Carbon Footprint Measurement: Advertising’s First Step Towards Sustainability?

Advertisers, agencies, publishers, and ad tech providers are all beginning to understand the critical role they play in the industry’s commitment to sustainability.

It’s fair to say that digital advertising, at its core, is not a green industry. Digital carbon emissions are complex. The creation of each ad, the allocation of ad space, the distribution and storage of ad content, the use of the terminal during the exposure time, and the reporting data management all add a layer of emissions. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t work towards becoming a more sustainable industry. 

From email to Netflix, digital consumption is everywhere in daily life. Reading online news, playing video games, and using social media all has an environmental cost. All of this now accounts for 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions, or GHG’s. This is more than the airline industry and it’s expected to double by 2025. To put that into perspective, 8% equals the same amount as the current share of car emissions around the world. 

What can the digital advertising industry do?

Every company should know how its business contributes to climate change. By measuring the impact of computer servers, office supplies, marketing collateral, business travel, and employee commutes, every organization should be able to calculate, understand, and monitor its carbon emissions. Carbon accounting is a good way to manage costs and increase revenue while also demonstrating the company’s commitment to continuous improvement and transparency. 

Then, online advertisers need to apply the same logic to understanding and measuring the carbon footprint of their digital solutions. Each player in the chain is becoming more aware of their environmental impact. Advertisers, agencies, publishers, and ad tech providers are all beginning to understand the critical role they play in the industry’s commitment to becoming more responsible. 

Aiming for more sustainability

The shift the industry is taking towards measuring, monitoring, and reducing the CO2 emissions of the entire delivery process is the first step in the right direction. Improving the energy efficiency of advertising systems is key and can be executed in many ways. And, as the proverb says: no pain, no gain. We will have to work to figure out how to do business without consuming too much energy. 

To reduce, we first need to determine the main factors that contribute to climate change. One of the biggest factors is the energy required to serve and download ad content in real-time. As a result of carbon footprint calculations, some guidelines are beginning to emerge. Focusing on shorter advertising video, favoring wifi targeting status vs. 4G targeting, delivering on weekends and low consuming periods, working on file-size compression, and targeting mobile devices vs. bigger screens is a good start. But, global standardized solutions will be required in order for the industry to significantly improve its impact. 

Starting from where we are

For now, there’s no such thing as a perfect solution as each business contributes to climate change on a varying scale. In the meantime, we must start to discuss more reasonable uses of the energy the industry inherently requires. Working just to meet current green or carbon-neutral standards may not be possible – particularly if we count the environmental cost of the hardware. As it stands, digital advertising is such a carbon-heavy business that it can not operate without compromising the environment. 

Striking a healthy balance will require the entire industry to come together and we are committed to engaging in the conversation to help develop solutions. Conducting our own carbon footprint assessment is just the first step we are taking to better understand where we are and inform our efforts going forward. We will continue to share more details on our efforts and commitments as the conversation evolves and the industry begins collaborating on lightening our environmental impact. 

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