View Question
Q: Average Carbon footprint of an Email ( Answered,   4 Comments )
 Question
 Subject: Average Carbon footprint of an Email Category: Computers > Internet Asked by: ashdezign-ga List Price: \$100.00 Posted: 26 Jul 2006 01:05 PDT Expires: 25 Aug 2006 01:05 PDT Question ID: 749609
 ```I would like to know what the average carbon footprint of an email is. The answer should take into consideration the composition, transmittal, and reading of the email. The carbon footprint of the storage of the email is NOT a consideration. Some hurdles to gaining an accurate answer may be: -the fact that a computer will have differing power consumptions based on the hardware configurations the user has. -impossible to determine whats source of energy the comuter draws upon: By which I mean that it is (I assume) not possible to determine whether a given computer is drawing its electricity from a source powered by solar, wind, oil, gas, coal etc -email sizes will vary especially considering attachments -email transmissions sizes will vary because of differing bandwidths, email sizes and attachments -email would most likely be only one of many applications running on a given computer, as it is impossible to know for sure for my purposes you can assume email is the only application running and consumes all of computer resources while being used. (Far from accurate I know) What I am looking for here is as factually based an estimate of the average as possible complete with references``` Clarification of Question by ashdezign-ga on 27 Jul 2006 22:04 PDT ```I have noticed that noone has yet started answering this question. Perhaps I was not clear enough regarding what exactly I am looking for. Let me start by explaining the premise I am working off of. As you compose an email you are using a computer which is most likley drawing power from a power station burning oil or coal. This produces carbon dioxide. As the email is transmitted it travels through various servers all drawing power in a similar fashion. When the recipient downloads and reads the email, again ir falls under the same parameters. What I would like to know is on average how much carbon dioxide is produced for the entirity of an average emails journey. I hope this helps, please if anything is unclear, ask me for clarification. Thanks!``` Clarification of Question by ashdezign-ga on 29 Jul 2006 10:36 PDT ```First let me thank everyone who has commented. Sometimes the hardest part in getting an answer is in finding the right question and you all have been tremendously helpful. As pointed out the transmission time would seem to most likely be instantaneous, or so close to instantaneous as to make no practical difference. As such the carbon footprint of transmission would likely be immeasurably small. That leaves us with composition, storage and reading the email. Storage can also be fairly easy to work out by simply measuring the power consumption of the server(s) used to store the emails so we can eliminate that from the question as well. So it appears the real question is: How much is the carbon footprint of the average email: specifically how much electricity is consumed by the computers being used during the times used to compose and read the email. Emails will vary in size, but we are looking for averages and attachments can be left out as they are composed separate from the email. So we are considering the duration of actually writing the email by the sender before transmittal and reading the email once it has arrived with the recipient. I guess what we need to know is how long the average content portion of an email is and, on average, how long does it take to compose and how long does it take to read. We can, for simplicities sake, assume that the web mail service is the only thing running on the computers in question and therefore we simply need to translate the length of time spent in composing and the length of time spent in reading into an amount of electricity consumed by the computers in question. The answer can be expressed as such: X number of Kilobytes of data on average takes X amount of time to be written and X amount of electricity is consumed by the computer being used for the composition. That same amount of data on average will take X amount of time to be read and X amount of electricity will be consumed by the computer being used to read the message. If we can arrive at an average amount of electricity used per kilobyte of written data and read data it should be fairly easy to work out the carbon footprint. I will add a 100 dollar tip if you can also work out how much electricity is used on average for X Kilobytes of data to be transmitted. Please provide as much supporting references for your conclusions as possible.``` Clarification of Question by ashdezign-ga on 29 Jul 2006 10:39 PDT ```To further clarify the following section in the previous calification: The answer can be expressed as such: X number of Kilobytes of data on average takes X amount of time to be written and X amount of electricity is consumed by the computer being used for the composition. That same amount of data on average will take X amount of time to be read and X amount of electricity will be consumed by the computer being used to read the message. Could instead read: The answer can be expressed as such: X number of Kilobytes of data on average takes X amount of time to be written and X amount of electricity in total is consumed by the computer being used for the composition during that period of time. That same amount of data on average will take X amount of time to be read and X amount of electricity in total will be consumed by the computer being used to read the message during that period of time.``` Request for Question Clarification by hedgie-ga on 01 Aug 2006 20:56 PDT ```Re: "As pointed out the transmission time would seem to most likely be instantaneous, or so close to instantaneous as to make no practical difference. As such the carbon footprint of transmission would likely be immeasurably small" Email is using 'store and forward' algorithm, and automatically retransmits the message several times before it gives up (in case of a problem). It is not instantaneous and cpu cycles spent in transmission, depend on path (there are more'stops' when going between continents then between users of same ISP)... The bulk of the power consumption is used 'to keep the servers switched on'; Increase caused by simple processing (forwarding the mail) is small, but there are many servers dedicated to processing of mail. Expression 'email' is not well defined: Does it include spam? (there is almost no compose time per message) and (minimal time spent reading it) but there is lot of computation done when filtering mail. "Now, two-thirds of all e-mail is spam". Do you include address harvesting? Include : Intranet communication? (within company?) So, the question would have to be reformulated (or rather formualated) It would be more an essay, then calculation. I am willing to give it time and consideration, if you understand that you will not get accurate numbers, just very rough estimates. I would also need to know your purpose or goal and use of the numbers. You a power consumption (per kB of a message, or per period of time). It could be per-user, infrastructure differs in different areas of the world. The statistics on number of users (penetration) are available. What power sources are being used to generate that power, you would have to infer from power industry stats. Would that be acceptable? Hedgie``` Request for Question Clarification by hedgie-ga on 01 Aug 2006 20:59 PDT ```"You a power consumption .." should be " You would get a power consumption .." Sorry about a typo.``` Clarification of Question by ashdezign-ga on 04 Aug 2006 23:14 PDT ```Sorry for the delay in response Hedgie, I had almost given up on getting an answer and had not checked for a couple of days. First the purpose of the question would be to calculate the estimated carbon footprint of a commercial webmail service with a view to using carbon offsets to make it carbon neutral. I am building one so I would once the service is live have access to a variety of stats. For now I need as much info and estimates as possible for planning. You stated that the term email was not well defined and asked if it included spam. Yes it would include any data sent/recieved via email, spam and attachments as well as general emails. I would not include address harvesting. Or Intranet considerations. re: "Email is using 'store and forward' algorithm, and automatically retransmits the message several times before it gives up (in case of a problem). It is not instantaneous and cpu cycles spent in transmission, depend on path (there are more'stops' when going between continents then between users of same ISP)..." If you could give an overview as well as an average approximation that would be great. Re: " So, the question would have to be reformulated (or rather formualated) It would be more an essay, then calculation. I am willing to give it time and consideration, if you understand that you will not get accurate numbers, just very rough estimates. I would also need to know your purpose or goal and use of the numbers. You a power consumption (per kB of a message, or per period of time). It could be per-user, infrastructure differs in different areas of the world. The statistics on number of users (penetration) are available. What power sources are being used to generate that power, you would have to infer from power industry stats. Would that be acceptable?" Absolutly acceptable, thanks!```
 Subject: Re: Average Carbon footprint of an Email Answered By: hedgie-ga on 07 Aug 2006 00:48 PDT
 ```Hello again ashdezign-ga The search came out a bit differently than I anticipated when I started. I got energy consumption figures, but once I had them, a more meaningful answer demanded I go further down the path. It is impossible to answer the broad question - of the SEARCH TERM: energy consumption in telecommunication but your explanation of the purpose: "..commercial webmail service with a view to using carbon offsets to make it carbon neutral..." was useful and allows narrowing the topic a bit. I will focus on the following scenario: imagine a company which is still doing business the old-fashioned way (snail mail, POTS , fax ..) (if such still exist) and imagine that this company would switch to the modern, Internet way of handling the necessary communication and use a commercial webmail service. How would such a decision affect energy consumption (as a measure of the impact on the C02 emission)?. The topic is still quite broad: a company in the business of global import-export has different needs than the local grocery store or a shipping firm or a stock brokerage .. but we can guess (in advance of a search for quantitative facts) that impact of the decision to switch will be ecologically positive in all such cases. In general, the energy requirements of electronic communication are much smaller than the conventional means ( such as paper based (hardcopy) letters sent bu US post office - a method called snailmail ). In this narrow interpretation of the question, we are excluding the impact of phenomena such as spam: the fact that someone in Asia is flooding the world with billions of unwanted ads for 'fake Rollexes and quack remedies' has really little to do with a decision of our 'typical' company to use email for their business communication. Let's start by finding the Watts/cycle energy consumption rates. That is the power used to make computations. Those numbers are known: PART 1 OF THE ANSWER TO YOUR IMMEDIATE QUESTION IS HERE: =========================================================== http://news.taborcommunications.com/msgget.jsp?mid=710609&xsl=story.xsl Note how low the numbers are -- (1 nano-watt per Megaflop) ----- -------------------------- http://www.zettaflops.org/PES/P1-Sterling.pdf PART 2 OF THE ANSWER TO YOUR IMMEDIATE QUESTION IS HERE: ========================================================= This subquestion is : how many Megaflops does it take to process one "hop" of 1 Mb (Megabyte) of email? SEARCH TERMS: CPU consumption per email message Number depends heavily on anti-spam filtering methods and is summarized in Fig 5. of this report [PDF] Resisting Spam Delivery by TCP Damping File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML Unsolicited email messages, also known as spam, have become a serious problem ... Figure 5: CPU Usage per Email. 4.2. Damping TCP by Resource Consumption ... http://www.cs.uga.edu/~kangli/src/ceas2004_kangli.pdf What it means is: It takes more CPU cycles to filter the mail (to eliminate spam), than to store and forward it. As a rough measure of each step of the necessary processing ( compose, store and forward (per hop) and deliver (via POP server) to users mail box, one can take 100 cycles per bit of volume and each step). What is a "hop": There is a network tool called 'traceroute' which show how many hops (intermediate steps) are needed to deliver email from your location to a given e-mail address. The number of hops ranges from 1 to 20. For long distance measages, the number depends on 'distance' to the Internet backbone. Here is a web-based tool using traceroute. It lists the hops from your machine to different parts of the globe. It also gives time (in milliseconds) of transmitting the message duting the hop. At end of each hop there is a computer which will store the message in memory, and resends it later (once, or up to 5 times, if required). It can also block the message, if it decides it is a spam. It nice to send a 'message back to the sender' informing him that his snder adress is blocked. Often this is not done - since most spam fakes (spoofs) the senders address - so 'nice notifications' become part of the spam flow. (Al these problems are temporary - see the 'future of the email' at the end of this answer). http://www.tracert.com/cgi-bin/trace.pl PART 3: ANSWER TO THE WIDER (real life) QUESTIONS ================================================== Part 1 and 2 of the answer, combined, will tell how much energy is used to process a given volume of mail, sent to different parts of the world. However, that minuscule number is actually irrelevant to the task you posed. The main environmental impact of telecommunication is not the 'waste heat' due to extra cycles needed for data processing, but the cost of building the infrastructure (that is, laying down cables or optical fiber or building WI-FI towers, data centers ..). See e.g. http://www.wirelessinsightasia.com/article.asp?id=1528 For this reason, the wholesale cost of the ISP service is a better measure of impact of use of a website than energy consumption per Megaflop or Megabyte. Let's look at those numbers: How much would a company pay, per month, to operate a commercial website which would process, let's say, a million messages per day (via web mail)? Here is a sample of the OEM costs: http://www.tdl.com/~netex/isp/isp.html Of course, a lot depends how well the wholesale providers are selected and a site and service designed. As an example, Google built its impressive worldwide network, using Linux OS and redundant cheap hardware (REID disks): "However, this does not seem to be hindering Google at all. In fact the low cost hardware combined with the low cost OS is what allowed them to grow so quick and remain a private company. They spent the start up cash on brainpower and not hardware and software. ." http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum3/26931.htm http://www.manageability.org/blog/stuff/economics-google-hardware-infrastructure/view CONCLUSION RE EMAIL COSTS IT's IMPACTS - Today and Tomorrow ============================================================= (We use Google email service as an example, other services are listed below). Considering that Google is offering free email service, called gmail, using it's worldwide network (built initially to precess search queries) https://www.google.com/accounts/ServiceLogin?service=mail - a service which is both web-based and alos has free forwarding (so that it can be used like regular email) is telling us two things: 1) The cost of the telecommunication itself (energy use and infrastructure) is so small that the company is compensated just by placing a modest number of ads, next to the messages. 2) It will be impossible (for at least a few years) to compete with the present offerings of the web-mail services (Google, AOL, Yahoo ..) SEARCH TERMS: (free) webmail services http://www.pcmech.com/show/reviews/884/ This means that our hypothetical company offering web mail service commercially would have to operate on a value-added basis. It would use infrastructure which already exists, and to offer services which are today missing. That would be, at this time, primarily customer education and spam protection. It may be possible to build a niche business: let's say mail services for farmers (in the US or Zambia ..) or hardware stores, or .. which would use knowledge of and understanding special needs of that branch of industry, combine spam protection, marketing, computerized invoicing, tax returns ...Company could provide software to interface or replace current accounting software and databases ... - and otherservices not offered by today's basic mail companies. So, the conclusion is: ============================== The actual environmental costs of email transmission itself are so minuscule that they can be neglected when compared to other costs. Therefore, the carbon dioxide savings would be simply the carbon saved by eliminating the energy used by old fashioned energy-guzzling methods The task of commercially viable service would be related to educating and converting companies which do not presently use email, to provide customer support (which todays in minimal or non-existent). We need to keep in mind that scene is still changing very quickly and there are generational differences and differences across the globe. Here, then is the last of the relevant SEARCH TERMS: future of email http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/21/email_future/ As appropriate for the 'information age', the decisive factors turn out to be not in the consumption of energy and material, but in something more elusive, something called information, ease-of-use,custommer support, security and dialectical paradox of privacy combined with access to information. http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-6028_7-6301361-1.html http://www.infoworld.com/infoworld/article/04/04/16/16FEfuturemail_1.html etc Once you've had a good look at these links please do rate the answer or, if needed, post a RFC (request for clarification) Hedgie``` Request for Answer Clarification by ashdezign-ga on 07 Aug 2006 04:22 PDT ```All very interesting, I do have 1 question thouh. You give the figure of 1 nano-watt per Megaflop with the subquestion of : how many Megaflops does it take to process one "hop" of 1 Mb (Megabyte) of email? And then go one to reference the traceroute network tool. This looks good, very much like what I am looking for; but my question about your answer is this: How accurate is the "1 nano-watt per Megaflop" figure? In the reference pdf you quoted it seemed to refer to a hypothetical system as noted by the heading "What we will need" in that section. Is it safe therefore to assume that conventional computers today use more wattage per Megaflop?``` Clarification of Answer by hedgie-ga on 08 Aug 2006 21:53 PDT ```Power consumption of processors vary in a wide range, depending on hardware and activity: a supercomputer, running a (non-stop, as they do) number crunching will be more effficient (in terms of energy/cycle) then a typical home computer (Intell Pentium or AMD Athlon) used to retrieve and display web pages or mail. Also, new computers have much improved power management (they go to sleep, when not used) than previous generations. Here are some hard numbers for today's PCs: http://www.techreport.com/onearticle.x/7417 Example and explanation It shows 230W for pentium with clock rate 4.3 Ghz, which translates to 230/ 4.3 E9 W/cycle = 50 nanoWatts per cycle. SEARCH TERMS: Megaflop, flop Unit 'Megaflop' was invented to measure number-cruncing performance Unit 'Mflop' 1. (computing) a measure of the speed of a computer; one million floating point operations per second floating point operation (abbreviated as FLOP) Unit 'flop' 1. (computing) any simple operation, such as addition, multiplication or division, that a particular computer can perform using a single operation Question ' how many cycles per instructions ' can be made very complicated as it depends on architecture of the hardware.: http://guides.macrumors.com/index.php?title=Computing_Units&printable=yes http://www.dgate.org/~brg/files/vsimII/website/softarch252.html http://www.rwc.uc.edu/koehler/comath/43.html For our purpuse we can aproximately take one flop as hundred cycles. More data are available under SEARCH TERMS: CPU power consumption , power diddipation ('Search Terms' are words to type into a (Google) search engine. in different combinations, to get additional article in the topic). E.g this: Google query: ://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=CPU+power+consumption&btnG=Search will bring articles like: http://www.goodwin.ee/sulo/Power2.htm or this one: "The power and heat issue is relevant to everyone else in a variety of ways: * Environmental: High power efficiency means lower energy consumption becomes a significant environmental issue. Computers do represent a significant percentage of electricity consumption not only directly but indirectly with increased air-conditioning cost in enterprise applications due to their added heat..." "..As we noted in the Turion 64 article, hardware manufacturers have recognized the importance of reducing power. High efficiency power supplies are increasingly more common, and Intel and AMD both identify performance-per-watt as a key benchmark..". http://www.silentpcreview.com/article313-page1.html Finally,this article http://www.adobe.com/devnet/coldfusion/articles/performance_61.html deals specificaly with E-Mail Handling Performance "..Another important area of enhanced performance in ColdFusion MX 6.1 is in handling and delivering e-mail. Customers have long requested a more robust mail handling subsystem, capable of sending very high volumes of mail quickly, and ColdFusion MX 6.1 delivers. Macromedia lab tests clocked ColdFusion MX 6.1 sending well over one million e-mail messages per hour. This new found e-mail handling capability, when coupled with the extensive e-mail handling enhancements, allows for truly industrial strength e-mail applications. Whether for use with high volume lists or just rock solid stability for any application that needs to send e-mail reliably, ColdFusion MX 6.1 delivers..." http://www.adobe.com/devnet/coldfusion/articles/performance_61.html Please note that this one is a 'merketing talk', not an objective coparison. That (mass mail) is also a 'science' in itself: http://www.iventa.com/Email-Publishing-Tracking-System.aspx http://images.apple.com/server/pdfs/Mail_Services_TB_v10.4.pdf. Can one say 'junk science'? :-) Analysis of those numbers and specialised mass-mail software, both spam and anti-spam would require a separate question to be covered well. Hedgie```
 Subject: Re: Average Carbon footprint of an Email From: myoarin-ga on 28 Jul 2006 06:59 PDT
 ```Just a free comment. Your clarification was certainly a help. Your question is very seriously priced, so I hope that you get an answer, but I rather wonder if one is possible. It seems to me that the fractions of seconds involved in each stage of the composition, transmittal and downloading of a single email would be extremely difficult to segregate from the hardware's ongoing use of electricity - and would not be a significant amount in terms of "carbon footprint". But I may be wrong. I hope you find out.```
 Subject: Re: Average Carbon footprint of an Email From: keystroke-ga on 28 Jul 2006 12:17 PDT
 ```I would also think that an email would have a lot less of a carbon footprint than millions of letters (or possibly phone calls) that it has replaced. Also, if you're not going to write an email, you'll be doing other things on the PC, so it's really not entirely possible to know.```
 Subject: Re: Average Carbon footprint of an Email From: ashdezign-ga on 28 Jul 2006 21:36 PDT
 ```Thanks for the comments, You may be right I was thinking of simply multiplying the servers carbon footprint by 3. In otherwords for a hypothetical webmail service "X" User A composes an email and transmits it to User B. Assuming User B is on the same webmail service than a simplistic description of the route would be User A to server for service X to User B on service X. If User B is on a different webmail service than the multiplication would be by 4. User A on service X composes an email and transmits to User B on service Y. The route would then be User A to Server on Service X to server on Service Y to User B. This approach would be very easy for me to calculate, but how accurate an assumption would it be? Would simply multiplying the the server by 3 or 4 be roughly equal to the exact answer or would it fall to far short? If we assume the purpose of the excercise is to account for the carbon in order to offset it thus creating end to end carbon neutrality for the webmail service how would one go about calculating that in an honest fashion?```
 Subject: Re: Average Carbon footprint of an Email From: myoarin-ga on 29 Jul 2006 03:31 PDT
 ```That sounds logical, but I have minimal knowledge of EDB/web workings. Although in practice it obviously takes longer to send a longer email or one with attachments, isn't this time watching the blips pass or a percentage rod move greatly exagerated by the multi-tasking in the network? Someone who understands transmittal speeds could easily tell us the actual time used to transmit a single page, say, 300 words. I expect that on a dedicated, private line, it would almost be instantaneous. To be generous, let it use twice the time on a busy multi-tasking line for routing and handling the segmented message. Seems like it would still be almost instantaneous.```