Jan 11 2011 :: by Alex Yumashev
Today I got this short email message that contained 5-6 words and a huge disclaimer below it:

"Hi, Alex
I need to know if the app is compatible with the Linux version of XXXX.
BR, John Doe

Opinions expressed in this e-mail are those of the sender and do not necessarily represent those of XXX Inc.

The contents of this email are confidential to the intended recipient at the email address to which it has been addressed. It may not be disclosed to or used by anyone other than this addressee, nor may it be copied in any way. If received in error, please contact Head of Corporate ISIT, XXX Inc on XXX quoting the name of the sender and the addressee and then delete it from your system.

This email and attachments (if any) has been scanned for viruses using XXX before dispatch. However, please note that neither XXX Inc nor the sender accepts any responsibility for viruses and it is your responsibility to scan the email and attachments (if any).

No contracts may be concluded on behalf of XXX Inc by means of email communications.

Please, consider the environment before printing this message

That last line (set off in red by me) literally kills me. Sorry - figuratively kills me. Not because I think it's bad to save the paper. But because "consider the environment" looks really weird next to a huge legal disclaimer that would take 90% of the space on a printed page.

Power consumption also hurts the environment

The message is about 1100 bytes. Only 70 of which actually contain some useful info. The signal-to-noise ratio is only 6%. I'm not even mentioning the HTML markup I removed - OK, let's say it was just plain text. 1 KB of unneeded extra information. Let's see what happens to this 1KB:

  • It's been copied to the user's "sent items" folder and occupied storage space either on his hard-drive or his Exchange server mailbox. Or both.
  • It's been sent from the user's computer to his email server. Via network. You know - routers, network switches, hubs, network adapters... Maybe even wireless devices and other power-consuming stuff.
  • It has hopped though 5 different email servers (yes, I looked at the headers). Over the network. And, I bet, it was scanned by anti-spam filters and antiviruses of some kind at each one of them.
  • It's been stored in our Hosted Helpdesk database after being imported by the helpdesk's incoming email parser
  • It's been backed up by the database server. And I bet the user's Exchange server is also being backed up, which makes it 2KB of backups overall.
  • It's been sent to my actual mailbox. Over the network. Again - routers, cables, adapters and other devices. Which, actually, were involved in all of the steps above.

What it takes to deliver 1KB?

One of our servers is a virtual cloud server that costs us about $100 a month (40 GB disk space and 30 GB monthly traffic). I made some rough (and very modest) calculations and figured, that if that particular server was handling ALL of the above operations (4x virus scanning, 4x spam filtering, storing, sending over a network, saving to the database, backing up etc.) it would cost 0.015 cents for this 1 KB of useless data (that's rough, I may be wrong).

A box of 5,000 sheets of office paper is priced about $20. Which makes it 0.4 cents for one sheet to print an email like this. Which is, of course, significantly higher, than the cost of sending that email over the network. But you get the point. Adding crap to the bottom of your emails hurts the environment just like printing them.

PS. Not to mention that disclaimers like this simply offend you by saying "we don't trust you".

PPS / UPDATE: I'm not saying that a request to "consider the environment" is bad. I'm just saying that it looks ridiculous next to a lengthy disclaimer, which will occupy the most space on paper.

'Email Disclaimers and the Environment' was written by Alex Yumashev
Alex Yumashev
Alex has founded Jitbit in 2005 and is a software engineer passionate about customer support.

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