Carbon Cutdown: How Advertisers can Reduce their Carbon Footprint Now

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By Steven Filler, UK country manager at ShowHeroes Group

The climate emergency is the defining challenge of our age and, as an industry, we have a collective responsibility to work towards reducing the spiralling – and largely invisible – carbon footprint of digital campaigns.

A recent study by Ebiquity and Scope3 calculated the global weighted average of digital ad emissions as 670g CO2PM based on 116bn ad impressions. That’s the equivalent of flying 1.35 million passengers from London to Paris; or a level of carbon that would take 3.7 million fully-grown trees one whole year to absorb. A study by advertising climate network Purpose Disruptors showed that emissions driven by advertising have actually increased by 11% between 2019 and 2022, driving consumer carbon emissions upwards by nearly a third.

Clearly something has to change. Our industry can no longer hide in the shadows – we need an open debate on the true impact of our emissions. This starts with advertisers actually measuring the carbon impact of each campaign, before we can progress to optimising them and reducing their environmental impact.

Not only is this essential from an ethical standpoint, it also makes good business sense. A study by Carbon Trust found 45% of shoppers would stop buying their favourite brands if they did not measure their product carbon footprint. So, how can advertisers do this?

Tracking and transparency

Thanks to advances in technology, there are now various tools and platforms in the market that allow advertisers to take a more proactive and scientific approach to measuring their carbon footprint.

The AdGreen Carbon Calculator, for example, is a free global tool developed by the UK-based Ad Net Zero program that allows users to work out the carbon footprint of motion, stills and audio projects.

Advertisers could also choose to join forces with a carbon intelligence platform like Cedara, which integrates data sources from the world’s leading governmental and scientific bodies to measure emissions based on over 12,000 influencing factors. It uses this to track the carbon footprint of any given supply chain – creating bespoke reduction strategies based on a net-zero target.

Small steps to major change

If the first barrier to change lies in benchmarking campaign carbon emissions – so all parties can have clear awareness of the impact that they are creating – the next challenge is to negate that damage. Carbon offsetting is a powerful way of doing this.

ShowHeroes recently partnered with Scope3 to launch Green Media, a new service which allows advertisers to measure the carbon footprint of their video campaigns and then compensate for the impact of this by investing in Scope3’s portfolio of specially curated and scientifically-vetted carbon removal projects. These include major reforestation initiatives like TIST and innovative carbon removal projects like Pacific Biochar and Climate Robotics.

Improve campaign efficiency

One of the most striking findings from Ebiquity and Scope3’s report mentioned earlier is that, of the $375M of digital advertising spend that researchers looked at, over 15% is wasted. So it’s clear that we need to better understand the relationship between campaign performance and carbon impact and how we can become more efficient in targeting inventory.

Thankfully, the opportunity to measure audience attention means we can start to adopt a less is more approach. With attention metrics, advertisers are able to get a far deeper understanding of what content or creatives are actually having an impact and optimise campaigns based on these insights. It allows advertisers to become far more precise in their media planning, cutting out significant amounts of wasted inventory and therefore carbon emissions.

The audience targeting methods an advertiser deploys can also have a big impact on campaign efficiency. As cookie-based tracking and behavioural targeting are phased out, privacy-first semantic targeting is increasingly leading the way in the future of digital media. But advertisers need to ensure they are working with semantic technologies that are powered by modern natural language processing, data science and artificial intelligence. This will unleash the full potential of programmatic buying, ensuring efficiency in audience targeting by allowing ads to be placed in real time that perfectly match the webpage.

There’s no doubt that meeting the challenges of climate change and moving our planet onto a different trajectory is a gargantuan task. But equally, it’s not an impossible feat. Transparent measurements are the key to small yet concrete changes; giving brands the ability to dissect the exact carbon impact of their campaigns and partners and act accordingly. With smart action across the industry, we can keep each other accountable; and bring the hidden toll of carbon not only out into the open but neutralised for good.