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15 Dec 2021

The Carbon Footprint of Thank You Emails

Kindness costs nothing, or at least, that is what I first thought.

Last month, I discovered that sending unnecessary emails, even out of politeness, is costing the planet much more than we may realise.

What kind of emails am I referring to? What is deemed as unnecessary? For me, emails that only say thank you, despite thanking the recipient in the previous email, are sometimes unnecessary.

It was a colleague’s email signature strip that made me question whether my good manners are actually a habit that is bad for the environment. The signature strip summarised the colleague’s decision to reduce the amount of ‘thank you’ emails they send to lower their carbon footprint, and how if more people acted in this way, it would significantly reduce carbon emission levels. This is because, on average, one email creates 4g of CO2 emissions . 1

In a Birmingham Business School blog post, Dr Caroline Moraes, Dr Solon Magrizos and Dr Grigorios Lamprinakos explain how ‘… all our online activities require electricity that may or may not have been generated sustainably, and put further demands on environmentally damaging infrastructure, such as satellites, submarine cables, antennas and data centres that all consume enormous resources’.2

Following this realisation, I now pause before responding to emails. Do I need to send an email that only says ‘you’re welcome’, or ‘thank you’ again? I have also deleted emails that I no longer need to reduce my account storage levels, and unsubscribed from mailing lists where I would only delete the emails as soon as they arrived.

Reducing my thank you emails does not mean I am cutting out kindness, however, it only means that I am not repeating it unnecessarily.

Something as easy as adding the message above to your signature strip at work, or sharing it with your friends and family, will help educate more people on the carbon footprint of emails.


Articles mentioned:

1 ZmeScience:
www.zmescience.com/science/unnecessary-emails-are-causing-harm-to-the-environment/

2 Birmingham Business School:
blog.bham.ac.uk/business-school/2020/10/22/why-lockdown-life-has-sent-our-digital-carbon-footprint-spiralling/

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