As a marketing channel now widely favoured for its key advantages such as immediacy, but also low cost, email is essential in the digital sphere, both on a personal and professional level.
This year’s World Environment Day raises the question of the carbon footprint of sending these billions of messages. Our data is indeed today one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions with 20 grams of CO² generated for each email sent.
An average of thirty messages sent each day is equivalent to 1,500 kilometers traveled each year by car. For professional use, it is estimated that a team of 100 employees generates the equivalent of fourteen round trips between Paris and New York each year.
Validity, a data quality specialist whose Validity for Email offering combines the technologies of the two email intelligence leaders Return Path and 250ok, is speaking about 5 fundamental concepts to understand in order to learn how to control this environmental impact.
The importance of data quality
The first link is the quality of the databases on which brands base their campaigns.
If this good practice is already known among marketers, especially since the application of the GDPR, it is still not widely adopted enough by senders.
Here are three (among many) actions to implement to improve data quality:
Identify inactive subscribers
Those who have not opened emails for more than 90 days should be limited in volume of mailings to them. If this inactivity is long term, a re-engagement campaign can be set up as a “last chance” for the subscriber to show interest before being removed from the databases.
Delete emails that generate hard bounces
It is advisable to clean up the mailing lists by deleting addresses that have generated automatic errors in order to maximize the impact without weakening the sender’s reputation.
Allow an easy and quick unsubscription
One of the golden rules of the RGPD with a procedure sometimes too complex for subscribers. The latter do not take the time to complete it and continue to receive emails that do not interest them, and on which negative performance rates are therefore inevitable.
Quality must take precedence over quantity
Being cheap and a quick to deploy marketing channel, email often sends to a full base, very poorly qualified, and hope to reach the largest possible audience.
This has a considerable negative environmental impact, and also leads to a significant drop in campaign performance and sender reputation, threatening the deliverability of the program.
When you know that only 5% of the volume of automated mailings resulting from accurate targeting (e.g. basket abandonment) generates 50% of the campaign’s revenue, the quality rule should no longer be debated.
The quantity can also be limited by identifying the essential messages and those more generic and often deemed useless by the subscriber. Knowing how to identify the periods when sending emails can be useless is also particularly interesting.
We have experienced this during this health crisis where some tourism companies decided to stop sending campaigns, while inboxes were becoming more and more saturated.
An ecosystem much larger than that of the sender
Of course, the environmental impact of an email may seem at first glance to depend solely on the sender. However, the whole chain is concerned.
The recent report, ‘The Hidden Face of the Digital World’,published by French Environment and Energy Management Agency, looks at the email’s journey, starting with its sending, its reception/ processing/ storage in the data center that transmits it to the network.
Its transit via various servers around the world, its arrival at the data center of the recipient’s ISP, and its final reception.
So, it’s only when you consider all the servers used by email providers, the telecommunications equipment and even the fact that many consumers have their devices connected 24 hours a day that you can begin to understand the real impact of sending an email.
The need to educate consumers and marketing teams
If we take a step back, we see that every step of sending an email is a matter of human responsibility and awareness of environmental impact.
Too few people today understand the journey of an email and the extent of its carbon footprint since most of the elements are often hidden. It is therefore necessary to raise awareness of good practices among individual consumers as well as among the broader marketing teams.
In the individual context, the sender will have to ask himself if his sending is essential. Is a “thank you” sent to a colleague essential? Are so many attachments necessary? Do you really have to respond copying all the contacts?
When sending campaigns by a professional sender, the same questions must ultimately be asked, but on a different scale. It is therefore imperative that everyone be made aware of these issues to ensure a responsible approach.
Initiatives to limit but increase the sending of emails. Why the paradox?
If sending an email has a certain environmental impact, we must not forget that it is much less polluting than sending a letter, for example.
If the alternatives to sending an email are more polluting, the question of environmental responsibility must take precedence in order to guarantee the consistency of the approach.
Also, a little closer to home – this is increasingly common in Australian restaurants post-COVID, where patrons are encouraged to order and pay online via a QR code, and then receive their receipt via email.
While sending an email as an alternative does not eliminate the carbon footprint of providing the receipt, it does significantly limit it.
Even if this approach can increase the number of emails sent, the environmental impact of the paper edition of the receipts was still much more important than sending them by email.
Sending more emails is therefore not always a bad idea, if it is a better and controlled alternative. With these five pillars in mind, consumers, brands and other actors in the email chain will be able to have a broader view of the ecosystem and act responsibly.
None of the above points should be overlooked to define a comprehensive strategy and involve all stakeholders. Sending less email in general is only part of the solution.