Over Half Ad Companies Not Measuring Carbon Emissions Finds IAB Europe

Dan Meier 02 February, 2023 

Over half of digital advertising companies (51 percent) do not measure the emissions produced by the delivery of their ads, according to IAB Europe, despite 53 percent claiming to prioritise sustainability.

The State of Readiness – Sustainability in Digital Advertising survey asked agencies, advertisers and ad tech practitioners across 29 markets for their views on the progress being made to tackle the industry’s carbon problem. A typical ad campaign creates around 5.4 tons of CO2, explains the report, heavily contributing to the internet’s carbon emissions which account for 2-4 percent of the global total.

Respondents ranked sustainability as one of the top three challenges for businesses (26 percent), just behind cookieless targeting (35 percent) and measurement (27 percent) – but above privacy concerns (24 percent) and the economic environment (22 percent).

What are the most important digital advertising industry challenges to your company?

When it comes to sustainability, environmental impact (58 percent), carbon reduction (55 percent) and social justice (39 percent) were cited as the most important elements. In terms of what needs to be done to drive carbon reduction, CO2 measurement (35 percent), consistent standards (33 percent) and the provision of tools (25 percent) were considered priorities.

Asked to gauge progress on their own company’s sustainability journeys, 55 percent said they have taken steps towards carbon reduction. But 18 percent have yet to start, and only 20 percent currently measure the carbon footprint of their ad campaigns.

Does your company currently measure the emissions produced by the delivery of digital ads?

IAB Europe concluded that collaboration is required in order to redress this misalignment between beliefs and practice. “We need to be able to measure the impact and reduction of Co2e, create consistent standards for practical action and provide key tools and solutions that can reduce the Co2 emissions produced by digital ads today,” said the report. “It is also important to continue to educate the industry and keep sustainability at the top of the agenda to encourage participation and action.”

Despite this imbalance, there are key moves being made. This week alone has seen partnerships between Good-Loop and Brand Advance Group, plus Scope3 and Adform, enabling advertisers using the DSP and SSP (respectively) to measure the carbon footprint of their digital campaigns. And last week IAB Tech Lab launched its Green Supply Path Initiative, designed to reduce carbon from the programmatic pipeline using supply-path optimisation. Meanwhile IAB Europe’s Sustainability Standards Committee aims to create new standards around digital advertising, as called for by one-third of the industry.

At what stage do you think your company is at in its journey towards CO2 reduction?

“It is clear from the results that a combination of measurement, standards, and solutions will be key to driving sustainability in digital advertising forward,” said Andrew Hayward-Wright, Programmatic & Sustainability Advisor at IAB Europe. “This year, IAB Europe will focus on delivering standardisation of reporting whilst supporting the industry as it navigates the complex European regulatory environment of sustainability.”

“With 55 percent of respondents ‘having started’ or ‘made significant progress’ with their own carbon reduction efforts, I am hopeful this indicates that 2023 is the tipping point for sustainable digital practices to become embedded into the mainstream,” added Laura Wade, Head of Sustainability at Essence. “However, the report also highlights that we need to focus on education and collaboration to turn this into a reality. I believe we need to act quickly and commit fully, to realise the commercial opportunity that decarbonisation and sustainable innovation unlocks.”

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