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Is E-Mail Really Greener than Snail Mail?

Posted By Ginny Figlar Colón On August 21, 2009 @ 1:22 pm In Green Living | 2 Comments

mailbox-croppedSometimes what seems like the clear eco-winner or loser really isn’t.

My husband just earned a master’s in industrial environmental management and is “pounding the internet” for a green job [1]. The vast majority of jobs are posted online and applied for online. Even the setting up of the interview is usually done online. So we were surprised when, after a completely online application process, one company sent its “thanks, but no thanks” response via snail mail.

Really? A company working with sustainability [2] would take the paper + envelope + ink + mail truck + airplane route for its communication? This seemed mind-boggling to us.

1 letter = 1 hour of laptop use

But quick online research revealed that his rejection letter had about as much environmental impact as using my laptop for an hour (20 grams of CO2). Which means writing about the impact of the letter has had more environmental impact than the actual letter. (Hmph.) My destructive digging found that a Pitney Bowes white paper, as well as a U.S. Postal Service life-cycle analysis, equated the annual carbon footprint [3] of a typical household’s mail to the annual use of a kitchen coffee maker.

Google research = 1 load of laundry

And that Google research I did? The company estimates that each search on its super-fast servers generates 0.2 grams of CO2, saying “a typical individual’s Google use for an entire year would produce about the same amount of CO2 as just a single load of washing.”

Still, it shows that every little thing we do does add up. I mean, just think about all those loads of laundry [4].

4 ways to be a greener communicator

So, what can you do to make your online and offline communication more eco-friendly [2]?

  • Clean out your inbox regularly if you use company email or web-based email. Storing those e-mails on servers uses energy.
  • Make sure you have a spam filter on your e-mail. A recent study by McAfee showed that spam filtering is equal to taking 13 million cars off the road [5].
  • Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive [6] in your mailbox at home.
  • Share magazines and catalogs with friends when you’re done vs. automatically tossing them in the recycle bin. Newer magazines are also gratefully accepted as donations at many libraries, doctor’s offices and schools.
  • Recycle [7] the paper-based mail you don’t share.

Article printed from Gaiam Blog: http://blog.gaiam.com

URL to article: http://blog.gaiam.com/is-e-mail-really-greener-than-snail-mail/

URLs in this post:

[1] green job: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/How-and-Whyto-Get-a-Green-Job-QA-with-Van-Jones.html

[2] sustainability: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/id/CAT00004

[3] carbon footprint: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/Climate-Change25-Things-You-Can-Do.html

[4] loads of laundry: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/The-Best-EcoFriendly-Ways-to-Get-Clothes-Really-Clean.html

[5] spam filtering is equal to taking 13 million cars off the road: http://newsroom.mcafee.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=3499

[6] amount of junk mail you receive: https://www.dmachoice.org

[7] Recycle: http://life.gaiam.com/gaiam/p/Recycling-FAQ.html

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