in the different phases that the email message goes through: from its sending to its reception by the recipient.
Not only is the electricity used by the sender's and recipient's computers involved in this process, but every time an email is sent, it is copied at least ten times to other servers to allow the message to arrive at destination.
At each step, energy is consumed for transmission from one server to another, for the cooling system of each server, and for storing the copy of the message on all servers.
The consequence is a series of CO2 emissions which are greater the more energy is used and this quantity of energy is greater the "heavier" the email is to take to its destination.
How to send a sustainable email
We can observe some tricks to send an email in the most sustainable way possible:
- We evaluate whether there is really a need to send that specific email
We can often communicate a message using other slightly less polluting channels such as instant messaging apps (WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger) or SMS;
- We write the text of the email in a concise and exhaustive way
We use our synthesis ability to develop a short text in which we fully develop the topic in question so as to avoid sending subsequent emails to integrate further information;
- Let's avoid useless response emails like "ok", "that's fine", "see you later", "thank you"
- We compress the attachments
Compressing large files reduces their "weight" as it reduces the number of megabytes to be sent;
- If possible, we use the Cloud for file sharing
Instead of sending files as attachments to an email, we can opt for a solution for sharing them from a cloud by indicating the sharing link to the recipient in the body of the email.
In this way, the recipient who clicks the link easily reaches the files and can download them to their computer directly from the cloud.
This method requires less data consumption than sending attachments, significantly reducing its environmental impact;
- We limit the number of CCs (main recipients) and BCCs (blind carbon copy recipients)
Remember that the greater the number of recipients, the greater the number of steps our email will have to make on the various servers to reach everyone.
For this reason, it is better to avoid "reply all" if it is not strictly necessary.
How to manage our email inbox sustainably
Our contribution to environmental sustainability with regards to e-mail is not limited to the mere sending of emails, but also involves the management of our inbox.
Let's think about how many useless spam or web marketing emails we receive every day that we don't even open and that remain archived in our email account, significantly contributing to digital pollution.
To better manage our email inbox in terms of environmental sustainability we can carry out simple cleaning actions that free up space and make it tidy:
- We unsubscribe from all the newsletters that are not of interest to us by clicking on the wording "Unsubscribe" at the bottom of the email
We will thus eliminate the arrival of superfluous emails at the source. We also remove other useless web marketing emails;
- We delete old emails that we no longer need (both sent and received), especially if they contain large attachments;
- We permanently eliminate spam emails, block the sender and, if possible, report them to our email provider (Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo etc...) especially if they are phishing (scam emails which through a link inside extorts users' personal and banking data). We also set up an anti-spam filter to limit its reception;
- We empty the trash in our inbox periodically.