5 Tips That Make Your Inbox Work For You — And For The Planet

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Going paperless has an obvious, visible benefit to the environment. You’re saving those carbon dioxide-neutralizing trees, after all. Plus, you’re creating less waste, and shipping less mail in trucks or airplanes. However, there is a hidden environmental cost to email, especially if you often find yourself with an overburdened inbox. Digital communication still requires energy — and that’s where the environmental impact comes in.

Your email inbox lives on a server – one that’s powered by electricity, which is largely generated by fossil fuels. In fact, the average email has a carbon footprint of approximately 4 grams of CO2. And that’s just a generic email with a few sentences; Add an attachment or a signature, and you could go up to 50 grams. If you get 200 emails a day, by the end of the year your inbox has created the same level of pollution as a car driving 733 miles. Not sure you get that many emails a day? Check your spam filter or your promotions folder.

The good news: With a few simple steps, you can make your digital carbon footprint much smaller. Find out how to get your messy inbox organized — and greener — in these 5 easy steps.

Delete old emails
Go through your inbox and delete that old birthday party invite from three years ago. Don’t want to sit and sort through all those emails? Third-party apps like Mailstrom and Clean.Email allow you to mass delete them with just a few clicks. Plenty of email apps, like Gmail, offer the option to bulk delete your emails as well, so if they’re sorted into promotions (which includes those daily emails from stores and online shopping outlets) you can select all your emails with one click — and then send them to the trash. And speaking of those promotional emails…

If every person deleted just 10 promotional, spammy emails a year, they could save 1,725,000 GB of storage space and approximately 55.2 million kilowatts of power. That CO2 footprint is equivalent to 3.8 million gallons of diesel fuel, per the EPA. So when it comes to spam, stop those emails at the source. You can either click through them and manage your preferences individually, or you can rely on an app like Unroll.me or Unsubscriber to mass unsubscribe. And if you frequently check your social media accounts, make sure you’re not getting notifications emailed to you, too.

Stop sending large files
Not only do large files take up a ton of space in the recipient’s inbox, they also live in your sent folder as well. If you’re sending a lengthy document or file to multiple recipients, consider posting it to a cloud-based server and giving out links instead. If you’re sending photos to family members, consider creating a private group on a social network — one that every family member can access — or share photos directly to someone’s phone if they’re nearby.

Cull your old email addresses
Maybe it’s a novelty email address you created as a joke. Or an email address specifically used for wedding RSVPs. Either way, those email addresses are just sitting there, inactive. And it takes Google two years to start deleting the old, inactive content (but not the email addresses themselves). So start deleting those old email addresses, because let’s face it, you won’t ever put the email handle you created in eighth grade on a resume.

Send fewer emails
That one-word email saying “thanks.” Resending something so it’s at the top of someone’s inbox. Emailing someone when they’re in the same room as you are (yeah, we’ve all done it). These emails all take up space — and to make a change, you only need to cut out one. In fact, a 2019 study from renewable electricity firm Ovo Energy, found that if every person in England sent one less email daily it would save approximately 16,433 metric tons of CO2 a year. That’s the CO2 equivalent of burning 18 million lbs. of coal, per the EPA. So send fewer emails, and give everyone’s inbox — and the planet — a break.

We'd like to thank Samsung Memory for sponsoring this article. Samsung Memory is creating low-power memory chips and SSDs that help to lower data centers' electricity consumption and heat so the planet doesn't have to combat climate change on its own. By switching to low-power SSDs and DDR5 in data centers across the world, we can save enough energy to power New York City for 4 months. Click here to learn more and join Samsung Memory's #UnsaveToSave challenge to delete unnecessary data in our daily life.