Why brands and publishers should adopt a Green Media mindset

4 September 2023
June Cheung; image supplied by Scope3.

June Cheung, Head of JAPAC at Scope3

The extreme weather events of the last few months (the first week of July was the hottest week ever recorded on earth) are a devastating reminder of the effect climate change is having on our planet.

As it becomes clear climate change is accelerating and having a tangible impact, the only good news in all this, is that businesses and consumers are now sitting-up and taking notice – the media industry included. 

Efforts to quantify and measure the problem, combined with many brands staring down the barrel of robust 2030 carbon emission targets have focused the minds of many. Sustainability was a core theme at this year’s Cannes festival and Advertising Week APAC, and is firmly on the C-Suite’s priority list.

However, it's not just altruism that is driving the change. As more brands and consumers are demanding green credentials from their respective supply chains, it’s also good business sense.

The good news for digital advertising is that there are some simple actions that brands and marketers can take to reduce their carbon footprint - these actions have also proven to reduce media wastage and improve performance. Always a win-win, but never more so than in a contracting economy when every marketing dollar counts. 

Here’s why all brands and marketers should be adopting a green media mindset: 

The problem with programmatic 

The invention of programmatic advertising years ago came with unintended consequences - most notably the huge upswing in the volume of servers required to deliver a digital ad. The more servers spinning up, the more carbon emissions generated.

According to Scope3’s Q2 2023 State of Sustainable Advertising report, combined, digital display and streaming ads produce 7.2M metric tons of emissions every year. 

In fact, serving just 1,000 digital impressions uses the same amount of energy as washing a load of laundry. When you multiply that by the trillions of impressions within the digital ecosystem you can begin to see the scale of the problem.  

Low carbon media drives better performance

Within the digital media ecosystem, we have found (by measuring the entire media ecosystem) the worst emitting media properties - what we like to call “climate risk” inventory which includes made for advertising (MFA), fraud or low-value inventory. Simply put, this is because some publishers typically over-load their sites with ads or additional tags. If the industry were to eliminate spending across the highest emitting domains for carbon emissions in these regions, more than 33.5K metric tons of carbon can be removed each and every month. Given they provide little or no value for brands, blocking this inventory by default can make a real dent in carbon emissions while providing the opportunity to shift spend to working media. 

To understand the impact of climate risk sites, Scope3 recently anonymised and normalised a sample of post campaign reports. The campaign data shows that climate risk sites perform below the median; across key engagement metrics (video completion rate and click-through rate) it under-performed by 13 percent. Conversely, it was found that if climate risk was instead blocked for those campaigns, on average performance would haveimproved 5% and emissions would have decreased about 20%.

It’s also easy to make these changes. There are a number of solutions available to marketers who want to avoid climate risk, including our own Climate Shield which automatically blocks climate risk inventory. It’s also possible to create custom carbon algorithms to optimise on a campaign-by-campaign basis if marketers want to have more control over balancing performance goals and carbon reduction. 

The low carbon opportunity across the advertising ecosystem

We’re already seeing a shift in the number of brands that are taking action to reduce their digital advertising carbon footprint. As outlined above, it is now simple to ‘turn on’ a solution to eliminate climate risk sites - or to create custom algorithms. But what comes next?

As we move closer to 2030 targets, boards will be under pressure to take further action. If you need any convincing of this, take a look at Unilever's commitment to partner with suppliers to deliver net zero. It’s an example of what we’ll see more of; brands diving deeper into their supply chain to see who is taking action to reduce emissions - and seeking alternatives if they don’t like what they discover. 

This offers a real opportunity for all parties in the digital advertising ecosystem - from publishers, through creatives and more - to differentiate themselves and gain competitive advantage if they can prove a green media approach. 

Making these changes requires intention and commitment - but as outlined above, there are simple actions we can take today to have an impact. 

We hope that over the next year, it will become more and more ‘business as usual’ to select green media products as default as they realise the impact a simple change can make. We’ve seen this time and time again in wider society. After all, it was only a few years ago that the majority of shoppers wouldn’t consider taking their own grocery bags to the supermarket or their own cup to the coffee shop. Yet once awareness and understanding of a problem converts to action, there is no looking back.

The digital media industry is in a privileged position when it comes to reducing its carbon footprints. Other sectors that contribute a high percentage of carbon emissions (mining, cement, steel and so forth) face the challenge of rethinking and redesigning production processes and costly infrastructure.  

By contrast, the digital media industry has the opportunity to decarbonise almost immediately by optimising processes and shifting mindset to eliminate waste and create new efficiencies straight away.  

The time to act is now. 

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