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Report Shows Spam’s Massive Carbon Footprint

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Spam wastes enough energy to run 2.4 million homes, says a report designed to give more ammunition to anti-spam action

As well as cutting productivity, spam email harms the environment, wasting enough energy each year to power 2.4 million homes, according to new research.

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Each year, 62 trillion spam emails are sent, wasting 33 billion kilo watt-hours (KWh) of power, according to research carried out by ICF for security company McAfee. Most of the energy is wasted at the end user’s computer, sifting and deleting messages, and searching for genuine ones, so spam filtering can reduce the energy wasted by up to 75 percent, or the global equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road, the report says.

“Spam is bad for the environment as well as for your productivity,” said Dave Marcus, security research and communications Manager at McAfee. The report is clearly aimed at providing another reason for adopting his company’s spam filtering but could also provide more ammunition for those wanting to take action against spam, he said.

An individual company can find that one fifth of the energy budget of its email system is wasted on spam, the report says. Each spam message has a carbon footprint of 0.3 grams of CO2, the report claims, which is roughly the equivalent of driving one meter. This would mean the total volume is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times per year.

More pointedly, the report claims that each business user spends around 131kg of CO2 a year on emsil, of which about 28kg are spam related. Removing that would reduce a company’s footprint by the same amount as eliminating 93km of driving for every person in the company. For a 1000 person company, this could be the equivalent of five cars off the road, if the figures are to be believed.

“We’ve been talking about spam for a long while, and we wanted to bring a quantifiable environmental impact,” said Marcus. It will make people more likely to take action against spam, instead of seeing it as an inevitable consequence of doing business, he said.

There’s no likelihood that the news the spam is helping to kill the planet will affect spammers behaviour said Marcus: “They are criminals who are all about making money”. However, it could add more impetus to efforts to bring them to justice, he suggested. “This is a call to action at a practical level, but harsher penalties are needed if you look on the problem from a global perspective.”