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How the media industry is in a unique position to reduce the internet’s CO2 impact

All sustainability solutions must consider the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits

The climate crisis is more imminent than ever before, and this doesn't exclude the media industry. While professionals scramble to measure and reduce their impact by focusing on direct operational emissions, Jesper Benon, co-founder of SeenThis, argues for the urgent need to set common standards for indirect emissions stemming from digital advertising and provides concrete suggestions for next steps.

On par with the aviation industry, the internet accounts for more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the urgency for the media industry to take action. As opposed to being “somewhere in the cloud,” the internet consists of a physical infrastructure (data centers, content delivery networks, access networks, and more) that requires energy to operate. Furthermore, if we account for the CO2 emissions embedded in the building, maintenance, and end-of-life handling of this infrastructure, the share is even larger.

Every time a 200kB ad is sent or requested, data travels across the internet's physical infrastructure, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, indirect or scope 3 emissions like these are the largest within the media industry, with one media holding company actually stating that they account for 98% of total emissions.

When a global brand displays 40 billion 200kB ad impressions, this can generate up to 8,000 tons of CO2. Embedded in this calculation is a methodology that considers that one GB of data sent across the internet uses 1kg of CO2.

It is currently very difficult to measure these emissions, however, and even harder to systematically reduce them. The reason is that there are no widely agreed-upon standards for how to calculate this number. While some sources estimate 200g, others claim 3kg of CO2 is emitted from one GB data transfer.

The time to change that is now. As an industry, there must be a streamlined measurement and calculation standard. In our white paper found below, SeenThis outlines one approach and we ask that experts and industry organizations build on our methodology, so it can be transformed into an industry standard.

We cannot sit around idly waiting for all the answers before acting. Regardless of whether it’s 200g or 3kg of CO2, we know we can reduce these numbers, so why wait?

In fact, the media industry is uniquely positioned to tackle these data-induced challenges. This is because less data means faster digital ad load times and a better consumer experience — positive for brands and for click-through rates.

However, expecting data reduction to happen at the expense of campaign performance is naive, given the economic forces at play. All sustainability solutions must consider the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits. Thus, innovative technology solutions are needed to help reduce data transfer without a performance tradeoff.

By streaming static and video ads, SeenThis provides a solution with a much shorter load time and positive effects on any performance metric measured. Since streaming doesn’t start until the ad is in-view and pauses when it’s out of view, this reduces data transfer by up to 40%.

With setting common standards and implementing innovative technology solutions at the forefront of our priorities, we now invite the rest of the industry to join us — it’s the right thing to do for brands and the future of our planet.

For more detailed information on our approach and commitments to the movement, click here to download our white paper, The time to act is now: media industry’s unique position on reducing the internet’s carbon dioxide impact.

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