Delete your old emails

Every standard email has a carbon footprint of 4 g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). I used to be really good at managing my emails (filing what I want/need to keep, deleting spam or unnecessary emails, and printing important ones to PDF for filing on my computer). I rarely kept emails that I didn’t need and I rarely go searching for emails later (with the exception of a few that I should have filed appropriately right away). I don’t even feel the need to keep email from family or friends unless the emails are special (which is rare). At the end of the day, all the information in my emails is:

  1. stored elsewhere (downloaded to my computer, logged/saved in online accounts, etc.), or,
  2. no longer needed (receipts for things that I received and used, information that’s no longer relevant to me, etc.).

So, why do I keep them? Because email platforms makes it easy to just archive everything and forget about it. Also, we tend to think that things like receipts are super important, but you don’t need to keep them long term unless you need them for taxes or warranties.

But, there are those carbon dioxide equivalents to consider. Every email you save is a tiny bit more that has to be saved on servers.

Today, I did a ruthless weed of my emails. I kept about a quarter of my emails (making sure to properly file them for easy management and deletion later), but I deleted over 3,500 emails. Assuming they were all standard emails (they weren’t – many had attachments), that’s over 14,000 g CO2e … or, over 55 km driven in a standard passenger vehicle, which may not sound like much, but consider that I’m just one person and that I don’t get that many emails.

If the idea of sorting and weeding your emails sounds daunting, start developing a filing system and deleting unnecessary emails immediately. You can deal with the old stuff later and you may find that, like me, you’re comfortable with do mass deletions based on simple searches, like finding and deleting all the Amazon receipts because you those saved on your Amazon account.

Because I don’t keep many emails, I find it easy to have a simple filing solution. But, I need to get better at processing emails immediately (downloading tax receipts, etc.) and remembering to delete unnecessary emails that I sent (like all the emails I send to myself at work as a reminder or to record a thought – as long as they make it to my work inbox, I don’t need to save them in my personal email).

So, now I’m down to about 750 emails saved over 3 accounts. At least 10% of those will be deleted in the coming weeks (when I file taxes, when a package arrives, etc.). I ought to go back and do a more fine tuned review because 750 emails still seems like an awful lot, but I’ve done enough for one day!



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