Are Texts and Emails Environmentally-Friendly?

Internet usage, data centers, and digital technologies -- including texting on your smartphone -- are responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Internet usage, data centers, and digital technologies -- including texting on your smartphone -- are responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

You might not like it -- or want to believe it -- but you are polluting at this very moment. It takes energy to run your phone or laptop, the wireless network you're connected to, and, perhaps less obviously, the servers and data centers that need to be up and running for it all to work.

Using that energy means releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to some estimates, the global use of these digital technologies accounts for a little less than 4 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- or the equivalent of what the airline industry pumps into the skies every year. Unlike airlines, however, the amount of carbon dioxide produced by Internet usage is expected to double by the year 2025.

Even sending an email, especially with a picture attached, results in additional emissions. Mike Berners-Lee, a fellow at Lancaster University who researches carbon footprints, determined that a single photo attached to an email releases 1.7 ounces (50g) of carbon dioxide.

Subject line: Email

  • In 1971, Ray Tomlinson sent the first email; he invented the email program on the ARPANET system.

  • It is estimated that roughly 2.8 million emails are sent every second.

  • If an email isn't opened in the first 24 hours of delivery, there's a 99 percent chance it never will be.

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Discussion Comments

anon1004432

Wonder if there is a calculation for the footprint of a mega byte of data on an average journey on the internet!

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    • Internet usage, data centers, and digital technologies -- including texting on your smartphone -- are responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
      Internet usage, data centers, and digital technologies -- including texting on your smartphone -- are responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.