EDM Carbon Footprint: Sustainable Email Marketing

Electronic Direct Mail (EDM) is the most commonly utilised marketing channel for eCommerce, but what do we know of the EDM carbon footprint?

The Eco-Age recently reported on research by OVO Energy in the UK, regarding the somewhat surprising carbon footprint of email. While the digital transfer of data for email is instant, this process involves data travelling vast distances, requiring a sizeable amount of power. 

The research looked at the carbon impact of personal emails, with the key takeaways from the report including:

  • Average email travels 15,000 km before getting to your screen, taking a considerable amount of power in data centres and computers to send, filter, and store each message. 
  • Recent research suggests that 64 million unnecessary personal emails are sent every day in the UK.
  • One email = 1-4g carbon = 0.000001-0.000004 tonnes CO2e per email (Source: Mike Berners-Lee)
  • Adding an attachment to an email can cause carbon emissions to increase to 50g per email.
  • The emails alone contribute to 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year, equivalent to 115,931 flights from Heathrow to Madrid.
  • Each UK adult sending one less email a day would save over 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year, equivalent to 81,1522 flights to Madrid, or taking 3,3343 diesel cars off the road.

This research highlights one of the major fundamental principles of the sustainability movement. Changes as small as sending one less email per day could make a significant impact if this mindfulness were widely adopted. 

“While the carbon footprint of an email isn’t huge, it’s a great illustration of the broader principle that cutting the waste out of our lives is good for our wellbeing and good for the environment. Every time we take a small step towards changing our behaviour, be that sending fewer emails or carrying a reusable coffee cup, we need to treat it as a reminder to ourselves and others that we care even more about the really big carbon decisions.”

Mike Berners-Lee, Director, Small World Consulting

EDM Carbon Footprint

This research by OVO energy focused on personal email use; however, when you apply the same principles to email marketing, the EDM carbon footprint is not insignificant.

Within eCommerce, open rates for marketing emails are wide-ranging; however, email platforms including Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp and Klaviyo report average open rates around the 15% mark.

Taking an average database of 100,000 emails, every EDM sent results in 85,000 wasted emails. Assuming an average retailer would send two EDMs per week, this equates to an EDM carbon footprint of 8.84 tonnes CO2e per year in unread marketing emails.

This footprint is for one mid-sized eCommerce retailer. Scale this up across the entire eCommerce industry, and the impact is enormous. Vast amounts of data transferred around the world in the form of millions of unread email, creating a significant carbon footprint.

It’s predicted that this year, we will see 246 billion emails sent globally. With only a 15% open rate, this email volume would contribute a 209,000 tonnes CO2e carbon footprint in 2020 alone.

EDM Carbon Footprint: Improvements

Reducing the impact of email marketing through a reduction in the EDM carbon footprint has both environmental and business benefits. The main focus of any solution is reducing the number of needless emails being sent, increasing open rates, and improving the overall channel performance.

Infographic showing carbon footprint of letter vs email vs SMS
Carbon footprint of letter vs email vs SMS. Source: Esendex
  • List Hygiene- Regularly remove bounced email addresses and unengaged subscribers. This ensures you are not wastefully sending emails to people with zero chance of opening.
  • Update Preferences- Regularly engaging with your email database to confirm that they do still want to hear from you. Knowing this, plus the specifics around what they are interested in will ensure you are only sending relevant emails 
  • Segmentation- Highly segmented emails perform much better, with Klaviyo reporting 2x open rates and 3x revenue. Sending your audience a more targetted message will again ensure emails are worthwhile and not just ignored/deleted without being read.
  • Quality over Quantity- Email marketing has become a volume game, with poorly performing emails being covered up by a higher email volume.
  • Text Messages- SMS marketing experts Esendex report a single SMS message has a carbon footprint of only 0.014g CO2e vs 1-4g CO2e for an email.
Open rate and revenue of segmented vs non-segmented emails
Open rate and revenue, segmented vs non-segmented emails. Source: Klaviyo

All of the above solutions will have a positive environmental impact whilst also improving the overall performance stats for email as a marketing channel.

Further Reading: Price transparency in retail. Is this the key to sustainability? Read More

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