As we continue to examine the many contributors to the climate crisis, digital media may be a surprising culprit. Stories are not actually printed on paper and the majority of interviews don’t involve travel. But still, online publishing is a huge driver of carbon.
In fact, if the internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter. More specifically, the internet is responsible for roughly one billion tons of greenhouse gasses per year, or around 2% of global emissions.
As digital media consumption increases, so does the energy use and carbon footprint of our industry. Every piece of digital content passes through different delivery networks – data centers, web infrastructure, user devices and more – each from different owners. All of these factors make up the digital footprint our industry is leaving on the planet.
While these challenges may feel daunting to comprehend, let alone overcome, it is not an excuse to stay idle. Investors and consumers are asking how we’re taking carbon responsibility. Now is the time to ask ourselves what incremental changes we can make. Improvements today will help us create a healthier planet in the future.
Digital publishers are starting to participate more actively in the zero-carbon revolution in inspiring ways. Here are a few examples:
Make carbon responsibility part of RFPs
Some brands include questions about diversity, equity and inclusion in their RFPs to digital media companies when deciding to buy ad buys and sponsored content. Media companies can also include questions about a brand’s carbon footprint in RFPs, making climate an intrinsic part of doing good business from the beginning. This practice can extend beyond advertising across a wide range of industries.
Identify the carbon footprint of each article
We can learn a lot about our overall carbon impact by estimating the carbon footprint of each article we publish. The BBC’s Future Planet is a great example. In addition to covering the climate crisis in depth, each story carries a figure estimating the carbon emissions associated with creating it, breaking it down into two parts: carbon emissions from reporters’ transport and emissions from the digital infrastructure needed to publish the story.
Impressively, in the first six months, Future Planet journalists expended less than a ton of carbon on travel – less than a single flight from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Reducing carbon emissions is not the job of any one company. It is through collaborative efforts and widespread resource sharing that we can get closer to managing the significant carbon impacts of digital content.
A new venture called Scope3 is working to represent emissions generated by the vendors in a company’s supply chain. Scope3 intends to license its emissions data as a “universal currency” to advertisers, agencies and adtech companies and make it available to publishers at no cost. This kind of data will become increasingly valuable as more organizations pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
Lead by example
One of the most effective ways digital publishers can address the climate crisis is to spread knowledge and education about it, which is exactly what media companies do best. By raising awareness of the issue and the steps we can take to help, digital media leaders can hopefully inspire others to make more sustainable choices.
The digital media industry is uniquely positioned to encourage meaningful change, both in the way we do business and in the way we use our content to inform our readers about the climate crisis. By continuing to make carbon responsibility part of our everyday work and collaborating with other sectors to advance the tools we have, we can better envision a zero-carbon reality.
Ayelet Mavor is head of ESG at Minute Media.