The true impact of email

By Vita Sgardello - 14 Jul 2011 2:11:0 GMT
The true impact of email

We've seen this message at the end of an email a hundred times and often heeded its words: "Please think before printing". But a recent study conducted by the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) suggests that while refraining from printing emails can help to reduce your carbon footprint, it would be best not to send the email at all.

According to the report, which was researched in collaboration with a French firm specializing in life cycle assessment, Bio Intelligence Services, in France, each employee of a company of 100 people receives an average of 58 emails a day and sends 33. At an average size of 1 MB and 220 working days per year, ADEME has calculated sending work related emails generates 13.6 tonnes of CO2, about 13 round-trip flights from Paris to New York. Times that number by four if you copy 10 people into your message. Times it by 2.8 million to find out how much CO2 is released around the world every second through emailing alone (the Radicati Group research company estimates that 294 billion emails are sent every day, 90 trillion every year).

"Sending an email with a photo attachment consumes far more energy than we think," Alain Anglade, director of ADEME's electronic equipment division told the French magazine reporting the news, Le Parisien. The problem is that while sending an email takes little more effort than a click of the mouse, once it "leaves" our computer it is copied a dozen times by servers and relay servers before reaching its final destination. Each step consumes electricity, as does storing the email, which on some servers can mean for up to a year.

Electricity isn't the only factor that the study took into account. "Our calculations also included the impact of the materials used to manufacture electronic devices such as metal and plastic as well as the energy consumed in the manufacturing process - this is important because in some cases, like for goods manufactured in China, the energy is likely to come from a coal plant," said Anglade.

To print or not to print

The basic rule suggested by Angalade is "the smaller the printer the greater its impact on the environment". He also dispels the myth that not printing files is better than downloading them and reading them straight from your computer, "if it takes more than 15 minutes to read a document you are better off printing it out and don't be fooled by those who convice you that paperless files are better than the environment as large printing presses have less of an impact than office size ones". Of course, don't forget to print on both sides of the paper and to put your pc on standby while you read. His final word of advice? "Reduce the number of emails you send - a 10 per cent reduction could save up to 1 tonne of CO2 a year".

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