Useless emails – unactionable one-word pleasantries – are costing the planet, according to new research that suggests how one less email a day from every adult in the UK would save as much carbon as 81,152 flights to Madrid.

Few industries today can exist without the technology of email, but new research from OVO, the independent energy company, hints at the damage done by the overuse of this almost ubiquitous channel.

Of course, from a PR perspective, the research is gaining column inches both for OVO and for the topic of the climate and how changes in behaviour can lessen our impact. And small changes can help: just shy of half (49%) of Brits admit to sending unnecessary emails every day.

Based on research conducted by the consultants Censuswide, which surveyed 3,000 British adults over three days in November of this year, combined with figures from the Office of National Statistics.

The overwhelming majority of internet users in the UK send and receive emails (86%), and according to the survey, Brits send a rough average of 10 unnecessary, short and unactionable emails each week. Across the total population, that’s a colossal figure: more than 450 million unnecessary emails each week, meaning 64 million every day.

According to Mike Berners-Lee (brother of the internet pioneer Tim), a professor at Lancaster University and author of the book How Bad are Bananas – The Carbon Footprint of Everything, his research for the book calculates that each email equates to about a gram of carbon, which isn’t much. But, multiplied by the 64 million sent each day, that’s 64 tonnes of CO2 every day.

"The carbon happens when you're at your machine when you're tapping your email out, and then you send it and the network uses some electricity to send it and then will end up being stored in the cloud, which again will take up electricity", Berners-Lee told the Telegraph.

Over the year, assuming 365 days, that’s the equivalent carbon output of 3,334 diesel cars running around or 81,152 flights to Madrid from London that could be saved: 16,422 tonnes of the stuff every year.

Communicating climate change, and how normal people can even begin to do anything about it, is a discipline riven with issues and biases that have prevented its effectiveness. So, kudos to OVO, as the comparison helps to contextualise and compare the effects of invisible clean-looking actions to more visible effects.

In this industry, it’s particularly important with the plethora of outbound emails sent on its behalf and that might need rethinking. More broadly, the interest in this story hints at a growing consideration for marketing and advertising: what’s the cost to the environment?

WARC is aware of the irony that this story probably reached you via email.

Sourced from OVO, The Telegraph, WARC