Four ways advertisers can ensure carbon pledges aren’t just hot air
Running media campaigns doesn’t always have to have a negative impact on the environment
There’ve been some encouraging signs recently that Adland is finally starting to get its act together and acknowledge it needs to do more to address the negative impact it has on the environment.
Whether it’s through Ad Net Zero, an industry-backed initiative that aims to make Adland carbon neutral by 2030, the IPA’s recently launched Media Climate Charter, or strong commitments by high-profile companies such as Apple and Volkswagen to significantly reduce their CO2 emissions, it feels like there’s a real push across the industry to cut its collective carbon footprint.
However, reaching these targets is not going to be easy. Digital advertising is a major contributor to carbon emissions around the globe. The internet (including our gadgets and the systems used to support them) has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry, with online video and display ads generating the most emissions per £1 of media spend (source: Essence).
In the UK alone, a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – that’s almost half of what an average person in the UK produces in a year.
And with the average ad agency employee producing 3.4 tonnes of C02 per year, it’s no surprise that seven in 10 people working in the UK ad industry (71%) are worried about the negative impact the industry has on the environment (source: Ad Net Zero).
So what can be done to ensure that these commitments to reduce emissions across the industry are not just more hot air?
At Good-Loop, despite running hundreds of ad campaigns every year around the world for some of the biggest advertisers on the planet, we’ve managed to reduce our carbon footprint down to nothing (and sometimes better than nothing). Not just the ad campaigns we run through our platform, but also the day-to-day running of our offices. It’s not been simple, but by following some clear guidelines, we managed to do it.
We’re now aiming to remain carbon positive. So we thought we would share some of the things we’ve done to help reduce our carbon footprint.
Benchmark your campaigns
OK, it’s pretty obvious, but before you try and cut your carbon footprint, you need to work out the scale of the problem you’re dealing with in the first place. So make sure you are measuring and benchmarking the carbon cost of your campaigns.
There are a load of good tools to help you do this, including carbon calculators available through the IPA and AdGreen. We also have our own free calculator, which enables brands and media agencies to calculate the carbon footprint of their online ads
We also recently launched a Green Ad Tag, which allows advertisers to track the carbon emissions of their campaigns in real time.
Measure, measure, measure.
Offset your carbon cost by investing in environmentally-friendly initiatives
Companies can also counterbalance the carbon footprint their digital campaigns generate by investing in projects that are removing or preventing CO2 emissions.
For example, investing in an initiative that protects one acre of mature rainforest will absorb 2.5 tonnes each year, while funding a hydroelectric power plant in Brazil saves 17 tonnes per year.
OK, admittedly offsetting feels like a bit of a cheat. It’s like drinking a healthy smoothie after a big night out on the beers. The booze will have still done damage to your body, even if the smoothie helps redress the balance (and assuage some guilt).
But offsetting is one way to reduce your carbon footprint — and I am always surprised how cheap and easy it is to do. On average it costs £1.54 to offset one of our campaigns – a tiny fraction of the total campaign cost.
And we don’t just offset the carbon cost of our ad campaigns. Our travel and office footprints are also offset via monthly payments to Cool Earth, which means the overall impact of our operations is carbon neutral.
But we can always do better, and we’re working alongside the BIMA Sustainability Council to calculate our exact “base” carbon footprint to ensure we are offsetting just the right amount.
Make small changes to your media buys that can have a big impact
However, to really move the dial, companies have to look closer at how they can change their behaviour to actually reduce emissions. Or, to extend the metaphor from the previous point, maybe give alcohol-free beers a go next time.
There are some simple steps that advertisers can take to drastically reduce the carbon cost of their media buys.
For example, you could partner with carbon-conscious publishers or buy on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which strip out unnecessary code and file weight.
Using compressed files based on device type and caching and using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can also help.
Reward consumers’ attention with donations to environmentally-friendly causes
Running media campaigns doesn’t always have to have a negative impact on the environment. It’s not just about reducing that impact to as close to zero as possible. Your media campaigns can also have a positive impact.
At Good-Loop, we do this by running ad formats that reward consumers’ attention with free donations to sustainable causes.
For example, we ran a campaign with Bank of the West that gave people who watched the ad for more than 15 seconds the chance to plant a mangrove tree. Overall, the campaign resulted in over 8,000 mangrove trees being planted.
Our servers are also powered by renewable energy sources.
Just like celebs who fly around the world to lecture us how we can reduce our carbon footprints, there’s no point in a brand pushing out an ad that talks all about its commitment to sustainability using a media plan that generates more CO2 than a small, gas-guzzling country in Eastern Europe.
We need less talk and more action.
Amy Williams is founder of Good-Loop, a purpose-driven advertising platform