How and why to unsubscribe

So it turns out electrons are not free. That is, every email that is sent used some electricity and, in doing so, incurs a carbon cost. Services that aggregate your commercial email or features like Gmail’s “Promotions” in-box reduce the impact of marketing emails on your neurons, but they do nothing to mitigate the carbon impact.

If the paragraph you’ve just read persuades you to unsubscribe, your next thought may be: “But it’s so time-consuming!” Should you use tools like or Gmail’s “unsubscribe” feature? I wouldn’t. “Free” unsubscription services derive data from your use of them, and use this data for commercial purposes or worse (see “How we use data” at or read about a related scandal). (I haven’t researched whether or how Google uses data from use of its automatic unsubscribe feature, but it’s a safe bet that these data are stored somewhere.)

There are two simple, time-saving ways to manage unwanted email that do not result in extra data creep:

For everyone: Instead of deleting each unwanted email, get in the habit of taking the extra few seconds to open it, scroll to the bottom, and click the “Unsubscribe” link.

For Gmail users: Use Amit Agarwal’s amazing Google Script to partially automate the process of unsubscribing. Amit’s post describes how to use the script. It takes a few minutes to set up, but soon you’ll be able to unsubscribe without sending extra data to Google and without actually having to open the emails.