Spam pollutes the planet with 17 million tonnes of CO2 every year

17 Apr 2009

Not only does spam clog up our emails, wasting precious working time and spelling out higher energy costs for businesses, but it is also responsible for polluting our planet.

Antivirus firm McAfee commissioned climate consultants ICF International to carry out a study on spam, with the resulting report coming up with fairly shocking figures on how spam contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Published this week,The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report looks at the energy used to create, store, view and filter spam in 11 countries. It estimates that 62 trillion spam emails are sent globally every year.

This alarming figure amounts to the production of 17 million tonnes of CO2, with annual spam energy use totalling 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) – enough energy to power more than 2.4 million homes annually.

The report indicates that the average greenhouse gas emissions created by a single spam message amount to 0.3 grammes of CO2.

“That’s like driving three feet,” the study said. “But when multiplied by the yearly volume of spam, it is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times.”

Due to the intensity of use, along with greater internet connectivity, the US and India produce the highest emissions per email.

According to the report: “The United States had emissions that were 38 times that of Spain.”

The study has also found that the average business user generates 131kg of CO2 every year, with 22pc of this being related to spam.

ICF said that spam filtering would reduce unwanted spam by 75pc, the equivalent of removing 2.3 million cars off the road.

“If every inbox were protected by a state-of-the-art spam filter, organisations and individuals could reduce today’s spam energy by approximately 75pc or 25 TWh (Terra Watt hour) per year,” the report explained.

The report stated that a year’s email at a typical medium-sized business uses 50,000 KWh, with more than one fifth of that annual use associated with spam.

“Much of the energy consumption associated with spam (80pc) comes from end users deleting spam and searching for legitimate email.”

According to the report, the tackling of spam should become intrinsic to the campaign to reduce CO2 emissions.

Jeff Green, senior vice-president of product development at McAfee Avert Labs, said there’s a real need to fight spam at its source.

This report comes in the wake of The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, which was released on 14 April 2009. Symantec’s report found that spam had increased by 192pc.

According to Symantec, bot networks are responsible for approximately 90pc of all spam email.

McAfee and Symantec have different ways of measuring spam, however. Symantec only measures spam that is successfully sent, for instance.

As a result of The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report, McAfee hopes to assist the decision-makers who are working to reduce the onslaught spam email and initiate a timely conversation on the costs of email spam to our planet.

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By Carmel Doyle

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic