Well, now we finally know for certain, spam does have a carbon footprint and it’s incredibly large. Size 33B (B for billion kilowatt hours) to be precise. To view it differently:

  • That’s enough energy to power 2.4 million homes.
  • Each spam has a footprint of .3 grams of CO2.
  • The 62 trillion spams sent annually roughly equal driving around the planet 1.6 million times.

What’s more, spam filtering can reduce that figure by 75% which is the equivalent of eliminating 2.3 million cars.

The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report was commissioned by McAffee and you can download the paper here.

What does this mean for emarketers?

One more reason not to spam.

While seemingly easy, eliminating outgoing spam can actually be a challenge to implement. How do you know if your company is guilty of spamming? What is the definition of spam? And if you follow the letter of the law (US CAN-SPAM Act), why isn’t that enough? And even if you’re doing everything right, you’ve still got folks on your back wondering why you don’t just buy email lists from anyone on the Internet.

Let’s take these one at a time:

  • How do you know if your company is spamming? There are several clues you can look for:
    1. Do your email reports show large numbers of spam reporting?
    2. Are your email campaigns getting increasingly blocked by more and more servers?
    3. Did you buy an email list of people your company doesn’t know or have a relationship with?
    4. Do you just have a bad feeling in your gut?
  • What is the correct definition of spam? This is easy and yet somehow complex too:
    1. Spam is defined by the recipient, NOT the sender or the sender’s government. If the recipient thinks your email is spam, guess what? It is.
    2. Even so, many governments are attempting to define spam as well. And each government has their own variation on laws governing ‘unsolicited email’. The US law is one of the most lenient, allowing anyone to send email to anyone else so long as certain rules are followed. Those rules include showing a postal address and allowing a valid opt out option, among others. Read the US CAN-SPAM Act for more details, but realize that if your email list includes folks in, say, Australia, your rules are going to be much more strict.
    3. The third party to define spam are the corporations that make spam blocking software for ISPs. These folks have a tough job, creating spam-blocking parameters for use in any country. That’s one reason why they tend to be the most strict when it comes to determining what emails are spam. Their software looks for key features of emails that serve as triggers and get that email blocked at the ISP level. AND they’re always updating their parameters. For instance, it’s common knowledge now that including a lot of all caps or the word ‘FREE’ in your subject line will likely get you blocked. There are also more persnickety triggers like copious amounts of specific colors or images that are ‘too’ large. And of course, a plethora of coding triggers that we won’t go into here.
  • Why isn’t it enough to just follow the US CAN-SPAM Act?
    1. Easy, the United States government doesn’t make the spam blocking software that is used by ISPs around the world and the government is not reading your email to determine if it is spam. SO, the government really doesn’t have a roll to play in whether or not your email gets through and gets read. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow the laws of the country where your email recipients reside, US or not. Definitely follow the laws or you could be sued. Just realize that following the laws does not guarantee that your email will be successful.
    2. AND remember, the US CAN-SPAM Act is not transferable to other countries. Many countries now have their own laws and if you’re emailing to other countries, it’s your company’s responsibility to abide by these laws.
  • What to do about those folks breathing down your neck to get you to buy the biggest email list you can, hoping for that traditional 1% direct marketing return? This is tougher because these folks may be your boss, or your boss’s boss. They may not give a hoot about getting email permission from people on your list or following the laws of the country in which your recipients reside. This is your opportunity to shine by educating them before they force the company to make a big mistake. Get your ducks in a row and discuss the following:
    1. Review everything we’ve discussed above, and in as much depth as the bosses can handle. Most bosses just want the bottom line, so be prepared to state what that is and support it with facts when they protest.
    2. Remind them that despite what THEY think, if the recipient thinks their email is spam, it not only IS spam but that perception directly affects the value of their brand, which is likely reflected on the books.
    3. Remind them that building brand trust and loyalty are hard and being perceived as a spammer will undermine these activities.
    4. And one more thing, let’s go back to what started this discussion: the environment. If your company has a green plan, spamming negatively affects any efforts you make to lessen the carbon footprint and communicate any green initiatives in place. Creating a corporate Anti-Spam Policy can and should also be a segment of your Green Policy. This is also good for your brand.

The obvious lesson here is simple: be a good company and treat your customers with respect. Don’t abuse them, give them what they want, and IF they want you to email coupons to them monthly, do it. If they want you to update them on product upgrades via email, do it. If they don’t, respect their wishes.

Of course, if you’re the authentic manufacturer of a certain little blue pill, I wish you luck. You may never be able to use email marketing due to the spammers that came first.