The Carbon Footprint of Spam


(Photo credit: net_efekt)

My brother, Matt, just mailed me this report on the Carbon Footprint of Spam. It makes pretty shocking reading and made me re-think Iain’s idea for paid e-mail (just don’t make it like Stansted airport).

Here are the main findings from the study:

  • An estimated worldwide total of 62 trillion spam emails were sent in 2008
  • Globally, annual spam energy use totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion United States gallons of gasoline
  • Spam filtering saves 135 TWh of electricity per year. That’s like taking 13 million cars off the road
  • If every inbox were protected by a state-of-the- art spam filter, organizations and individuals could reduce today’s spam energy by approximately 75 percent or 25 TWh per year. That’s equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars off the road
  • The average GHG emission associated with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of CO2. That’s like driving three feet (one meter) in equivalent emissions, but when multiplied by the annual volume of spam, it’s like driving around the Earth 1.6 million times
  • A year’s email at a typical medium-size business uses 50,000 KWh; more than one fifth of that annual use can be associated with spam
  • Filtering spam is beneficial, but fighting spam at the source is even better. When McColo, a major source of online spam, was taken offline in late 2008, the energy saved in the ensuing lull — before spammers rebuilt their sending capacity — equated to taking 2.2 million cars off the road
  • Much of the energy consumption associated with spam (52 percent) comes from end-users deleting spam and searching for legitimate email (false positives). Spam filtering accounts for just 16 percent of spam-related energy use

On the positive side, think of the boom in penis enlarger sales, which is what we clearly need in these harsh economic times.

Google and UNEP Map Environmental Change

Deforestation of Rondonia in the Amazon

Google and the United Nations Environmental Programme last week launched an addition to Google Earth called the Atlas of Our Changing Environment, which allows people to view images of environmental change and information overlaid onto the satellite images.

You can access them from the ‘Featured Content’ section of Google Earth, or you can look at the web version.

I find this convergence of interaction/information design and environmental/sustainability issues really interesting because a large part of the problem is making this stuff meaningful and visible to everyday people and hooks into the work we’re trying to do at the Omnium Creative Network. It goes to show that good visual design (and of course the data) can really have an impact.

I’ve known about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon for years, all the stats on football pitch sized patches being destroyed every hour, etc. But it’s not until you see an image like this (and you can get the 1970’s image overlaid too, to compare) that you really appreciate how awful it is. Most of these images from Rondônia are from about 500 miles up too. From the overlay info:

In 1975, the region was still relatively pristine, with much of the forest intact. By 1989, the distinctive fishbone pattern of forest exploitation had appeared and by 2001 had expanded dramatically.

Shocking. As are almost all of the before and after images.

Get Smart with your metering

Quick post about the BBC’s story on Smart Meters – the meters, designed by More Associates show you exactly where all your energy is going. The theory (and practice, it seems) being that when you know what you’re using, you use less.

It’s a good example of how decent interface design (not to mention a smart idea) can help you re-interpret data in a meaningful way.

Check out where all your energy is going

The second screen shows you what you could have done with that energy instead. Rather like the ideas in Change the World for a Fiver (a book I encourage everyone to buy – at least visit the website). Simple ideas, well communicated.

Then find out what you could have done with that energy...

Whilst you are at it, check out the link on the BBC story about how appliances on standby use up energy. It’s pretty shocking:

[Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat’s environment spokesman] has calculated that the CO2 emissions from electrical equipment being left on standby are equivalent to 1.4 million long-haul flights.

So, now I just need to turn everything off for about ten years to make up for all those flights to and from Australia…

Thanks to the good people at for the link.

Images More Associates.