A Green New Deal For Email? Study Shows Environmental Harm

Email marketers have been accused of many things, from fraud to spam. Here’s a new offense: the destruction of the planet.

A new report shows that the UK’s carbon footprint could be reduced by 16,000 tons per year if each person sent one less unnecessary email per day. These emails do the same damage as 81,152 jet plane flights to Madrid.

How can this be?

"The carbon happens when you're at your machine when you're tapping your email out, and then you send it and the network uses some electricity to send it and then will end up being stored in the cloud, which again will take up electricity,” the author of the report, professor and researcher Mike Berners-Lee, tells The Telegraph.

Sounds like a bit of a stretch. But if true as reported, responsible people should see it as part of a bigger environmental meltdown. 

The report does not address marketing emails specifically: It focuses on the unanswered emails we all send in our daily lives.  



But figure it out. Of the 64 million unnecessary emails sent each day, by the processor’s tally, many have to be marketing emails.

And there’s the danger. It’s only a matter of time before environmental groups set their sights on junk emailers (even while they’re using email to raise funds). 

This subject has come up before. In 2017, French regulators asked companies to “cut back on email in order to save energy,” Hayley Tsukayama wrote at that time in The Washington Post.

Tsukayama continued that “the average spam email has a footprint equivalent to 0.3 g of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e).” The source for this claim? Berners-Lee’s 2010 book: How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything.

By this measure, the effect in the U.S. must be catastrophic.

What can CEOs do to prevent from being viewed as environmental fiends?

For starters, firms geared to people who are concerned about the climate should publish environmental policies, as they now do privacy policies.

These would not be only be about the materials used in products: They would focus on the use of sustainable energy and companies’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.  

This could be a branding opportunity. Catalogs, once blamed for deforestation, get points for their use of recycled paper.

People resent the time it takes to open irrelevant or email. The answer is in better targeting. Right?

Maybe not: the data you use to send hyper-relevant emails raises another dangerous issue: privacy. You can’t win.


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