Ad Net Zero’s Action 3: Navigating sustainability in media

The recent introduction of Ad Net Zero in Aotearoa, spearheaded by the Commercial Communications Council, represents a significant step towards the ad industry committing to collaborative climate action. But how does this translate into tangible actions? In this series, the Comms Council and StopPress have joined forces to present five articles, each delving into the details of Ad Net Zero’s Action Plans.

As part of Ad Net Zero’s five-part action plan, Action 3 focuses on reducing emissions from media planning and buying. We speak to June Cheung, Head of JAPAC at measurement data business Scope3, a partner and supporter of Ad Net Zero, about how media buyers, sellers, and planners can reduce their emissions.

Within Action 3, every media agency will be motivated to prioritise the environmental impact of carbon emissions when making decisions regarding media planning and purchasing.

To assist with this, Ad Net Zero has a goal to implement a simplified measurement method that aids advertisers and their media consultants in scheduling campaigns while considering their carbon footprint. This initiative also strives to enable media agencies to provide clients with emissions data attached to media schedules.

Scope3 is a for public benefit company established to help organisations make carbon-aware business decisions, with a dataset that delivers an accurate, comprehensive, and independent emissions model for every company in the digital ecosystem.

As a supporter of Ad Net Zero, Scope3 is on a mission to educate the industry about the size of the problem, provide the data to help the industry measure its carbon footprint – as well as offering fast, easy and effective decarbonisation solutions.

Scope3 Co-Founder and CEO Brian O’Kelley, who many credit as a founding father of programmatic advertising, recognised that the high level of carbon emissions in the media supply chain could be significantly reduced if media wastage was removed. He and the Scope3 team are using his deep knowledge of the systems used today to drive efficiencies and reduce digital advertising’s carbon footprint. 

June says, “Programmatic was [traditionally]all about automation, allowing multiple bids to be placed to drive the highest yield, but now when we look at this system with a carbon lens, we also see unnecessary duplication of calls to ad tech vendors, energy and carbon emissions that could be saved. 

June Cheung.

“We published a report recently that showed that if you look at the emissions from display advertising and video ads in the digital ecosystem [of the top 30 countries globally with the highest volume of impressions], it’s about 7.2 million metric tonnes per year, equivalent to the electricity usage of 1.4 million households.”

When it comes to sustainability in media, one of the major challenges is knowing where to start, which includes understanding the size of the problem and the carbon associated with media activity.

With many brands having sustainability goals, media and advertising is one of the categories under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol that they will need to reduce in order to meet their net  zero commitments, and it is one of the easier ones to reduce, June says. But as with all reduction, measurement must come first.

If a brand enquires about the carbon emissions linked to their media purchase, the agency might provide a basic calculation of emissions per spending, but for optimisation, they must differentiate between carbon emissions of various channels and sites. For instance, choosing between publishers A and B involves considering the latter’s intricate supply chain which could be highly carbon-intensive due to numerous ad call providers, June explains.

Many media agencies also believe they might have to sacrifice performance to reduce carbon emissions but this is not the case.

“We’ve done lots of measurement and optimisation studies in the last year, and we consistently found that if you remove the highest emitting sites, generally they’re low-value inventory anyway.”

Scope3 analysis has shown that it is possible to reduce carbon emissions in a way that has no impact on performance, or even see performance improve, June says.

A quick win for the industry is to avoid climate risk inventory, which is extremely high emissions compared to everything else on the market. Climate risk is also correlated with low value inventory such as made for advertising sites, sites that are paying for traffic and eyeballs, designed to “game the system” to get advertising spend but they do not return quality value.

“Climate risk inventory  is our industry’s biggest form of waste. If we remove climate risk inventory from our ecosystem today, we would see a five percent increase in performance and a 20 percent decrease in carbon emissions. This is a win-win here for performance and planet.”

June urges media buyers, sellers, and planners to make use of Scope3’s research available at scope3.com in order to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamentals.

Scope3 releases a State of Sustainability report tailored for the media sector every quarter. This report outlines their open source methodology for measuring carbon emissions, establishes global and local benchmarks, and presents insights. With each quarterly publication, the report highlights new channels that Scope3 is modelling, offering an invaluable data resource for learning purposes.

“I encourage people to be curious, test and learn and remember progress over perfection. Take the first step and start measuring to understand the carbon footprint of your media activity, there’s opportunity for our industry to make a huge impact, we just need to get started.” 

Anyone wanting to be kept up to date on industry progress can sign up for news updates by visiting adnetzero.co.nz. To read more articles in this series click here.

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