If you're trying to lead a lifestyle that has a smaller impact on the planet, there are some things that are obvious choices to avoid. Gas guzzling vehicles with large gas tanks, and factory-processed food products in plastic packaging are easy to steer clear of because it's easy to see and understand their large carbon footprint. There are some things, though, that make just as big of an environmental impact, but aren't so obvious. The changes that aren't so easy or obvious are what I struggle with the most.
One thing that I hadn't really considered the impact of is email. Your email, along with everything else that "lives in the cloud" has to be stored in a real, physical place. It doesn't go away when you log off or power down. In order to be available whenever you need it, the server that your email is stored on has to be up and running at all times. Emails are stored on enormous servers that require large amounts of space, and electricity to be consistently powered on and kept cool.
Receiving just one proper email (not spam) generates 4 grams of greenhouse gases. That means that every one hundred emails you receive generates approximately the same amount of greenhouse gas as driving one mile! This morning, I deleted over 11,000 (ELEVEN THOUSAND!??!?!?!) email messages from a rarely used email address. Receiving those emails was comparable to driving about 110 miles. Those numbers are more significant than I'd realized!
Consolidate and Delete Old Accounts
When I started writing this blog post, I had eight email addresses. A few of those hadn't been opened in years, and there are probably more out there that I can't remember. I've completely closed and deleted four of those accounts, and plan to continue to clean up and streamline the accounts that I do have left, in order to reduce my electronic waste. Take stock of all of your email addresses. Do you use all of them? Can you consolidate them? Do you have one address that you just use for junk mail? Delete it!
If you're like me, most of the email in your inbox is something you're subscribed to. Maybe it's an update from a blogger you like, or a sale notification from an online boutique you like to shop with. Maybe you entered an online giveaway and inadvertently agreed to receive emails, or you still get updates about your social media accounts. Before you delete those messages, scroll down to the very bottom of each email and find the small print that says "click here to unsubscribe." Usually one click will remove you from the mailing list. It's that easy. The good news is that you can still follow your favorite bloggers online, and find out about sales from your favorite shop's Facebook page.
Delete Delete Delete!
I'm the worst when it comes to deleting emails. I open emails that I want/need to read, and leave the rest sitting there. I also have all of the messages from one account automatically forwarded to another, and I never go in and delete the originals. That's how I wound up with over eleven thousand emails to delete. From now on, I intend to delete unwanted emails as they arrive (after I click "unsubscribe," of course.) I do keep more important emails, like utility bills and purchase confirmations, but I go through them every six months or so to delete the ones I no longer need. (Try setting reminders in your phone or planner to do this every January and July so you don't forget!)
BONUS TIP: Deleting thousands of emails at once! If you have a Gmail account, you probably know that you can select 50 emails at once and delete them. But if you have thousands of emails to delete, selecting 50 at once is not going to cut it. Luckily, there's a work-around. You can run a search in your inbox for all message received between certain dates. For example, I entered the following terms in my Gmail search bar: " after:2011/1/1 before:2016/4/30" to pull up every email I received between January 1, 2011 and April 30 , 2016. When you select all of the messages on the page, you'll see a message pop up above the inbox that says "All 50 conversations on this page are selected. Select all conversations that match this search." Once you click there, you can easily delete ALL of the messages that fit that search! That's how I was quickly able to delete eleven thousand (I still can't believe it was that many) emails in one fell swoop. If you only want to delete the UNREAD messages within your search, add the phrase "(is:unread)."
Not only does consolidating, unsubscribing, and deleting reduce your carbon footprint (by a LOT), but you'll be surprised to discover that receiving fewer emails and having a less cluttered inbox feels really refreshing too. I'm less overwhelmed when I look at my email, and I find that I need to check it less often, which saves me some time every day. The planet and your sanity will thank you. Happy emailing!