That’s what a new project at Sun Microsystems is trying to find out. This new initiative attempts to measure the carbon footprint of individual e-mails with the hope of being able to quantify it for individuals and companies.
Email is a great application to try and measure the carbon footprint of, because it is universal and there are billions being sent everyday,” said Richard Barrington, head of sustainability and public policy at Sun in the UK. “It is not an easy task but we are looking at the mail servers, the different software applications used, the network devices and trying to extrapolate the energy used back to the email itself.”
While it is a given that electronic communication is better for the planet than older ways of communicating, it is useful to try to determine the actual carbon emissions associated with the IT systems involved in producing it. What quantity of energy is used to fuel IT equipment? Are some systems more efficient than others? How does choice of software and hardware impact the carbon footprint of electronic communication.
Sun hopes to determine best practices that lower carbon emissions and enable companies to benchmark their practices to the best in the industry.
“There is a tendency to always see IT as additional,” (Barrington) explained. “For example, when Amazon emerged everyone said it would kill bookshops, yet the renaissance in reading it helped build means many bookshops are still thriving. That’s no bad thing, but it does have an environmental impact because the IT was additional to a business model. We need to look more carefully at areas like email, where genuine substitution with other less environmentally friendly measures can take place.”
Photo Courtesy: PSD at Flickr under Creative Commons License