Digital carbon footprint: no, emptying your email inbox is not the most important gesture for the environment

The information does not print

Digital carbon footprint: no, emptying your email inbox is not the most important gesture for the environment

The information does not print. Contrary to what studies have shown for years, the French believe that the most effective action to reduce the environmental footprint of their digital uses consists of sorting and cleaning their email box regularly. In fact, 42% cite this gesture among the three most beneficial, according to figures from the digital barometer, published on May 14. This vast study with a solid methodology, which provides information on the digital equipment and uses of the French, is revised annually by the public body which carries it, the Research Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions (Crédoc) .

In reality, cleaning your email box has an uncertain environmental impact, despite what Barbara Pompili, then Minister of Digital Transition, argued in 2020. Because deleting emails is, in itself, an act that consumes electricity. For Frédéric Bordage, founder of the collective of independent experts Green IT, “the impacts added by this action are barely offset by the small amount of space saved on the servers which store these emails remotely”.

To their credit, respondents could not choose, from the list of eleven ecological actions proposed by Crédoc, neither the cleaning of images nor the reasoned consumption of online videos. However, regularly deleting photos and videos stored online can have a virtuous effect on large consumers of images, albeit modest. And above all, moderating your consumption of online videos can really be effective, particularly if you are used to watching them on 4G or 5G. So when 20% of French people checked “limit data consumption on mobile networks”, did some have video sobriety in mind?

Fewer screens, kept longer

Positive sign: the French rank in third position (38%) the fact of “increasing the lifespan of digital devices (…) by taking care of them, by having them repaired”. However, according to the Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe), it is by far the main way to reduce our digital environmental footprint. The effort will first focus on televisions and computers for “gamers”, which have a very deplorable environmental record.

“Limiting the number of digital equipment (…) at home”, which only appears in sixth position (21%) in the digital barometer, should in reality also be, for this reason, one of the main concerns. Any additional device has a significant impact on an individual's carbon footprint. Same thing with the purchase of refurbished digital terminals, which fails at the bottom of the ranking (13%). Using it, however, makes it possible to avoid the production of new devices and therefore has a very favorable impact on an individual's carbon footprint. Just like their recycling at the end of their life.

There remains a delicate question. Respondents rank “not leaving digital equipment charging all night” as a second use (39%). On the one hand, they are wrong: it is perfectly possible to leave a few smartphones charging overnight without consuming much, because devices equipped with a battery are particularly energy efficient. In terms of electricity consumption, they are far behind other devices, such as televisions.

But on closer inspection, the respondents are also right: it is recommended to only charge a smartphone or tablet up to 80%. Keeping a device plugged in all night reduces the life of its battery a little and hastens the time when it will need to be replaced. However, changing it is sometimes impossible, or very expensive, which can push individuals to get rid of their entire smartphone. Unplugging the charger at the right time can therefore have a significant impact on our environmental footprint. Probably not major however because, even if well maintained, a battery ages naturally.