McAfee Looks at Spam's Damage to Environment

You may be surprised to find out that not only are spam e-mails a huge waste of your time, but they significantly contribute to green house gas (GHG) emissions. Security firm McAfee commissioned the study.

We all know how annoying it is to see an e-mail in-box crammed full of spam messages, but did you know it's also having an impact on the planet? This week, security specialist McAfee released the results of its "Carbon Footprint of Spam" study, showing globally the annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes.
The report concludes spam e-mail is not only a nuisance, but is damaging to the environment and substantially contributes to green house gas (GHG) emissions. The level of electricity it takes to power 2.4 million homes also produces the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gasoline. McAfee commissioned climate-change consultant ICF International and spam expert Richi Jennings to calculate the impact.
Among the key findings of the report, it was estimated that 62 trillion spam e-mails were sent in 2008, and 80 percent of the energy consumption came from end users deleting spam and searching for legitimate e-mail. Spam filtering, on the other hand, accounts for just 16 percent of spam-related energy use. The study concluded spam filtering saves 135 TWh of electricity per year, equal to taking 13 million cars off the road.
"As the world faces the growing problem of climate change, this study highlights that spam has an immense financial, personal and environmental impact on businesses and individuals," said Jeff Green, McAfee's senior vice president of product development and McAfee Avert Labs. "Stopping spam at its source, as well investing in state-of-the-art spam filtering technology, will save time and money, and will pay dividends to the planet by reducing carbon emissions as well."
The study looked at global energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam across 11 countries, including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, the United States and the U.K. It correlated the electricity spent on spam with its carbon footprint, as fossil fuels are by far the largest source of electricity in the world today. Since emissions cannot be isolated to one country, it averaged its findings to arrive at the global impact.
The report found if a state-of-the-art spam filter protected every in-box, organizations and individuals could reduce today's spam energy by 75 percent, or 25 TWh per year-the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road. Countries with greater Internet connectivity and users, such as the United States and India, tended to have proportionately higher emissions per e-mail users. The United States, for example, had emissions that were 38 times that of Spain.
Researchers discovered that while filtering spam is beneficial, fighting spam at the source is even better. McAfee points to McColo, a major source of online spam. When the organization was taken offline in late 2008, the energy saved in the ensuing lull-before spammers rebuilt their sending capacity-equated to taking 2.2 million cars off the road. The full report is available for free in nine languages on McAfee's Website.