The carbon cost of a digital campaign

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 5 August 2022
Jakob Owens via Unsplash.

The carbon footprint of major advertising channels can be managed to reduce emissions, with no compromise on quality or productivity, according to a study.

The research was conducted by digital strategy company fifty-five, a France-based company that helps brands leverage data to increase marketing, advertising, and sales effectiveness.

fifty-five used Activity Data multiplied by Emission Factor to estimate output of greenhouse gas emissions in tons of CO2 equivalent.

The report said: “Digital activities make up 3.5% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, a figure growing by 6% every year." 

Based on a fictitious digital campaign utilising Paid Search, Paid Social, Display and Video, the study found that creative production (including activities such as travel and filming) combined with broadcasting the campaign on digital networks (and taking into account measures like campaign views and programmatic display auction calculations) were the two biggest sources of emissions.

This single fictional campaign generated 323 tons of greenhouse gases, an output equivalent to one person flying between New York and Paris 160 times. 

The study made five recommendations to start reducing emissions:

  1. Make shoots more sustainable - favour local film shoots or recycle existing content as the creation process is the source of emissions with the highest risk factor
  2. Output lighter videos - opt for shorter videos at lower resolutions as video is the heaviest of all advertising formats
  3. Maximise ad targeting - processes for targeting audiences have a low carbon footprint and targeting is a better use of marketing budgets while drastically reducing pointless impressions that needlessly generate carbon emissions
  4. Use WiFi rather than mobile networks - limiting the use of mobile networks and instead sharing via WiFi can help significantly reduce a campaign’s carbon footprint
  5. Reduce the number of bidding parties at auctions - the more competition and middlemen there are, the more calculations become necessary, leading to higher carbon emissions

The full study is here.

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