Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Q&A: Can brands and digital media publishers take measurable action towards sustainability? 

Hannah Mirza, recently founded Responsible Marketing Agency in response to the need for media and marketing companies to take measurable action for positive ESG (Environmental, Social and Gorvernance). Here, she guides us through the industry’s first dedicated action guide towards sustainability goals… 

Hello Hannah. First of all, what prompted you to build a first-of-its-kind agency focusing on ESG transformation?

So many companies in media and marketing at the moment are talking about how they want to make progressive changes in their sustainability, inclusion and diversity strategies. The trouble is knowing the practical steps involved in making those changes, and the big picture can seem daunting. 

I decided to build a full-service media and marketing consultancy to help brands take real action, but also to give them the ability to measure those positive changes. We are helping brands and publishers unlock the pathway towards achieving their 2030 UN sustainability goals. 

Where would you advise digital media companies to start in their journey to become more sustainable?

As the recent GARM action guide sets out, working with sustainable suppliers in the media value chain is arguably the biggest decarbonisation effort that can be achieved for the industry. So building a sustainability-assured partner list is the best starting point. 

First, set clear criteria for sustainability with your partners and suppliers. These criteria will help you assess your existing partner list and vet new potential partners. One standard you can implement at this stage is requesting publicly disclosed and verified annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions inventory and SBTi net zero targets (or an equivalent for smaller businesses).

You can also request reporting using industry-accepted tools – as well as media-specific reporting tools – to help monitor progress.

And talking about tools, why is choosing the right technology important?

Digital channels, regardless of website or service, run on more data than you can imagine, so the data and server infrastructure that keeps it all running needs energy to power it. All this energy produces heat, leading to more GHG emissions. Streamlining the media value chain and technology significantly decreases carbon footprint.

So what actions would you recommend digital media companies take to streamline their tools and technologies?

The first step you can take is auditing your media supply chain, focusing on your digital channels. You should identify where there may be overlapping or duplication in tools and processes or areas with poor-quality inventory. This often happens when businesses adopt new technology and tagging, or tracking components aren’t cleaned up when switching to a new supplier.

This process will help you filter out potential redundant partnerships and find opportunities for consolidation and streamlining.

Furthermore, work with companies who are making their digital infrastructure sustainable. There are incredible start-ups such as Go Code Green who are ensuring the software and code supporting publishers is fit for minimal carbon emissions. 

Speaking of streamlining, what other changes can digital media companies make to drive more sustainability efficiently?

We’ve all heard of the three Rs that promote sustainability in our daily lives: reduce, reuse and recycle. You can do the same with digital assets. Evaluate how much you produce versus how much you use, and if your assets are reaching wear-in/wear-out, or if you have assets that you’re changing too frequently. If so, consider a campaign model where you only develop creative assets with sufficient media budget to reach wear-in/wear-out.

Another way to optimise creativity for sustainability is to compress or shorten creative assets where possible. Smaller, lighter formats require much less energy and help reduce GHG emissions. You can work with your partners to prioritise short-form over long-form creative and understand the optimal format compressions. 

Also, most ads are viewed on mobile devices and laptops anyway, so super high-resolution creatives, which are usually designed on larger screens in development, are unnecessary. Everyday consumers won’t see the difference between a heavy, high-res ad and a compressed one.

Okay, so once you’ve optimised your creative assets, what next? 

One of the current standard practices in digital is preloading, where even if a consumer only views an asset to 50% or even 10%, the asset is still fully loaded. This practice leads to data wastage because no one is seeing the full content. 

A more sustainable approach is to stream the content (as well as the landing pages) bit by bit. That way, it’s only loaded as and when the end-consumer is viewing the content. You can implement content streaming (or minimise preloading) by working with your ad servers and web developers on landing page best practices to support content streaming.

Once you’re taking these steps, it’s important to encourage other media partners to do the same, so we can help to create industry-wide standards and meet ESG goals sooner rather than later. 

The Responsible Marketing Agency works with clients such as Diageo and the WFA to deliver high-performing consultation projects focusing on ESG. To learn more about the steps above and more, download the GARM Guide to Sustainable Media.