Perspective - Decarbonising media and adtech must be a collaborative effort

By June Cheung | 27 November 2023
June Cheung; image supplied by Scope3.

The AdNews end of year Perspectives, looking back at 2023 and forward to next year.

This year we’ve seen seismic shifts in how the media and advertising industry are thinking about sustainability – which is promising. 

Early on, achieving carbon neutrality and offsetting initiatives were the focus, but as education and understanding of climate change and our industry's role grows that has changed. Instead, our industry has committed to making real and meaningful emissions reductions 

For example, JCDecaux announced that they’ve abandoned carbon neutrality in favor of reducing emissions, noting that “we can’t neutralise our way out of the climate crisis and critical times call for critical measures”.  This view is echoed in a recent report from analysts Wood Mackenzie which notes that while the path is narrow, the Paris Agreement’s most aggressive targets are still within reach as long as we do everything possible to stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. 

We’re also seeing an uptick in legislation on climate action. This year California passed legislation that strengthened emissions reporting — including reporting for “scope 3” or supply chain emissions by 2027. It’s a pre-indicator of what the regulatory landscape might look like worldwide, and it matters to brands because it means carbon numbers will now become core KPIs for businesses.   

Next year, there’s an incredible opportunity to eliminate waste in digital advertising while reducing emissions quickly - and this isn’t hyperbole. In the UK, we helped Future! (a media company with more than 100 properties) to streamline their tech stack while reducing their output of grams of carbon per 1000 impressions (gCO2PM) by 75 percent.  

Marketers and CMOs also have a unique opportunity to drive progress on wider business sustainability goals and get ahead of reporting requirements set to become law in California by 2027.  

However, decarbonising media and ad tech must be a collaborative effort if we’re going to achieve our mission of emissions reductions – and this remains the biggest challenge.  

I urge brands and their agencies not to get distracted or overwhelmed to the point of inaction. We know that the media landscape is complex but there are straight forward steps all brands and agencies can take. For example, we opened up access to our data which offers a transparent view into sustainability information for every website, mobile app and tech provider in the digital media supply chain. Access to sustainability data is foundational to driving reduction and systemic change and I’m hopeful we’ll continue to see accelerated action in 2024.  

We know there are economic headwinds but the key thing to remember is that sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand. 

One area that sparked interest in recent months is the relationship between high attention ads and low carbon emissions. In fact, research has demonstrated a positive correlation between the two. This is the case across a variety of attention methodologies including recent studies from Lumen, Playground XYZ, and Adelaide 

Ultimately, if an ad isn’t being seen or isn’t receiving the desired attention, it’s a waste of money and emissions. Emissions should therefore be a variable used alongside existing attention metrics. Combined, the data will help brands gain a clear understanding of how their campaigns are performing, where their successful media exists, the associated emissions and therefore which publishers they can afford to remove. We all know that fewer ads on a site is a better experience for the user. And fewer ads mean less emissions and greater attention on those that remain. It’s a win-win. 

June Cheung is Head of JAPAC at Scope3 

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