Carbon Footprint of Spam

Some of you may be aware that for the last 9 months or so we have been doing some initial exploratory research into the environmental sustainability of teaching & learning through the GECKO project. The project report of our findings is in its final draft and will be made available soon, but I was interested to read about a new study recently carried out for the computer security company McAfee. According to their research team ICF, there are some 62 trillion spam emails sent each year, wasting 33 billion kilo watt-hours (KWh) of power. Most of the energy is wasted at our computer, as we sift and delete messages, searching for the genuine ones!

These are just some of the findings from the report:

  • Spam filtering can reduce the energy wasted by up to 75 percent
  • Spam filtering is the global equivalent of taking 3.1 million cars off the road
  • The environmental impact of the spam generated in a year is the equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times
  • The annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes

The study looked at the energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam across 11 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. The study calculated the average greenhouse gas emission associated with a single spam message at 0.3 grams of CO2.

“We’ve been talking about spam for a long while, and we wanted to bring a quantifiable environmental impact,” said David Marcus, Security Research and Communications Manager at McAfee. He then went on to say, “Spam is bad for the environment as well as for your productivity.”

The report is clearly aimed at providing another reason for adopting McAfee spam filtering products but could also provide more ammunition for those of us wanting to take action against spam and improve the environment at the same time. I understand how hard it is to calculate accurately the carbon emissions of various environmental parameters and the numerous variables within each one. However, if we put aside any doubts about the accuracy of the study for one moment and focus on the issue here, which is raising our awareness of our actions on the environment, then I do not think that is such a bad thing!

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  April 18, 2009

    That’s interesting, Matthew. I feel even more hostile to spam than I did before, though I receive very little because my email reaches me via the Open University, which has filters.

    I believe there are also some data on carbon emissions generated by users of Second Life. I’ll try to locate the article, though I’m always a bit wary of SL data because Linden Labs is singularly reluctant to reveal user figures.


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