Earth Hour: What is the carbon footprint of an email?

2015-03-25 11:44

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Paris - Sending a text message or email, eating an apple or watching TV, each of these activities has a different carbon footprint.

People around the world are getting ready to mark Earth Hour by turning out the lights on Saturday, but a long list of seemingly harmless everyday actions also contribute to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other planet-harming greenhouse gases.

Total global emissions in 2010 were estimated at 49 gigatonnes (gt) of CO2 equivalent (CO2e).

Email and internet

Even a short email is estimated to have a footprint of 4g of CO2e, including greenhouse gases produced in running the computer, server and routers and a part of their manufacture.

An email with a large attachment emits about 50g of CO2e, and a spam message, not even opened by the recipient, is responsible for 0.3g of CO2e.

The annual global footprint of spam is equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars on the road in a year, using two billion gallons (7.6 billion litres) of gasoline.

A web search on an energy-efficient laptop leaves a footprint of 0.2b of CO2e, and on an old desktop computer some 4.5g of CO2e.

A cellphone text message comes at a cost of about 0.014g of CO2e.


A plastic carrier bag leaves a footprint of 10g of CO2e, and a paper bag 40g of CO2e.


A pint of water from the tap generates 0.14g of CO2e compared to 160g of CO2e for a 500ml store-bought bottle.

A large cappuccino comes at 235g of CO2e, compared to 21g of CO2e for a cup of black coffee or tea for which just enough water was boiled.


An hour of TV watching on a 38cm LCD screen yields 34g of CO2e.

A kilometre of cycling powered by a meal of bananas would be responsible for 65g of CO2e, compared to 260g of CO2e for a kilometre powered by cheeseburgers.

Read more on:    climate change

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