Carbon footprint: Letters versus emails

Christmas card debate_08Dec2015

When I was a little girl, each December I would excitedly wait for my Christmas card from my Granny Esther. It always had a two Rand note in it, and with that I could buy a lot of sweets! My parents would string up all our Christmas cards in the lounge, our mantelpiece overflowing with snowy nativity scenes.

Gone are days of receiving letterboxes full of Christmas cards, now with e-cards and emails being so quick and easy. But although sending an e-card or an email means less paper is being used, did you know sending emails also has a carbon footprint?

The average letter has a carbon footprint of about 29 grams of CO2. The carbon footprint of a normal email footprint is much less, about 4 grams of CO2. But add a 1 Megabyte (MB) attachment and this goes up to 19 grams. The bigger the attachment, the more energy your email uses – a large attachment could have a footprint of up to 50 grams!

Currently, the information technology and communication industry is responsible for around 2 percent of global emissions. The good news is that some companies are already using renewable energy to power their data centres and others have set goals to do so – but there is still a long way to go.

Christmas cards aside, the best way to reduce your e-footprint is to unsubscribe from newsletters that you never read, and only “reply all” if it is really necessary. My inbox gets clogged with pictures of cute puppies, celebrities in embarrassing situations, free computers… you name it, I get it! Around 62 trillion spam messages are sent every year, requiring the use of 33 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and producing around 20 million tonnes of CO2e per year.

Storing all of these emails uses energy so remember to delete spam, joke and hoax emails as soon as they arrive.

Also beware of “click bait”. Those sensationalist links which go something like: “guess what happened when this boy saw Santa Claus for the first time” which lure you into clicking on the link. Before you know it, you have wasted a whole hour watching ridiculous videos. Viewing a webpage (with pictures) or watching a video online emits about 0.2 grams of CO2 per second! A Google search is about 0.2 – 7 grams per second.

So the next time I am tempted to forward that cute fluffy kitten picture to everyone I know, I might give it a second thought. And I will definitely try not to get absorbed into watching junk videos – although you must definitely watch this one: “you’ll never guess what he discovered”.

Olivia is the Project 90 Operations Manager.







6 responses to “Carbon footprint: Letters versus emails

  1. Pingback: The Secret to Sustainable Summer Fun – Better Than Yesterday

  2. Actually, I believe the amount of C02 produced by an email is unquantifiable. This is due to the fact that, as long as it is stored (and all electronic communication is stored on servers around the world) the email can only exist and be read as long as it is burning energy.

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