End User fun stuff

Christmas Cards and Carbon Emissions

A title that conjures many eclectic images of what I might be writing about, I am sure.

In true “Bah, Humbug” style, I don’t send Christmas Cards. This started as a charity payment in penance for my apathy but the more I’ve reflected upon it over the years the more it seems like a chore. A relic of a pre-digital age. More latterly, I sat down and calculated (by extrapolating a BBC News piece) that the carbon emissions of the Christmas card making and despatching industry in the UK alone is equivalent to sending a laden jumbo jet around the world 280 something times.

Quite incredible that – a handful of posted cards multiplied up over the population reaches such a CO2 emission figure.

Which then leads to the emissions in telecommunications. I once heard that BT consumed 1% of the nation’s power. I have no reference for that but given the number of System Xs still around the network I can half believe it. We even recently went through a time when carbon trading was rapidly becoming a serious prospect for even moderate sized telecoms operators ….. thankfully that has at least been postponed unless you use more than 6,000 MWh on half hourly meters.

But what worries me is that the powers that be (pardon the pun) think we needed a stick to be more efficient. With rising energy prices, and 1kW of power needing, as a rule, 1kW of cooling, we are very well incentivised as an industry to minimise this cost. Regardless of what people may think of the climate change debate, energy efficiency reduces costs and improves profits (providing the capital investment is proportionate of course), which in our highly competitive industry we are all very focussed on.

The former incumbent has perverse incentives to cash cow inefficient legacy technology created by the regulatory construct; the rest of us have been on the case for years. Green levies on energy are just another barrier to incentivising the investment in technologies the Government is desperate to encourage, just like business rates which I have discussed before.

I sincerely hope that the rhetoric of the government of the day plays out, because I fear the alternative to achieving the ends they desire would be subsidies. And we’ve seen where they’ve ended up before.


Peter Farmer

By Peter Farmer

Peter Farmer is the Commercial and Regulatory Manager at Gamma, writing here on Trefor.Net in a personal capacity. He sits with Tref on the Internet Telephony Service Providers' Association Council and is their Chair of the Regulatory Affairs Committee.

Peter's experience covers consultation responses and disputes with Ofcom, lobbying government (UK and European) on telecommunications matters, litigations at the Competition Appeal Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Despite all of that, and having three Masters degrees, his main job is actually being a Personal Assistant to his two cats.

5 replies on “Christmas Cards and Carbon Emissions”

I wonder which is responsible for more Carbon Emissions;

a) A fully laden jumbo jet carrying christmas cards by airmail from London to the East coast of the USA
b) the card making process for the quantity of cards that would fit in such an aricraft

I have visited one paper mill that used no fossil fuels, only “forest products” ie bits of tree not good enough to pulp. As they also have a sustainable forest plantation (as do most paper companies) I think they would argue the paper / card itself is practically carbon emission free on a net basis.

I suspect a lot of this has to do with the movement of the letter. The Royal Mail is running the infrastructure anyway, so the carbon emissions would have to be the incremental due to the weight in the van for example. If I get bored later I’ll see how much A-Level physics I remember and work out a 60g card from Lands End to John O’Groats!

OK, I gave up when trying to work out the contribution of a card to a Royal Mail van’s drag and friction on the road. I got to about 15g of carbon per card before then, but that assumes it’s all incremental on existing operations; the second they run an extra truck because of Christmas, it goes out of the window.

I don’t send cards either.

I just have a Merry Christmas text scheduled to be sent out to those contacts who are family or friends on Christmas morning about 11.30ish

I’ll let the Android take the strain 🙂

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