Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Freddie Turner: Carbon-awareness will drive true sustainable digital advertising

Freddie Turner is EMEA Managing Director, MiQ and NDA’s regular columnist.

Sustainability has rocketed to the top of consumer consciousness and the advertising industry is having to move beyond lip service and respond.

Re-assessing the impact of creative production is a logical place to start, given the conspicuousness of energy consumption. Large production crews flying to exotic locations to film the 30-second hero spot is now deeply questionable when there are more efficient and equally creative solutions available such as remote workflows and shooting on LED stages. Calculating the carbon output of production using tools like Bafta albert as well as cutting in-house company waste, measured as Scope 1 Greenhouse Gas (GHG), is the low hanging fruit.

Attention must now turn to the potentially larger, but far harder to define CO2 footprint of an ad campaign’s entire lifecycle. This includes all digital interactions from automatic bidding to serving the ad on end-user screens and is bracketed under a company’s Scope 3 GHG responsibilities.

The scale of the issue is huge and not well understood in our industry, in part because of the challenge of calculating the carbon cost of every single internet interaction that every one of us makes daily to view content and the ads that support it. Consider that every single time an ad gets served it is drawing energy to crunch the numbers in a data centre on servers which need continuous power and cooling. Every time someone opens a webpage the cost of the ad streamed and displayed around that content is a cost to the planet. Every time we share and analyse data about those ads, more computer power is used.

Research by Scope3, the only company to measure end-to-end emissions from across the programmatic advertising supply chain, suggests that approximately one gram of carbon is produced with each generation of an ad impression. Insignificant? Not when factored against the billions of ad-impressions made each day.

Secondly, we want to work with advertisers to measure, report, reduce, and offset carbon emissions across the supply chain and help customers introduce smarter ways of reducing waste over each successive campaign.

Launched in partnership with Scope3, our Sustainable Ads initiative provides marketers with the opportunity to mitigate the environmental impact of their digital advertising in a number of ways. For instance, not all digital ad platforms are as environmentally efficient or transparent as each other. We can select the most eco-optimized publisher to work with when serving a campaign.

More importantly, this creates a meaningful financial incentive for publishers (and the other players in the supply chain) to reduce their emissions. Together we cultivate an ecosystem rooted in sustainable business practices from the onset.

MiQ is committed to fulfilling this mission and creating more eco-conscious and carbon-efficient strategies for brands and their advertisers. As such, we believe that the future of campaign measurement must include the ability to understand and minimise the environmental impact of digital advertising.

Despite the laudable pledges to move to net zero by major agency groups and the World Federation of Advertisers, which now has dozens of signatories for its Planet Pledge, the scale of the challenge is such that no one entity can accomplish meaningful change alone.

Together, we can work toward a future where advertisers can materially reduce the impact of their creatives, steer money towards publishers who are eco-responsible by optimising their sites and help set the financial conditions to decarbonise the entire industry.