Finally, real numbers on the carbon emissions of digital advertising

By AdNews | 24 November 2022
Credit: Callum Shaw via Unsplash

The cost of excessive supply chain waste in digital advertising and its impact on the environment has been exposed in research by investment analysis group Ebiquity and emissions measurement firm Scope3.

The two analysed more than $US375 million of digital advertising spend across 116 billion display ad impressions from 43 brand advertisers.

They found that 15.3% of advertising spend is wasted on inventory that generates no value while generating excessive amounts of CO2 emissions.

The report also marks the first time that Scope3 has released global industry benchmarks using its carbon emissions measurement data, providing brands a baseline for comparison and understanding of the relative performance and cost of carbon associated with advertising investments.

Nick Waters, Group CEO at Ebiquity Plc: “This study demonstrates that the advertising industry is now able to quantify CO2 emissions across websites, markets and categories of media.

“We believe CO2PM should be adopted immediately as a core metric to influence decision-making and lead technology and media partners to optimise for sustainability.

“The most striking insight is that brands in the sample spent 15.3% of their budget on Made For Advertising inventory which has no value.

“This money could have been invested on high quality news websites, delivering high ad effectiveness in a brand safe environment, whilst supporting quality journalism, and emitting less than half of the CO2e.

“By acting together, we can reduce the harmful impact our industry has on the planet.”

Brian O’Kelley, CEO of Scope3: “Being able to put real numbers against the carbon emissions of digital advertising is just the beginning of a long journey to driving real change across the industry.

“These metrics highlight that all digital advertising isn’t equal. The wide range of emissions presents a clear opportunity for the industry to make better decisions.

“Brands now have a guide for what to look for and how they can begin to think about reduction and optimization for more effective and carbon-neutral advertising.”

Key findings from the study:

  • Carbon emissions of websites varies dramatically with CO2PM per website ranging from 55.2g to 4,782.8g, an 87X difference. This confirms a major opportunity for brands to prioritise media partners with optimized emissions.
  • The global weighted average of digital ad emissions is 670g CO2PM based on 116bn ad impressions. According to Scope3 data of 77,826 MtCO2e, this is the equivalent of flying 1.35 million passengers from London to Paris – it would take 3.7 million fully-grown trees one year to absorb this amount of carbon.
  • Made for Advertising (MFA) websites are high contributors to carbon emissions while providing no value to brands. CO2PM on MFA’ ]websites, classified as wastage by Ebiquity, is 26.4% HIGHER than non-MFA websites. Of all US spend analysed by Ebiquity, 15.3% was wasted on MFA inventory.
  • Reallocating investment to high quality journalism can boost ad effectiveness and lower emissions. CO2PM on Trusted News Websites is 52% LOWER than on MFA websites, creating a strong case for brands to cease wasteful MFA spend.

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