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The Invisible Business Carbon Footprint

Climate change is not going away, so we need to look further into our carbon footprint to manage our carbon usage and reduce our impact on the planet. The severity of the climate crisis is increasing, demanding that we improve our understanding of the carbon implications of everyday actions. When we think of carbon footprints, we think of emissions from transport, energy, and food. These are the larger contributors of our carbon footprint and can often be visible through the pollution they produce. However, our carbon footprint is formed from numerous sources, many of these can be considered ‘invisible’. Accounting for this ‘invisible footprint’ can be a challenge, so we’re going to outline the carbon footprint of daily office/working from home activities. We have used data from Mike Berners-Lee’s brilliant book How Bad Are Bananas?’.

We all send emails, it’s an essential way of communicating – but have you ever thought about the carbon footprint of one? A short email from phone to phone has a footprint of 0.2g CO2e, while a short email going from laptop to laptop has a footprint of 0.3g CO2e. A long email that takes approximately 10 minutes to write and three minutes to read sent between laptops has a footprint of 17g CO2e. If a similar length email is sent to 100 people and no one reads it, the footprint is 26g CO2e. Mike Berners-Lee compares our average email traffic to driving 10-128 miles in a small petrol car.

We tend to receive a lot of spam, while it only has a footprint of 0.03g CO2e, approximately 200 billion spam emails are sent every year creating a significant unnecessary footprint. The footprint of an email is sourced from the electricity required to power the device at each stage of the process.

What can you do? Start by filtering through your emails and unsubscribing from any unnecessary chains you are signed up to. When sending out an email, think whether everyone you have cc’d needs to be there. We often like to send short emails to round up a conversation, often these are not required and only add to your footprint. Overall, however, the footprint of emails is extremely small compared to other actions. The footprint of an email sent from a laptop is one-twentieth the footprint of a letter.

Zoom calls
During the pandemic, the number of daily meeting participants rose to 300 million. Each hour spent on a zoom call on a 13-inch MacBook pro has a footprint of 2g CO2e whereas an averagely efficient laptop has a footprint of 10g CO2e. If a desktop computer with a screen is used, the emissions rise to 50g CO2e per hour (this is not including the embodied emissions in the computer). However, if you compare this to the numerous journeys that are saved because of the call, tonnes of carbon from numerous vehicles have been prevented. For a meeting taking place in Hong Kong with two attendees flying in from Europe, the footprint is 20 tonnes CO2e. Zoom calls are definitely the more carbon careful form of hosting meetings.

Text messages
Approximately 2.27 trillion texts are sent every year, but with a footprint of just 0.8g CO2e, they represent only 0.01% of global emissions. Other messaging services such as WhatsApp or Messenger have a similar footprint. Again, it is created by the electricity required to power the device at each stage of the process. Sending a long text instead of a long email creates a smaller footprint.

Google searches
Everyone uses Google, it has all the answers (or at least we think!) A single simple search has a small footprint of 0.5g CO2e. If you spend five minutes browsing on a phone this increases to 5.6g CO2e while a laptop is 8.2g CO2e. Google deals with approximately 3.5 billion enquiries a day resulting in a giant 630 thousand tonnes CO2e a year. While this sounds like a substantial amount, it represents less than 0.0001% of our carbon footprint.

The footprint is sourced from energy used at Google’s end and energy used at the other end (smartphone or laptop).

How do you dry your hands?
Do you have a dryer in your office? The Dyson Airblade is much more efficient than a standard electric drying with a footprint of 2g CO2e compared to 11g CO2e. This is because the Airblade does not heat up the air, rather it just propels it out at a rapid rate. Paper towels may appear to be the most eco option, but each towel has a footprint of 10g CO2e. Overall, installing a Dyson Airblade is more energy and cost efficient in the long-term.

While the above actions generally have a very small footprint overall, there is always room for improvement. Making small changes to your habits can make small reductions to your footprint, and influence others to do the same. We rarely think about the carbon emissions of these small acts, however, if we are to combat climate change, we need to fully understand our impact on the planet.

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