A report prepared for the European commission in 2008 by BIO Intelligence Service, an environmental assessment agency, found that the use of such technologies contributes 2% to European greenhouse gases. And that figure is set to double by 2020 if lifestyles don’t change.
Curious about this environmental impact, the French environment and energy agency Ademe made its own assessment of technology use, including email, web searches and document transmission using USB flash drives.
Consider email. In 2009, an estimated 247bn emails were sent around the world daily, a number that’s expected to rise to somewhere near 500bn within three years.
In France, for example, someone working in a company that employs 100 people receives an average of 58 emails a day and sends an average of 33. Taking an average email size of 1MB, the base figure (possibly excessive) used in its calculations, Ademe estimated that professional emails generate an astonishing 13.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions a year, or 136kg per employee. That’s equivalent to about 13 return journeys from Paris to New York.
Why is there such a high carbon impact? It’s all because of the energy required by computers to send and receive email – including the centres that store and process the data – as well as the energy required to make the electronic components.
But Ademe offered some hope. The environmental impact can be substantially reduced if an email is sent to fewer recipients, the agency found. By adding 10 addressees, greenhouse gas emissions increased fourfold. However, removing one addressee for each email resulted in a 6g CO2 equivalent gain, or 44kg per year, per employee.
“A 10% reduction in emails that copy a manager or a colleague in a company of 100 employees saves approximately one tonne of CO2 equivalent over the year,” Ademe said. That increases exponentially with the size of the emails.