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Inbox Zero Doesn’t Just Boost Your Ego — It Helps the Planet, Too

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Confused? So were we—until we learned about digital pollution, that is.

Digital technology currently accounts for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and, admittedly, it would be an exaggeration to say that your inbox (or anyone’s inbox, for that matter) is a major contributor to climate change. After all, network use (how emails are sent) and data centres (where emails are stored) take second and third place to the manufacture of devices as the largest contributors to digital pollution at 19, 15, and 66% of this 4% respectively. But, if email contributes to digital pollution, and every action counts in the fight against climate change, then why shouldn’t we tackle this issue, no matter how minute?

As Mike Berners-Lee writes in his well-known book How Bad are Bananas?, each email requires somewhere between 0.2g of carbon (for really short emails) and 50g of carbon (for emails that include an attachment) to be sent—amounts which Berners-Lee has pointed out to be somewhat trivial. The sending of emails, however, is only part of the problem. As we move away from on-device storage and toward cloud computing, more and more data (including emails) are stored on the millions of servers in data centres around the world. Energy is required to power these servers, which produces a lot of heat, and more energy is required in turn to cool the servers back down. In Canada, data centres account for 1% of total electricity use—and just to store our information.

What can we do, then, to lower that percentage? Deleting old emails, unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters, and reporting spam are all good ways to start. We can also adopt a “do it and delete it” mentality, in which we delete our emails as soon as we have addressed them. We can pause before subscribing, and before sending (one more reason to skip the “reply all”), and we can attempt to talk more in person, when possible.

There are also other (non-email-related) actions we can take to reduce our digital footprint, and at the top of the list is to dispose of devices responsibly. Moreover, we can switch to eco-friendly browsers (such as Ecosia, Ekoru, and Ocean Hero), close (at least a few of our many) open tabs, and disable certain social media settings.

The question must be asked, then: will it make a significant difference if you delete your entire inbox? And the answer is probably not. But climate action is about each and every one of us working together to do what we can to limit our greenhouse gas emissions. And under that logic, every action counts.

Emily wrote and edited for Her Campus and Her Campus at uOttawa from 2020–2022.
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