You’ve probably checked your email at least once during the past 24 hours, whether it was Gmail or Yahoo Mail. However, you might not have realized that you are actively contributing to climate change while doing so. Emails can have carbon emissions of around seven million cars. Most emails, including those in your spam and unread, end up in the Cloud which uses fossil fuels to keep the electricity running. Storing only 100 gigabytes of data in the Cloud annually can result in a carbon footprint of approximately 0.2 tons.
Different types of emails occupy different amounts of storage. A spam email emits 0.3 grams of CO2, while a regular email uses 4 grams. On the other hand, an email with an attachment generates 50 grams of CO2 on its own. While this may not seem like a large amount at a cursory glance, at a deeper level, several hundreds of billions of emails are sent a day. As time goes on the numbers start to multiply.
The carbon footprint generated by mobile and other devices is around 3.7% of global emissions according to BBC. This is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry, a significant contributor to climate change. However, companies are now starting to do their part in helping their users be more eco-friendly. For instance, Google is now rolling out a new widget allowing its users to identify their carbon footprint based on their Gmail and Google Docs accounts. “These insights can help governments transform the way they manage physical and natural resources, helping them become more climate-resilient,” Google announced on their blog. That being said, there are still companies like Amazon which are claiming to have made a switch to renewable sources of energy while still using significant pollutants.
The pollution from the Cloud isn’t limited to emails. It includes anything that is being stored in the cloud such as texts or photos. “We think the footprint per message might be higher today because of the bigger phones people are using,” Charlotte Freitag, a carbon footprint expert at Small World Consulting, told BBC. While there are many things one could do to combat climate change, one of the simplest things is clearing out spam emails and old texts.