Big Tech is going green, so let’s help the whole industry do the same

Big Tech is going green, so let’s help the whole industry do the same
Google's Bay View campus is 100% electric (Credit: Iwan Baan/Google)

Smaller players don’t have the resource of the tech giants but, with the help of advertisers, they can still make a significant contribution to a green future.

Digital media’s response to carbon emissions is taking place on a number of fronts, but certainly the mightiest, the most pull-out-all-the-stops impressive, is the one embodied by the big technology companies that set the tone for the industry.

Last year, Amazon was the world’s biggest buyer of green energy, with 74 individual power purchase agreements. Its solar and wind portfolio now tops 500 projects globally — enough to power 7.2m US homes each year.

Meta, the world’s second-biggest green energy buyer, says its data centres are now powered by 100% renewable energy. It plans to shift them to liquid cooling and has developed a sustainable low-carbon concrete.

Google has a target to run all of its data centres and offices on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030. It eliminated its entire carbon legacy in 2020 and has opened a 100% electric campus, heated and cooled by North America’s largest geothermal pile system.

These are important innovations, though of course there is no room for complacency. The demands of AI, for example, are threatening to send energy consumption rocketing to new heights. But for those further down the supply chain, and particularly publishers, it might seem like a daunting task to keep up on the sustainability front.

The role of publishers

Smaller players don’t have access to the grand gestures of tech giants, but we are all in the same business and we all can — and should — make an important contribution.

Digital activity represents 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (source: Fifty-Five) — on a par with aviation and growing fast. And in a field of heavy emitters, programmatic advertising’s multiple auctions and huge inefficiencies have made it an essential action item on media’s green agenda.

While small publishers don’t have the means or scale to pre-buy green energy in bulk, never mind developing their own low-carbon concrete, they can choose the company they keep. They can get their own house in order, for instance, by working with server solutions for hosting that are as sustainable as those of the tech giants and buying green energy of their own.

Furthermore, they can look at entering into programmatic marketplaces via sustainable supply-side platform solutions — ideally streamlining to a preferential green supplier or two based on where they can garner the best yield — while minimising the volume of server calls being made in auctions on their inventory and concentrating efforts with sustainable providers.  

Helping hand from brands

Advertisers have an important role to play as well. Some of the more progressive ones are beginning to build sustainability targets and want to buy sustainable media. They and their agencies are beginning to ask publishers to present them with green alternatives and to offer them at the same cost as the dirty ones.

Some empathy from advertisers towards publishers would benefit the market in the long term. They might start by agreeing with the principle of paying prices that reflect the value of green programmatic media in quality environments.

It is in the interest of advertisers to nurture a quality ecosystem on the open web. Because while Big Tech may be working hard to reduce emissions, a market dominated by a few giants is not a healthy or desirable one.

Publishers need to work with cleaner partners to get their inventory to market, but advertisers have a lot to lose if greater environmental awareness doesn’t come to the supply chain. I’ve written before about the prospect of reputational damage for brands with proud green credentials that are nonetheless ploughing their budgets into non-sustainable, carbon-heavy digital media investments.

Doing our part

A handful of advertisers today genuinely recognise this argument and are beginning to remove inventory that is not sustainable — but it’s still a tiny fraction.

Data-wise, we are still awaiting the point when the metrics and methodology work being carried out by the World Federation of Advertisers’ Global Alliance for Responsible Media allows advertisers to evaluate the impact of sustainable planning on reach, frequency and pricing.

In the meantime, small publishers need to cut emissions and pool intelligence if they are to improve their green credentials. Shareholders, perhaps, need to start asking big brands what they are doing to work towards a greener media supply chain. And marketers ought to consider doing what they can to support that green shift we all want to achieve.

Let’s do what we can to help all parts of the media supply chain clean up their act so that they, too, can survive into the dawn of a greener world.

Hannah Mirza is founder and CEO of Responsible Marketing Agency

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