Advertisers Have An Environmental Responsibility

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by John Goulding, global chief strategy officer at MiQ

Almost everything we do today contributes to our carbon footprint. The Internet – and the $455 billion advertising industry that funds much of it – is no exception.

All ad tech activities, from buying impressions to processing data, require electricity. And electricity production leads to more carbon emissions.

It’s estimated that the Internet’s overall environmental impact is around 2%-4% of global carbon emissions. That’s on par with the airline industry. A typical ad campaign emits around 5.4 tons of CO2, while a programmatic ad impression produces around one gram of CO2. Multiply that by the trillions of ad impressions transacted each year, and this becomes a major issue.

There’s an opportunity to ignite real, long-term change that can benefit all stakeholders involved – including consumers. So, what might be holding these efforts back? 

For one thing, not all brands, publishers and advertising executives are intuitively thinking about digital advertising as part of their sustainability programs – at least not in the same way they think about operational processes, waste reduction, ethical business practices or the health and well-being of employees.

Plus, to date, there hasn’t been a comprehensive way to accurately trace and measure the full scope of carbon emissions across an entire digital supply chain, making it nearly impossible to offset them properly. 

But there are viable ways to map and analyze carbon emission data across devices, publishers and creative formats from end to end. Today, companies have a reliable and accurate way to measure these efforts and integrate their goals into established sustainability markers.

Sustainability requires a new way of thinking

The advertising industry has an opportunity to flip this sustainability challenge on its head by transitioning from a source of emissions to a driver of sustainability across a vast network of organizations. But the entire ecosystem will first need to incentivize a shift in thinking. 

If advertisers and agencies seek to reduce campaign emissions, buying platforms will start to optimize toward lower carbon supply, facilitating a strong economic incentive for publishers to reduce their carbon footprints in return. By minimizing the impact of their creatives and steering money and bids toward carbon-efficient publishers, exchanges and vendors, advertisers could tip the scale toward a new paradigm and create the foundation for change.

The way we think about content would switch, too. Why make longer videos if shorter ones are effective and produce less carbon? 

This new mindset could also influence the metrics that guide the industry. If a company measures based on brand safety, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t expect to meet and beat digital advertising sustainability benchmarks too. And if the cost of carbon were to be priced into programmatic supply chains, it’s fair to expect a dramatic halo effect on the economics of making the internet more sustainable.

Environmental responsibility

As sustainability becomes a bigger consideration for consumers, VCs and C-suite decision-makers, the promise of eco-conscious business practices will span both physical and digital worlds. There’s pressure for companies to demonstrate these commitments. Major advertisers like Nivea and agency groups such as Dentsu are already proactively taking charge. 

The more that companies share in this collective vision and the faster they can implement widespread change together, the more successful we’ll all be in reaching a sustainable future.

Follow MiQ (@wearemiq) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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