Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Unread Emails Are Hurting the Environment

We use the internet for everything from entertainment, communication, research, and it has completely transformed the way we work. Most people don’t realize that emissions from internet and cloud usage are quickly exceeding the amount of carbon from other industries. In 2023, cloud computing accounts for around 3% of all global emissions, which is more than the airline industry, shipping, and food processing.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are often emitted due to the energy used in powering the data centers and servers necessary for online activities like sending emails and browsing the web. Even seemingly minor online actions, such as sending emails, can cumulatively contribute to global emissions in significant ways. According to research at Lancaster University, a standard email without attachments can emit approximately 0.004 kg CO2e. Even storing spam emails in your inbox produces carbon, around 0.01 kg CO2e a year per email. So if you’re one of those people (like me) with over a thousand emails sitting in your promotions inbox, on average those add up to produce 10 kg CO2e per year. That’s the equivalent of driving a car about 250 miles according to the EPA! One more reason to get to Inbox Zero.

Measuring the emissions produced from internet and technology use is complex. Should the energy required to run the servers be calculated as well as refrigerant from the AC units that ensure they don’t overheat? Should employee commutes to work each day be included? What about the energy to manufacture the computers in the first place? While some data centers use renewable energy sources, others still rely on fossil fuels, leading to varying levels of GHG emissions by company and by region.

The GHG Protocol is clear that all these elements need to be accounted for and reported, and due to expansion of the EU ETS cap and trade scheme in 2024, many companies will begin to pay carbon taxes passed on from their carbon-emitting vendors starting this year. So what can companies do? In fact, there are several steps that companies can take to reduce their emissions and exposure to carbon taxes.

A first step is to evaluate emissions hotspots and benchmark important vendors to understand which are failing to make reduction progress. Selecting cloud vendors based on their emissions profiles is an increasingly important step for many companies. Google has the second highest DitchCarbon Score of the major cloud vendors, due to their key efforts including encouraging employees’ sustainable commutes, working to electrify their offices, and making sure their buildings meet green standards such as LEED. One specific office location, Sunnyvale, is being built completely using the mass timber technique, allowing the building to produce 96% less emissions than it would with a normal concrete and steel structure. See our full score criteria and weightings here.

To generate less emissions during normal work, employees can collectively make a dent by unsubscribing from unwanted commercial email lists. Organizations can take easy steps like setting employee email spam and deleted inboxes to clear out more quickly by default. They can also choose to adopt more eco-friendly cloud service providers and messaging tools. According to IT company Thales, Slack and Teams require less energy from servers than sending emails.

The emissions produced from employees’ everyday technology use is relevant for many companies to include in their Scope 3 reporting, and vendor selection can make a material difference in overall company emissions. DitchCarbon has streamlined the process of comparing vendor emissions and calculating company-specific emissions from Scope 3 spend by aggregating hundreds of thousands of primary company emissions disclosures. If we can help with any of this, please get in touch.

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Measuring is one thing, driving action is what we really need, integrating DitchCarbon into our operations has enabled a key shift in behaviour
Sarah Wilson, Procurement Practitioner


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