Engine Room
Tue Feb 21 2023

Many of the world’s small, midsize and large enterprises today are aligning their brand value with sustainability and the green movement. According to the UN, more than 3,000 businesses and financial institutions have partnered with the Science-Based Targets Initiative to help them reduce their carbon emissions. On the other hand, climate change ranked second in the most important issue for consumers in the Amazon Ads’ 2022 Higher Impact research study.

Mainstreaming global warming and other massive environmental issues is a big win for the planet. However, it’s ironic how the actions of digital advertising also contribute to carbon emissions. Online advertising generates approximately 3.5% of global greenhouse gases every year embedded in its value chain, which can be categorised under the Scope 3 emissions.

How Digital Advertising Generates Scope 3 Emissions

As part of the industry, it’s our responsibility to understand the source and standard measure for accounting the emissions  to help make advertising sustainable. Greenhouse gas emissions are classified into three categories or ‘Scopes’ to determine the different kinds of emissions that companies generate.

Scope Description Example
Scope 1Direct emissions generated from assets a company owns and operates Company facilities like heating, company vehicles
Scope 2Indirect emissions a company uses or leasesPurchased electricity for the office to power lighting, internet access, etc. 
Scope 3Indirect emissions not generated by the company but through its value chain Employee travel, transportation and distribution, advertising

A digital advertising company’s day-to-day business operations, scope of work and processes involve the following activities that contribute to a massive 92% carbon 3 emissions or 323 tons of carbon dioxide:

  1. Ad and content production

    The ad and content production for a brand involves the use of equipment such as cameras, lights, microphones and computers to deliver content; business travels of employees to and from production sites as well as the catering and cleaning services all generate carbon 3 emissions.
  2. Media planning

    This involves media buying and the ad delivery or programmatic supply chain requiring servers and devices to transmit the content and target user impressions. A user’s device uses power or battery when accessing content, which generates carbon waste.
  3. Performance data

The transmission and collection of data facilitated by algorithms and AI also generates carbon wastes. Imagine the volume of online content platforms managed by a single organisation and the vast energy it requires to enable the digital media ecosystem.

The Internet is Powered by Dirty Energy

Greenpeace revealed that “the technologies of the 21st century are still largely powered by the dirty coal power of the past”. Digital advertising, driven by the demands of consumers, runs on various online channels like websites and streaming content in different media formats such as video, text, audio and image. It’s also important to know that the average consumer isn’t fully aware of the measurement of their carbon emissions. 

According to the World Economic Forum, consumers produce 60% to 70% of all direct and indirect emissions. In addition, 60% or 6 out of 10 consumers did not know that their online shopping habits and other internet activities emit carbon wastes. Further, Purpose Disruptors reported that digital advertising increased a consumer’s footprint by 28%. Overall, our global collective usage of the Internet is already equivalent to the amount of carbon generated by the aviation industry. 

How are digital ads companies and consumers responding? 

As mentioned earlier, digital ads are driven by the demands of consumers. Fortunately, today’s consumers are better informed and more aware of the importance of sustainability. Brands have the influence and power to rebuild the future of what consumers want. Multiple research studies revealed that 80% of consumers will support brands who are actively working to reduce its carbon emissions and that 55% believe that brands play a more important role in building a better future than governments. 

Moreover, many tech companies and digital organisations are taking steps to develop green digital solutions to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UN believes that only digital technologies have the capacity or the resources, scale and speed to achieve reductions in emissions within the next decade. 

How Digital Ads Can Offset Scope 3 Carbon Emissions

The UN acknowledges that the transition to a net-zero society is one of the world’s greatest challenges. But, it’s not impossible to start reducing the amount of carbon wastes that we generate. Education about the impacts of carbon emissions is a good starting point to lead the digital ads industry in taking the proper steps towards reducing its carbon footprint and achieving net zero. 

Here are 5 sustainable practices that we can be implemented:

  1. Define measurable goals

    Digital ad organisations can measure and benchmark the carbon cost of their campaigns and track the carbon footprint of their online ads by using carbon calculators. 
  1. Opt for sustainable ads and content production

    Did you know that a video shoot generates up to 200 tons of CO2qe (carbon dioxide equivalent is a unit base to compare emissions on their global-warming potential)? Produce attention-grabbing ads with effective messaging that can run for less time, reduce the video size and recycle existing content to decrease emissions from a campaign.
  2. Maximise ad targeting

    Designate a portion of your ad spend towards minimising your carbon emissions. Always choose quality over quantity when it comes to ad placements. 
  1. Partner up with businesses who are lowering their carbon emissions

    Implement carbon reduction in your value chain through collaborations and partnerships with businesses who also champion reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Review your carbon path and optimise

Review your sustainability strategy by referring back to your plan to ensure that your projects are supporting your carbon emission reduction goals. Evaluate your initiatives to identify what more can be done. Lastly, communicate the organisation’s progress to the staff, customers and investors.