What’s the cost of that email you’re about to send?

Emails are free, aren’t they? Actually, no they’re not. If you add on top the cost of a single email environmentally 64 million unnecessary emails are sent daily within Britain. Whilst unactionable thank you emails seem harmless, the fact remains that 2 grams of CO2 are emitted per text-based email, and that the associated carbon output increases to 19 grams when a small attachment is added, write Clive Booth and Ella McCaffrey of the ESG Foundation.

Based on OVO Energy’s ‘Think Before You Thank’ agenda if every British citizen sent one less ‘unnecessary and unactionable’ thank you email per day, the UK would save 16,433 tonnes of carbon per year. Integrating a similar agenda into a corporate ESG strategy would not only reduce a company’s carbon footprint but increase productivity by cutting time spent constructing unnecessary email replies.

As we’ve all experienced to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, many people and organisations have adopted remote and digitalised styles of communication and work. The daily usage of smartphones, laptops, TVs and tablets has soared since the start of the pandemic.

Research by the Statistica Research Department (2021) quantifies these trends, calculating that smartphone and laptop usage have both increased by 46% since Covid-19 hit the UK. Email and video-conferencing technologies are now vital to maintaining regular employee communication under systems of remote working. But sadly, IT use has implications for the carbon footprint of individuals’ and the organisations we work for.

The environmental impacts of remote working are multifaceted. Less commuting significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, with transport accounting for 25% of UK carbon emissions. Nevertheless, it is also important to recognise how storing and transmitting the data that powers the internet produces carbon. This means that the increased use of IT such as email and Zoom also increases a company’s carbon footprint. Despite this, the ways in which companies can and should mitigate such carbon production remain relatively absent from ESG strategy discourse.

Remote working has led to a sharp increase in the use of video conferencing applications, such as Zoom. Whilst virtual meetings may produce less carbon than commuting to a physical meeting, research conducted jointly by Perdue, Yale and MIT Universities highlights that 1 hour of video conferencing still emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide and requires 2-12 litres of water.

However, there are simple ways to reduce video conferencing carbon emissions. For example, turning your camera off during an hour-long call could reduce carbon emissions by 96%.

Reducing video quality would also reduce energy consumption, yet it might be more useful for companies to evaluate the necessity of meetings: would an email suffice?

As the UN COP26 climate change summit seeks to identify innovative ways to cut carbon emissions, examining everyday corporate behaviour becomes pertinent. Therefore, and in the context of remote working within a global pandemic, it can be argued that a consideration of IT and internet usage must be key to a company’s business plan.

The Carbon Literacy Project provides a useful way in which organisations can promote an awareness of ‘everyday’ and IT-generated carbon emissions. By offering Carbon Literacy Training, the project teaches employees how to work in more environmentally conscious and sustainable ways. 1700 UK organisations, including ITV, University of Leeds, BBC and the New Charter Group have offered Carbon Literacy Training to their staff.

Integrating Carbon Literacy Training into an ESG strategy can have tangible benefits in terms of helping companies to reduce their environmental impact. Promoting an awareness of the carbon produced by everyday activities can also transform employee culture by creating a ‘carbon consciousness’.

Visit The Carbon Literacy Project page to find out more.

About the ESG Foundation
Founded in 2020 the ESG Foundation exists to focus the attention of all organisations that positive Environmental, Social and Governance behaviours are vital to the wellbeing of the stakeholders they serve. A community interest company, all its profits are reinvested to promote ESG in the future. The authors of this article are Ella McCaffrey, Graduate Intern – Researcher and Clive Booth, Founder Director, the ESG Foundation.