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The Environmental Impact of Emails: How to Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Curious about the environmental impact of emails? Every email in your inbox has a carbon footprint. Here's what to do to lower it.

Written by
Kathryn Gatewood

In an era where everything is digital, you may feel like you are always receiving emails. In fact, more than 306 billion emails are sent every day. That's only expected to increase with the world going more virtual due to the COVID-19. But did you know that there's an entire network behind every message?

This network includes not only the electricity you use, but also the energy it takes to store and transmit that information through data centers. Whether you only receive emails from people you know or have too many subscriptions, every inbox has its own carbon footprint.

The Carbon Cost of Emails

Many researchers have found links between our technology and the environment. Studies measure the impact technology has on the environment by looking at the amount of greenhouse gas produced to support it. (FYI: This goes for the impact of your tech accessories, too. Spend some time looking for sustainable tech alternatives.)

CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) is the standard unit used when measuring carbon footprints. Here are some average carbon footprint benchmarks for different types of emails to get you started: An average spam email is 0.3 grams of CO2e; a standard email is 4 grams of CO2e; and an email with attachments can get up to 50 grams of CO2e.

As these benchmarks show, a day's worth of emails really adds up in terms of CO2e.

So, What Can You Do About Email Emissions?

1. Clean Out Your Inbox

Yes, that little red bubble telling you that you have thousands of unread emails can be a little intimidating, but it's time.

The first step to making your inbox a greener place is to clean it out. But that doesn't have to take hours and hours. Setting a little time aside every day to sift through your emails can be a total game-changer. If you already have a spam or junk folder, head there first and you can mass-delete some in less than a minute!

Another efficient way to remove multiple emails at a time that are still in your inbox is by using that search bar. Search the name of a specific sender, like a newsletter or brand email you often receive, and delete all the emails you want without having to hop over all your other ones.

2. Unsubscribe From Unwanted Emails

Instead of deleting emails as soon as you get them, take the time to go through unwanted emails and unsubscribe from them.

The next time you create a new account, take the time to read what you’re agreeing to. Some registrations like to be sneaky and check a box for you right before the "create account" button, signing you up for promotional emails. From now on, make sure to un-check that box to stop the problem at its source!

If you don’t want to completely unsubscribe from a sender, there are usually ways to fix that, too! You can try going to your account with the company, checking out the settings, and setting them to which notifications you actually want to receive.

Although notifications can be helpful, some specific newsletters or promotional notifications a site offers may not be relevant to you.

3. Organize Your Inbox

I like to think of myself as quite an organized person, but when it comes to my inbox, it's just not up to par.

As an extra treat to yourself, after you’ve decluttered and deleted your uninvited spam emails, go ahead and create some folders to make everything easy to go back and find. The amount of folders you can have is endless: Recipes, Work, School, Family, To File Later, and even an Unsubscribe folder are just a few examples. 

The “flag message” option is another revolutionary tool for inbox organizing. I flag all my emails that need a response when I can’t respond at the moment. Another type of email you can flag is a message that contains upcoming Zoom meeting codes: you won't have to do the late-log-on of shame because you couldn’t find the link in time.

Just don’t forget to unflag the emails once you’ve responded to them or attended the Zoom meetings to keep those inboxes looking clean.

The Takeaway

Little things, even emails, can have an impact on the environment around us. In this case, little things thankfully don’t require big fixes.

It’s up to you how you declutter and organize your emails, and doing so could help lessen the carbon footprint you leave on Earth.