Understanding our carbon footprint

Credit: Fateme Alaie
Credit: Fateme Alaie

The next step for the ad industry.

Brands such as Apple, Patagonia, Dell, P&G, Nestlé, Prada and Asics (to name a few) are putting sustainability at the heart of their corporate identities. In media and advertising, agencies frequently put the weight of their creativity behind climate change causes. 

But how much do we know about the environmental impact of the campaigns we create? 

To understand this, we need to analyze the entire production and distribution process. 

This means looking in detail at how a piece of creative is produced and delivered. A TV production – with a cast, crew, set, camera, lighting equipment and support staff – is going to have a greater impact than a one-person photoshoot inspired by a brainstorm on Zoom. 

Understanding digital emissions 

Environmental impact is more difficult to measure when looking at digital distribution, where there are many hidden layers and potential traps to take into account. 

Placing an ad, for example, requires software that’s likely running on third-party cloud data centers. Add that to the combined impact of the network, publisher websites and the devices where ads are being served.  

To build a more detailed picture, agencies need to get emissions reports from all of their technology partners. But there will still be elements that fall outside a providers' scope, and there is no broadly accepted framework for performing this kind analysis in our industry. That means reports will likely use different scopes and methodologies, making comparisons difficult.

Unless you know how to decode them. 

How to evaluate climate reporting

Carbon emission reporting can be grouped into three scopes: direct emissions from the things you own (i.e. office spaces); emissions from the energy sources you use (i.e. electricity); and upstream and downstream emissions, (things not owned by the reporting organization.) The rules on reporting the latter vary, but it’s essential in the digital space. 

There are also different approaches to reporting emissions: Location-based reporting measures the emissions that a company is putting into the air, while market-based reporting measures the emissions of a company’s purchasing decisions. Neither of these methodologies will give the same number, making a comparison complex.

To get as close as possible, we all need to establish the exact perimeter being reported on, the methodology used and the ratio used to convert activities into CO2 equivalents.

What can we do now?

Short-term, brands and agencies can start reducing their digital carbon footprints in two ways. 

First, simplify your tech stack by cutting down the layers between creating and delivering an ad. Fewer partners means fewer reports to integrate, but also less indirect emissions. 

Second, reduce data load. Shorter ads will be lighter than longer ads, as will certain ad formats and compressions rates. Optimizing asset size is not just good for the user experience, but will also reduce the emissions involved in serving an ad and conserve the battery power and overall lifecycle of a device receiving an ad. 

Media auditing has historically been about transparency and fraud. Environmental impact must now be a part of that process.

Reducing our carbon footprint starts with knowing what our footprint is and where the biggest problems are. Our industry needs to establish reporting standards so that we can effectively measure and understand our impact. 

Jim Daily is CEO of Teads in North America

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