Fresh Data Blog
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Carbon Footprint Stats: Direct Mail vs. Email
Date: August, 2014 --
In today’s environmentally
conscientious society you’d be hard pressed to find a marketer who has not at
some point asked him or herself questions about the carbon footprint of her
commercial messaging. Moreover, it’s hard to miss the headlines from those
industry pundits still fighting the direct mail vs. email battle that take the
environmental angle to argue against one medium or the other. The one thing
seemingly always absent from this debate: Cold hard facts and figures. We
thought it was time to change that…
step in determining whether direct mail or email is truly the greener medium
was to set about seeing what is known on this subject. Is there a definitive,
In Short, No.
turns out to be more complex than we could possibly have imagined. And there is
no easy answer.
On the email
side of the equation, the difficulty lies in the fact that energy is expended
and CO2 generated, because let’s face it those server farms aren’t powered by
wind turbines, in developing, sending, managing, receiving, reading, forwarding
and storing a message, whatever form it takes. This means the carbon footprint
of identical messages can be very different. And the carbon footprint of
identical messages in different media can be identical! Thus we face the
chilling qualifier – “as a general rule” – throughout this article.
“Valid” Email Has Bigger Feet
a true spam email has a smaller footprint than a ‘valid’, opted-in or otherwise
compliant message (such as the one that may have led you to this article),
which is 0.3 grams of CO2 versus 4.0 grams for a ‘valid’ email. (Source: How
Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee) As you can
imagine, the reason for the difference is a logical one given that it is due
entirely to how the recipient’s system, and the recipient him or herself,
handles and reacts to one type of email versus the other. A spam message
trapped or blocked outright by either your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or
your mail provider’s spam filter has a footprint of about 0.3 grams. One from a
company or friend which you choose to open and read starts at 4.0 grams given
the additional actions taken to open, click, FW, reply, etc.
Let’s now add
another variable to the equation. If that ‘valid’ email message has an
attachment, the cost goes up even further. An email with a memo attachment of a
even couple of pages weighing 1 MB would top out at approximately 19g. However,
and this is what makes comparisons tricky, if that email and the attachment are
opened and then variously forwarded, filed or deleted, the footprint for that
one email could top out at as high as 50g!
In short, the
more ancillary actions we take with the email - read, save, forward, recall,
sort, archive, re-read, etc., the more carbon we create. That energy
expenditure adds up, while the simple “delete” or “auto-delete” for an unwanted
message which is annihilated is closer to the 0.3 gram weight.
Estimating Your Email Carbon Footprint
total carbon footprint of a message or campaign amounts to the sum total of an accumulation
of small footprints, taking into account attachments and/or other medium in
your email, such as imbedded video or other media, and what is done with them. Every
email and its treatment is unique, making almost any number a bit of a guess. For
example, in the course of a year a typical business user would create a
footprint in dealing with incoming email of about 135 kg. This includes the
transmission to that person, the filtering carried out by the domain server and
the company IT system, and the recipient’s reading, forwarding and storing. That’s
close to the footprint created by driving a car 200 miles.
Most Email is SPAM
according to McAfee, 78% of the
emails we receive are likely to be spam messages. While this sounds too large, it’s actually
pretty close. Check your “unwanted” folder.
Those still cost 0.3g. And of course there are the ones that avoid the spam
trap and which you open and then delete, which in itself is a carbon-creating
manipulation, although the footprint will not be as large as the footprint you
create reading, storing and replying to the email from your tennis partner.
The Final Tally
that in a day you get 118 emails without attachments and 13 with attachments,
and 720 spams, your carbon footprint would enable you to drive your car 2.72
miles. Add in the 14 you sent, one with an attachment, your carbon footprint
for the day is 1,569 grams, or 2.97 miles of driving.
What About Direct Mail?
about a direct mail piece? The University of Belgrano in Argentina was asked by
the Argentine Mail Companies Association (AECA) to study this same subject. They
concluded that the footprint of the production of 4 pages of paper and an
envelope for a letter is 25 grams of carbon. Assuming the use of the Post for
collection and delivery to an address in a city 400 kilometers away, and
accounting for CO2 generation for collection, dispatch, carriage to address
location, reception, distribution to addressee and reading, the footprint is
increased by 3.37 grams, for a total of 28.7 grams.
So your 4 page direct mail promotion
piece generates a 28.37 grams of C02, against 19 grams for the email. But, if
someone takes additional action, such as printing out the email attachment of 4
pages, the “email footprint” can quickly jump to 44 grams. Let’s also keep in mind that
marketers in general are sending email today at a much higher rate with much
higher volumes per campaign than they’re doing in direct mail and this too need
be taken into account.
of note is that there is no carbon cost with the management of a physical
letter as there is with email promotions. The print promotion piece or catalog
can be passed around the dinner table with no carbon cost. On the other hand,
as we’ve shown, an email cannot be shared carbon free.
It is worth it to test it!
Now the fun
part starts. You can do a rough calculation for each campaign. 19 grams per email.
28.37 grams per letter. You can easily calculate the carbon cost per response,
and the cost of opens for the emails. We suspect your carbon footprint per
response with mail will begin to look pretty good. And recall that we’re
talking a four page letter! That’s a lot of space to build that relationship
with. If you only need the equivalent of two pages, you start out practically
even with email.
“CFPR” (Carbon Footprint per Response), Data Services, Inc. will be there to ensure
the data, postal addresses, and email addresses you have to work with are as
current and correct as possible. We don’t want to waste whatever our carbon
footprint will be by sending undeliverable messages in any form.