Predictions 2022: The Environmental Impact of Digital Advertising

24 Jan 2022

In the fifteenth article in ExchangeWire's 2022 Predictions Series, experts assess the current impact that digital advertising is having on the environment, and how the industry will respond to this issue in the year ahead.

2022 will see more agencies take steps to reduce their emissions

Advertisers are already starting to look at the environmental impact of their ads. Understanding the emissions of digital advertising is complicated; there are many hidden layers to take into account. By analysing the entire production and distribution process, advertisers can get a handle on their full marketing carbon footprint.

Once advertisers have determined the impact of their digital advertising, the next steps are then to work to reduce it, which we will see more agencies implementing in 2022. In the short-term, there are two key methods brands and agencies can employ. Firstly, simplifying your tech stack by cutting down the layers between creating and delivering an ad. Fewer partners means fewer reports to integrate, but also less indirect emissions.

Secondly, reduce your data load. Shorter ads are lighter than longer ads, as are certain ad formats and compressions rates. Optimising asset size is not just good for user experience, but also reduces the emissions involved in serving an ad and conserves the battery power and overall lifespan of a device receiving it.

In addition, the higher the level of attention paid to ads, the less ads a brand needs to run, which in turn results in a reduced environmental impact. In 2022, our industry will need to establish specific reporting standards so we can effectively measure, understand and then reduce our impact. Creating a framework for measuring attention will help advertisers to deliver not just more engaging content but also more sustainable advertising as a result.

Caroline Hugonenc, VP global research & insights, Teads

Vendors' sustainability efforts will influence those of advertising and media

Today, the internet as a whole emits about as much CO2 as the aviation industry. This is mostly driven by hardware production and the energy used to power our devices, but the mere trafficking of content across the internet is also a contributor to C02 emissions. Hence, I believe the choices we make about infrastructure and technology in the media and ad industry will be influenced by what measures those vendors are taking to remain sustainable.

Let’s focus on how advertisers can achieve their goals through greener advertising, reducing the CO2 footprint and taking responsibility for our industry – one which has been too wasteful, and relied on poor metrics, for too long.

Simon Kvist Gaulshøj, CEO, Adnami

Advertising must make sustainable practices the default

Not so much a prediction as a fervent hope, but 2022 absolutely needs to be the year advertising gets its house in order on sustainability. That means properly understanding its contribution to the climate crisis, in detail, and taking the necessary steps to mitigate that. There is a tendency for greenwashing – talking a good game while doing very little that actually makes a difference. We have the capacity to pin down the damaging aspects of what we do in terms of energy consumption — the amount of data we use, how often and how far we send it and via how many different connections — and ruthlessly streamline those processes. Sustainability should be a default, not a pricing or commercial opportunity, because if it's treated as a commercial opportunity we are just repeating the mistake that created this mess – trying to consume more than we need, purely for the sake of commerce.

Janicke Eckbo, CMO, Cavai

2022 could mark a shift to an 'ecology of attention'

Too much ad clutter means that consumers can’t see the wood for the trees and, all too often, just end up ignoring all ads. This is bad for consumers, bad for advertisers, and, ironically enough, bad for the trees, too.

Just think of all that wasted electricity spent delivering trillions of ads that never get looked at, or just get in the way. If advertisers want to make a small but positive step to reduce their carbon footprints, they would do well to use attention data to target their advertising towards low clutter, high attention sites, with better results for the consumer experience, brand sales and energy consumption. Perhaps in 2022, we’ll be moving from an ‘economy of attention’ to an ‘ecology of attention’?

Mike Follett, managing director, Lumen Research

2022 will be the year of action with the emergence of more green solutions

In 2022, we’re going to see a lot more action across the industry on addressing the negative impact advertising has on the environment. From ad production to the substantial energy required to fuel the digital ad ecosystem, Adland contributes heavily to carbon emissions around the globe. According to Purpose Disruptors, advertising is responsible for an average 28% uptick in the carbon footprint of the average consumer, while our own research shows that a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – almost half what an average UK consumer produces in a year. And that’s just the ads we actually see. Because of the rise of programmatic advertising, we not only need to factor in the carbon dioxide used to transfer the ad onto the page and display the ad to the user, but also the trillions of auctions that take place every day without any ads being served at all.

Next year, we’ll see the launch of many green solutions designed to help advertisers measure and offset the carbon cost of their campaigns, plus research that will look more closely into the carbon footprint of the programmatic ecosystem. We’ll also see advertisers adopting simple practices to reduce the environmental impact of their campaigns, varying from reducing the size and type of their creatives to a greater focus on the green credentials of the servers and supply partners they use. As an industry, we need to use our creativity and influence to actually change consumer behaviour and save our planet.

Ryan Cochrane, COO, Good-Loop

 Source: Exchange Wire, Grace Dillon