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🦁 Yvonnick FRIN
🦁 Yvonnick FRIN

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at


Save the planet, clean your mailbox

Every day we receive and send dozens of emails. Emails are intangible things, we tend to forget that datacenters and servers are needed to have access to our mailboxes 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Mike Berners-Lee wrote a book about carbon footprint of everyday products called "How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything". He estimates the carbon footprint of an email to 4 grams of CO2 which is about 130 kg per person per year. To make it more meaningful, it is equivalent to 1000 kilometers driven by car.

To reduce our carbon footprint let's clean our mailboxes! I did it yesterday and removed about 40 000 emails (my mailbox is aged of ten years). There are tools to help you removing emails and unsubscribe newsletters (only 10% of newsletters are opened) such as cleanfox (they also plant trees in Zambia to reduce their own carbon footprint). For those using Gmail there are also tips to remove easily your old emails like older_than filter.

Do you have other tech tips to reduce our personal carbon footprint ?

Top comments (21)

shushugah profile image

I think this touches a neglected topic, but still lacks a proportionate perspective. If clearing out emails has a meaningful impact, than abstaining from video streaming services would have an even more meaningful impact. And until we address the biggest chunks of data, yak shaving the smaller parts feels like performative gesture

kungtotte profile image
Thomas Landin

It takes seconds to enable autocleaning of old emails though, and minutes to unsubscribe from newsletters, and you don't give up anything in the process.

You weren't reading those archived emails anyway, and you don't open the newsletters.

If people start doing this it will have a measurable impact on carbon emissions, so why not? So what if it's better to shut down a coal plant.

Do something for the planet and be happy :)

yvonnickfrin profile image
🦁 Yvonnick FRIN • Edited

I agree with @kungtotte , all contributions are good regardless of their size. But @shushugah is right too we shouldn't limitate ourselves to small steps.

garrett profile image
Garrett / G66 / megabyteGhost

There’s a psychology at play here.

Once they do one small thing, it’s easier to convince them to do the next, bigger step. Sales people use this all day every day.

And even if they don’t ever step it up...

I’ll take every little bit anyone is willing to contribute.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

sinni800 profile image
sinni800 • Edited

I think 4 grams of CO2 mostly means the delivery of the E-Mail. Also I think cleaning out your mailbox, especially when you're using Gmail, means it's still on their servers and backups 10-fold, probably.

An E-Mail stored on a storage media does only secondarily, maybe, cause more CO2 due to more storage being bought to store more of them. With out current density though

Though this article is maybe also a good point of data:

Nontheless, searching for and removing emails causes even more of a carbon footprint in a web browser expensively rendering web pages, the web server chugging for the data, database servers, etc... Which might tip the scales a bit. A Google Search apparently has 0.2g of carbon footprint, but given many datacenters use green energy nowadays (does your home?) that might be neutral.

Overanalysis of a topic, good way to spend my time.

Anyway; how about reducing emails you get at all? Sign out from some newsletters. Use a laptop more instead of a tower (if you own both, buying one or the other is a crazy footprint), they're very energy efficient.

Or check out the good old outside instead of watching media, also helps yourself.

fabienjuif profile image
Fabien JUIF

Hey! Thank you @yvonnickfrin

I struggled understanding older_than in gmail.

For people that struggle too, here are some pattern that works:

  • older_than:2y Older than 2 years
  • older_than:2m Older than 2 months

Documentation I found:

Do NOT insert a space after your :!

yvonnickfrin profile image
🦁 Yvonnick FRIN

Sorry, I should have add an example. Another important information for email threads the date of the first email of the thread is the reference.

byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

I'm in favour of email services charging $0.02 per email sent. Recipients as beneficiaries.

It would reduce waste by a large portion. Worse than carbon, its human time lost on tons of useless messages...

adamcosi profile image

Interesting idea and I know the idea comes from good intentions, yet I don't see it working primarily because of:

  • who decides and sets the rate (central control, yet another "reach" by government)
  • this excludes people who are not financially well to do (developing countries/poor)
  • putting a paywall around one of the last truly free means of communication (from the origin of the Internet's early days) that no single body

People already pay enough for:

  • Internet Service
  • Mobile Phone Service

Fees for the above services already factor in wholesale bandwidth.

If we go down this path we may as well charge for:

  • Messenger
  • WhatsApp
  • Twitter Posts
  • Facebook Posts
  • Instagram Posts
  • Blog comments (like the one I'm writing now)

Give them an inch and they (the powers that be) will take a mile, eventually.

Why not focus on bigger wins such as Video and Audio streaming services?

  • Does every video need to be available in 1080p?
  • Every song in 256kbps/320kbps?

Watch less, listen to less, consume less - sounds like a good idea of course until we realise that not everyone uses these mediums the same way and that means some people will be penalised over others.

Definitely agree on reducing your email footprint but once we start imposing fees per send then slope gets very slippery and it becomes ripe for corruption and gate keeping while potentially not having the result we want.

byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

It should be an optional feature available for email users.

When someone sends a message, they'll receive an auto-reply asking to pay the fee. The message would stay in a cache for a few days, then auto-deleted if the fee is not paid. A "whitelist" would allow friends & family to bypass the paywall.

Thread Thread
metalmikester profile image
Michel Renaud

That doesn't solve the problem. Horrible idea no matter how anyone looks at it, sorry. This has way more downsides than upsides.

Thread Thread
byrro profile image
Renato Byrro

Sorry, but isn't anyone quite a few people for you to speak on behalf of? Would solve my problem... But I agree it's not a good-looking idea 😉

notsag profile image
Maxime Gaston

Hey, nice topic! Glad to see people are feeling more and more concerned with our impact on the environment.

There are a lot of other small habits that also could make a difference :

  • turn off our computers/screens when we don't use them
  • reduce alerts/mail notifications (this is the SRE talking)
  • repair instead of replacing (at least buy refurbished) ...

Transition takes time!

deva_d profile image
Deva Dhana

Hey Maxime Cool. I had the same opinion. Small things like this will turn into habits and we can contribute to environment

desi profile image

I've been making a big effort lately to unsubscribe from mailing lists. I've run a script in my Gmail for years to send marketing emails to a folder where I don't really see them, but since I don't want them anyway, I'm trying to just stop getting them altogether.

biros profile image
Boris Jamot ✊ / • Edited

Happy to see this kind of discussion on DEV. I totally agree. The best way to achieve it is by having a small inbox. Mine is 500mo. I have to clean it every 6 months.

But this is a drop in the ocean... We would have more impact by stopping our Netflix subscription !

cloudpower97 profile image
Claudio Cortese

Really interesting! 😯
I had never thought about this before 🤔

youssefrabeiii profile image
Youssef Rabei

Great post, check mine its about the carbon footprint too and javascript

jankapunkt profile image
Jan Küster

Thankyou. This is THE thing - ppl talk about saving the environment but don't get the daily issues right. Recycle or at least separate trash, make lights out if not necessary or delete unused data. <3

montanacoder profile image
Jeremy • Edited

Great Topic! I am now cleaning all my mail boxes, I never even thought of this.

nativekar profile image

This is so well put. I see people leaving tens of thousands of e-mails in their Inboxes, because they are too lazy to delete them all. Given the impact it has, more people should be made aware of it.

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