UK Advertising Emissions on the Rise Finds Scope3 Report

Dan Meier 19 December, 2023 

Carbon emissions from the UK advertising industry increased by 8.9 percent between June and December 2023, according to the latest report from Scope3, a supply chain emissions data business.

The State of Sustainable Advertising report used the company’s emissions data to monitor grams of CO2e per thousand impressions (gCO2PM) across three stages of the supply chain: ad selection, media distribution, and creative distribution.

The study found that half of the countries monitored have seen their gCO2PM decrease by an average 9.3 percent since June. France, Canada and Germany saw particularly notable drops of around 12 percent. But nearly every country saw their emissions spike between October and December, perhaps due to increased marketing activity during the holiday season.

Tracking the traffic

However, the research revealed a sharp uptick in UK carbon emissions throughout the second half of the year, with particularly intensive surges in the ad selection (+16 gCO2PM) and creative delivery (+2 gCO2PM) processes. The rise points towards ads running across high-traffic properties, as well as the use of heavier ad formats such as video. A similar trend was found in Spain, where CO2PM climbed by 16.1 percent over the same period.

Conversely, US emissions output is on a downward trend, according to the data. Emissions from distribution and creative delivery remained flat during the second half of 2023, while ad selection dropped by 19 gCO2PM. The report suggests that high-volume properties in the US became “greener” over the six-month period. “When publishers with high impression volumes reduce emissions, the impact can be noticed at the market level,” observed the report.

The company also broke down the average carbon emissions across three channels: display web, display app, and streaming. The data varied by country, but streaming was consistently more carbon-intensive than the display formats, in some cases producing more than double the amount of carbon.

Risky business

Scope3 flagged the use of “climate risk inventory”, or advertising environments with high levels of carbon emissions. The firm said that if advertisers were to eliminate this inventory from their digital buys, every market’s average gCO2PM would drop by more than 25 percent. The decline would be steeper in Germany (-61 percent), the US (-47 percent) and the UK (-46 percent), according to the findings.

The report additionally highlighted the environmental impact of ad fraud. Scope3 partnered with research firm FouAnalytics to measure fraudulent impressions and emissions across 3,024 US websites. They found that 39 percent of inventory is high in fraud and emissions, rendering it “waste in the ecosystem.” Scope3 estimated that 58.8 percent of carbon emissions are wasted on fraud per 1,000 impressions, with 352,800 metric tonnes of emitted CO2 wasted on fraud every year in the US.

“The window to keep global temperatures from exceeding the 1.5°C threshold is narrowing,” said the report. “Carbon savings will mainly come from future emissions that are avoided, rather than relying on carbon removal. Any efforts made now will have a cumulative impact on future emissions levels. The more timely and aggressive action taken now, the greater the amount of long-term carbon savings. For digital advertising, even a little bit of effort can have an enormous impact.”

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