sustainable email marketing

Sustainable email marketing – How to reduce the carbon footprint of your email campaigns

Email marketing has been heralded as a more environmentally form of marketing, especially when compared to postal direct mail. According to Esendex a 10-gram letter made from recycled paper that will be recycled when received, has an estimated carbon footprint of 140 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e); an email is estimated to be around 4 grams of CO2e, but when you add an attachment, the carbon footprint increase by up to 50 grams. However, the carbon produced from emails is far from insignificant, especially when you consider that an average open rate is only 21% when using popular cloud-based email platforms such as MailChimp. That means 79% of emails generate carbon but are not even being read, perhaps not even deleted as sat in obsolete accounts, but still being preserved in cyberspace.

Email marketing can be a very cost-effective activity, some consider it free, but this has led to many businesses over communicating. The result can often be untargeted mass communications and overwhelming increasingly disinterested customers with flashy emails that take far too long to load.

Although emails may appear free in terms of pounds spent, the collective technology involved generates a considerable carbon footprint and the therefore there is an ongoing cost to the environment. If you haven’t previously made the connection between sending emails and the impact on the planet, let me expand on this point. When we send an email, we are using electricity not only to run the computer, but so is the cloud-based email provider and the server to send the email. Often these servers are generating heat and therefore have to be cooled, further exacerbating the problem. When the email is received it may then sit in someone’s inbox for days or months, again using electricity in the data centres who support the cloud based storge and maintain and back up these overflowing inboxes. As offers and messages expire your email may no longer be relevant, but it could still be taking up space on servers. Few free mail services will spend the extra money to use green energy and so the electricity will likely be generated from fossil fuels.

Research from Ovo Energy suggests that 72% of the UK are unaware of the footprint attached to our inbox and found that more than 64 million unnecessary emails are sent in Britain every day. This contributes 23,475 tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to 81,152 flights from London to Madrid.

Email remains a key component of modern marketing, but we need to consider the amount of carbon produced and how it can be reduced. Here are a few suggestions to make your email marketing greener.

Clean your database of email contacts and update preferences

Unsubscribe buttons are compulsory but how obvious and easy to use are they? When did you last ask people to update their preferences? Consider building in processes to make sure you are regularly engaging with customers to update their email preferences. In addition, make sure you are regularly removing bounced email addresses. Low bounce rates are a sign that your database is not only clean, but it is more sustainable too.

Segment your data to better target your messages

Segmenting your database into groups of customers allows you to create much more relevant messages for each specific group. Targeted emails will be more effective because they deliver the right message at the right time and customers are much more likely to click on any links or go to your website. This in turn leads to higher open rates which mean less wasted emails. According to Dotdigital ROI increases up to 760% when email campaigns are targeted and segmented.

Reduce the carbon bulge by reducing your email file size

Images and graphics can give a better visual experience and grab attention but unfortunately, they will increase the file size. This in turn takes up more storage space and requires more energy to send and receive. Gif’s have become increasingly popular, but they are effectively made up of lots of images.  Cutting out GIFs or reducing the size of your images and compressing them will reduce the size of the email and improve load times, leading to a better customer experience and using less energy. 

Avoid sending unnecessary emails

Sending too many emails can lead to customers unsubscribing. Review your data to identify your communication sweet spot. Some email automation systems will allow customers to opt into receiving different frequencies or types of emails that can help reduce the number of unwanted emails.

Email automation sequences are now commonplace and make mass communication almost too easy. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and consider if the message is necessary or if some of these messages could be sent by a text message as it has a smaller carbon footprint.

In summary, a lot more can be done to make our email marketing more sustainable. All of these changes are basic good practice disciplines but also have the benefit of reducing your carbon footprint. These actions may seem small and insignificant, but all these little changes add up will help save our planet. In addition, they will also make your email marketing more effective and customer centric.

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