Environmental Cost of Screen Time

The Environmental Cost of Emails

Many of our activities produce carbon emissions. Not everyone realises that even a humble email or google search contributes to the impact of worldwide carbon emissions, and it is one that we can change.

…everything and every aspect of life has a carbon footprint – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. This includes email:
An average spam email: 0.3 g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)

A standard email: 4 g CO2e

An email with “long and tiresome attachments”: 50 g CO2e

Mike Berners-Lee: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, (2010).
  • How many of us receive tons of irrelevant emails or notifications on a daily basis, that are quickly deleted?
  • Do you search on Google, or try to remember something first?

There is a lot we can do about the environmental cost of emails and google searches in our own part of the universe. As well as writing, I spend time seated at my desk reading information, emails, newsletters on the screen and wondered collectively how wasteful it is deleting irrelevant or junk emails that enter my inbox uninvited and even more that I have inadvertently welcomed. Mostly via sign up offers for 25% off.

Enough! I say.

Unsubscribe to Irrelevant Unwanted Email

Technology phones
Photo by Every Thing on

I’ve now unsubscribed to those junk style product emails. The mail that originates from stores and product vendors that fill the junk mail/inbox. Or worse still, those unscrupulous individuals/companies who purchase your email addy via a database of addresses sold to them by a third party; scammers who want you to invest in Bitcoin or some African gentleman who has just inherited a million dollars.

It took me more time to unsubscribe than I’d like to admit. I unsubscribed to newsletters and sales emails, from fashion, hi-fi stores, furniture, hardware and hair product houses, even several blogs and news sites, I no longer wished to follow.

We need information but need quality info, not quantity.

Opening my email account each morning has since become more liberating. With fewer emails to sort and clear, there’s less screen time, less time spent sitting, less carbon emissions needlessly produced and, I still get to read the salient info that’s important to me.

Such as the WordPress bloggers, I enjoy following.

It is one small and very achievable, direct behavioural change each of us can make, NOW. A step closer towards living a more 1.5 °C lifestyle.

Photo by Lou00efc Manegarium on

Transitioning to Carbon Pricing

We need to have a transition not only into decarbonisation of the energy systems in terms of technologies, but we also need 1.5°C lifestyles.

Prof. Johan Rockström

Most of us own or want a car. Most of us want or have electricity – things that require the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon pricing would assist and accelerate the scale of the transition from reliance on fossil fuel technologies. This concept is unpopular in some circles and certainly in Australia, given our historic reliance on coal. But there is hope:

Professor Johan Rockstom again:

Sixty-one countries in the world have adopted a price on carbon…. so far, the carbon price is not efficient because it’s set at a too low level. But the European Union is the first example in the world of a region where the carbon pricing system is starting to work, because it’s starting to come up to scientific parity in the level of pricing at over 60 Euros per tonne of carbon dioxide.

The challenge, though, is to have robust, resilient nature-based solutions and not to fool ourselves in investing in offsetting mechanisms that have already been factored into the climate models that give us a carbon budget. So, you know, the only reason why we have a remaining carbon budget….is that we assume that nature will continue to be a net carbon sink.

So we need nature-based solutions, but we cannot use them to slow down the pace of emission reductions from fossil fuel emissions.

Initiatives in Reducing Carbon

Some propose restoring nature and regeneration of deserts and forests as nature-based carbon sink. I believe this is one critical and essential step, in any scenario. Others support further investment and development of renewable energies, electrification of higher-carbon emitting industries, a carbon tax, (but don’t mention this in Australia as it’s a political death knell), improving home design, sustainable agriculture and transport options as examples of achievable transitory steps.

Photo by Pixabay on

While no one has all the answers, there are things we CAN do, and that is where our intent and our legacy should lie in the first instance, while we drag politicians and industry on board.

Our future world depends on it.

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75 thoughts on “Environmental Cost of Screen Time”

  1. But you mustn’t overlook the fact – long since explained to me by Stringer – that unsubscribing can be a handy way for the infuriating sender to now be sure that’s your email address ..

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re quite right. Nobody should reply to, or even open spam, and a good provider should be fishing them out before it ever reaches our in box But we often intentionally subscribe to a mailing list for a particular reason which then passes. And that’s when we should unsubscribe instead of just ignoring them, I think..

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Good point. It would also be good if people stopped taking so many photos and sharing them widely. Something related is Bitcoin – if you care about the environment don’t buy Bitcoin! It is designed to be ‘mined’ using ever increasing amounts of energy (the more Bitcoin is available the more energy it takes to mine a new Bitcoin). Mining of Bitcoin now uses approximately the same amount of power as is used by the Netherlands to create, nothing of any actual physical substance!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Bitcoin sounds environmentally damaging in any way you look at it! For something that is intangible! And we bloggers are guilty of sharing photos etc – but I hope that most bloggers are aware of image optimization and use that judiciously. Not just post photos because they can and for “likes.”

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Actually there are many sites you can’t unsubscribe from because they have been sent from email addresses that spammers have ‘pinched’ from real people. I don’t even try to unsubscribe from them because it would be an invitation to bombard me with spam.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t have responded to this because, by doing so I’m destroying the earth! A tongue in cheek response I confess. I don’t get a lot of spam emails because I’m not out there on the internet that much really. The most spam emails I get are through my blog!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know what you mean, Graham. I was thinking of disabling the like button to practise what I preach. I felt like I was breaking the rules posting something that I was telling folks not to do so much! But there has to be one messenger – or at least that is what I am thinking right now.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Amanda, an informative post reminding us about how even our small actions have an impact on the world! I regularly unsubscribe on my emails … noticing that some then pop up again a few months later! There is so much to do and often not the will by those in power! In the U.K. there is a phenomenal amount of new housing but none of this has been regulated to a standard regarding the environment … still built without basic insulation, older type of boilers etc. Infuriating! You nailed it in your last sentence that we must ‘….drag politicians and industry on board.’

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It is extremely surprising and mildly disturbing that there has been no sustainability initiatives in housing design, Annika. For goodness sake, what is going on there? Is it an economic issue? The older technology is cheaper?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure it’s all about money as usual! The builders making the biggest profit by building cheapest possible, the government not wanting to rock the boat by insisting on more expensive requirements. The same dilema exists within the car industry and the UK is way behind Europe on so many points. We will get there … slowly!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It is somewhat contradictory that a country with so much power and collateral and a really strong currency doesn’t feel that it is in a position to progress out of the box. If not now, when?

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I was glad to read that you unsubscribed from unwanted junk email. I’ve done that, and some of the senders went away quietly. Many kept on. I mark them as spam, yet the email program lets them through. It’s quite frustrating.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The problem with those sorts of emails, Anne is that they use a different server address to send them from each time, so blocking one server doesn’t necessarily ensure that you won’t get anymore. Marking them as junk is all you can do, really.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Unsubscribing from all those company emails is a really small but easy step. Yes it takes time, but as someone once pointed out to me, even if it takes as long as deleting those emails every day for a week or more, over the longer term you’re saving yourself time! It’s too easy to spot the address and click delete, but a minute more will ensure you never hear from them again – or at least, not until you next buy something from them! It’s also worth taking the time, when you shop online, to double-check that you’ve opted out of all unnecessary future communications 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I’ve never thought about the environmental costs of my time online. The cost to my mental health, yes– but a more global perspective, no. I recently cancelled most of the newsletters I was receiving and I’m actively following fewer bloggers than I was a year ago, so I’m online less overall. HOWEVER considering I’m at home most of the time, the www is the way I connect with people so there’s a downside to cutting back too much. I’d go stir crazy if I didn’t have access to information and people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Ally. Looking after our mental health and keeping communication going is essential. In posting on my blog, giving and receiving comments I am also contributing to the problem. Will I give up online screen time? No. Will or can I reduce the wasteful useless communication that serves little purpose? Definitely. Mindless facebook scrolling or liking posts will go. I was even thinking about disabling the WordPress like button – as it is flattering, but I am unsure of its value. Do you ever look at who “likes” your posts?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not really. I find the Like button an odd thing. I have yet to figure out what it means when someone *likes* something. Is it just a way of pretending to pay attention? OR is it sincere and the liker doesn’t have anything to add to the comment conversation but wants to let me know they were here? Who knows…


        1. I guess the like button has become a ubiquitous phenomenon in social media platforms. I think it means different things for different people. Some readers are just lurking and want to symbolise a note of thanks or approval for your effort in writing a post. Some don’t have anything to say but want to acknowledge they have visited your site. Others, like the gargantuan blogger Christian Mihai, would hit the like button to create interest in, and visits to, his own blog. In my early days of blogging Cristian liked every single one of my posts within a minute or two of posting them, without ever making any comment. Did he read them? I highly doubt it. But he has 200,000 followers. Many of them potentially as vacuous a follower as he is.


          1. Ha! I don’t know of Christian Mihai, but I think that might be a good thing! I have many fewer followers than he, but they’re more like friends than sheeple. Works for me.


  8. Thanks for the pingback, Amanda!

    I wrote a post on this topic last April, ‘Think before you thank‘, that might be of interest.

    Thanks, too, for the reminder for me to tackle the task of unsubscribing to those emails I no longer need. I’ve finally begun doing so, but, as you say, it’s not a small task. I also need to purge a load of rubbish from my inbox… which currently has over 6500 (!) unread emails in it – and goodness knows how many more are sitting there that have been read, but will in all likelihood never be again! All of that data is sitting in a data center somewhere, using energy unnecessarily, day in, day out. (I touched on that in a post of mine last November).

    Yes, it’s only a small thing, but ‘many hands make light work’, and I figure that if we take the time to deal with such things then we can get into the mindset of thinking, “what else might I be able to do that could make a difference?”

    One thing that might be of interest is a relatively new initiative from Mozilla, called ‘Firefox Relay’. I’ve recently signed up for the ‘premium’ version, which only costs me a buck a month. Rather than explain, here’s a link to the horse’s mouth:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of cultivating a mindset of thinking, “what else might I be able to do that could make a difference?”
      It is something we could all do every day in our routine activities.
      I use Firefox so I will check out the link. Recently, I started using Ecosia as it claimed to save trees. It might be just another offsetting concept. Have you heard of it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My brother put me on to Ecosia not long ago. I used it for a while, but I switched to DuckDuckGo. Planting trees is certainly a worthy cause, but I’m unconvinced that Ecosia can actually plant enough from searches to even offset its own activities. I guess I should investigate that rather than cast aspersions, but there are so, so, very many greenwashing initiatives around, one all too easily becomes cynical.

        In other news: I joined the UK’s Woodland Trust just yesterday as a life member. Pretty sure the money I’ve sent them will help plant more trees than any amount of searching I could do on Ecosia.


    2. I see the premium service is not available in Australia but is in New Zealand. A good idea to use alias and relay that info. I have a separate email addy for marketing info but it still seems to permeate sometimes into my other email addies.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting idea Amanda. In general I think we can readjust our mindset to be less consumer-driven. Buy less. Consume less. I don’t have a problem with subsciptions, newsletters & emails – mostly because I dislike clutter & irrelevant information – so I don’t sign up for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not signing up to them in the beginning is a good strategy, Sandy. Recently, I have found the women’s fashion store has been sending me $10 off or $25 free gift voucher trying to get me to visit their online shop again. I am sure many people are tempted by this and end up spending more than they planned. Being less consumer-driven overall sums the solution up well.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good points here, and I didn’t even realise these facts thanks for sharing! I unsubscribe all the time although I wonder how I can’t remember subscribing in the first place!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve often thought about social media’s impact on the environment through lithium usage (cell phonbe batteries)… nothing comes without a cost. Though I must say I was chuckling a bit: I’m actually one of the people who sends those marketing emails for a living! 😋 The trick is to make it not spammy, because that isn’t useful to anyone at all. Lots of email unsubscribes will affect the sender’s domain negatively so it’s important on the seller’s side to keep it relevant. And not do spammy things like buy lists. I like composing those emails because it reminds me of blogging quite a lot, actually!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like your emails would have value to the reader, Snow. I can’t imagine you spamming anyone, even if you were paid to do so! Information is powerful and can be so useful if it is done in a useful way. Those buy lists or latest ‘sale’ speels or giveaway, offers/survey that never amount to anything are just plain annoying and wasteful. I wasn’t aware that unsubscribes could affect the sender’s domain negatively. How so?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, and at work another option would be to send out ads in print form, which I find sad environmentally and would rather do email. But you have a point. Almost everything has environmental consequences. (The products I’m selling, by the way, promote environmentally friendly solutions. So it’s not all bad!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about the hard copy. Email is way better if we had to choose between the two. And that you are promoting environmentally friendly solutions is great. We need to get the word out there if we are to change the current products from unsustainble to environmentally kind.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve been unsubscribing a lot lately. I didn’t realize that email made a carbon footprint. I’ve been doing a lot of snail mail lately, sending cards to friends and family to let them know I’ve moved and still thinking of them. That creates more of a carbon footprint, I would think. Some of us old folks just like to see something besides a bill in the mailbox. When someone sends me too many requests to purchase something again and again, they are vaporized. It’s like paper ads. If I need something, I know where to look without a ton of wasted trees. Learned something today. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes snail and regular hard copy create more of a carbon footprint than email. I think we just send way more emails than we need. Smiley face/thx/lol type emails are almost pointless really when there is a cost to the planet.
      But as we so often find, Marlene, there is a balance, needed. Sometimes a smiley face is a much needed acknowledgement for the receiver and it enhances communication – it tells the receiver you are listening!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Amanda – this is such an interesting post and has us learning new things about the carbon footprint.
    Back in 2016 I did what you mentioned here – I unsubscribed and closed down some extraneous email accounts and pulled back – it was refreshing – I still kept a work email and another email r two (because have to have them even though nowadays a phone number works for many things if one doesn’t want to use an email) – anyhow, that period of time was something of an experiment and the only really hard part was not having an email account open on the phone for times I needed it – but the extra steps to go into an email was not too bad. anyhow, in the last year I have subscribed to a few things – but Amanda, I am very careful before I do because I want to keep it where less is more – and you have provided another good reason – the energy use and carbon footprint angle.
    there is also the physical health benefits –
    if we are getting less emails and spending less time checking an inbox – that is less radiation or electricity exposure from a computer screen

    Liked by 1 person

      1. yes – I noted that you said “unwanted” – and good point
        — I once was emailing live with Sherrie Matthews (author blogger) during a recital and it was quite amazing – she was a friend when I needed one – ha

        oh and I skimmed a comment about the way you even said that sometimes an emoji is needed – and is not a wasted carbon emission – it can affirm or let someone know they were heard – good stuff here Amanda

        Liked by 2 people

  15. Earlier, had neither enough knowledge so as not to google, nor abt these carbon emissions. Now, at 74, do not have the memory. 😦 …I rarely use e-mail, and when there, find ‘social’ and ‘promotions,’ besides the primary. Used to delete the other two, but they keep filling up. Nowadays, I let my G-mail automatically delete them when the number crosses 50.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Want to add this. Wonder if people still use the e-mail in this era of phones, phone calls, messages over the phone and whatsapp, etc. …Also, as I am interested in creating opinions, do think e-mail not useful. Regards.


          1. For me email is essential. If I want to say something complex that a person might need to reread. Touch typing is crucial to it being efficient though. I don’t know why people don’t learn to touch type because it has a huge effect on how fluent their written communications are.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Most school students here do learn to touch type but the prevalence of phones means that they probably don’t keep up the skills. Now there is audio commands so typing may become a thing of the past. I write better when I type. My audio dictation is nowhere as good. I think I use a different part of my brain.


            1. Agree with that, my Dear. …As a priest I do not have business dealings. There ‘are’ people whose telephonic conversations take up 45 minutes or even more! I love the personal chats to the rather staid msg.


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