Why green energy is not enough to make your digital advertising climate-friendly

Within the marketing communications ecosystem, there has been a surge in the availability of green energy solutions and products. While the implementation of these products is imperative for the industry to make a climate-friendly transition, Jesper Benon, co-founder of SeenThis, argues for the need to also reduce the amount of energy consumed by digital advertising.

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. Every ad sent through the internet infrastructure to meet its intended audience therefore contributes to these emissions.

It’s no wonder that many media companies are starting to create their own carbon calculators. Two examples are Publicis’s A.L.I.C.E tool and IPA’s Carbon Calculator. Subsequently, carbon-neutral products and solutions have become a business imperative in many industries – and the media industry is no exception.

In our white paper, we introduced the internet as a supply chain for data, and specifically for ads. Let’s zoom in on two particular parts of that supply chain for serving an ad from the agency to the consumer: data centers and content delivery networks. These are physical servers where content on the internet is stored before being served to a user. An ad might be placed in a data center in California, before being distributed somewhere in Europe, Asia or Africa via a content delivery network. These servers all consume energy to keep operational, and tech giants pride themselves on using clean energy to power their data centers. It’s great that they are doing their fair share in speeding up the transition to a more sustainable internet, but in reality it is complex and requires a deeper look.

In fact, there’s a very limited amount of renewable energy being produced in the world today and it’s not increasing fast enough, as pointed out by The Wall Street Journal. While the total energy need is growing (it grew 19% between 2009 and 2019), the pace of transition to clean energy isn’t rapid enough. To demonstrate, the share of the world’s energy that came from fossil fuels in 2000 was 86.1%. In 2019, that number was 84.3%, a marginal decrease. So while it’s respectable that tech giants are pushing for a more rapid transition, we need to simultaneously find ways to reduce the internet’s energy consumption. This way, we can free up renewably-sourced energy so that the global reliance on carbon-heavy energy is reduced.

More specifically, the media industry must start questioning what data should be sent over the internet, and how it can be sent in the most efficient way possible. Are we pushing ads through the internet with a very low viewability? Is there a smarter way to display ads, such as using adaptive streaming as opposed to non-adaptive downloading technologies?

To reduce digital waste, media companies and brands need to take a comprehensive approach to measuring and reducing their CO2 emissions, using green energy to power their campaigns, and implementing the latest technology that aims to minimize unnecessary data transfer.

Please see our white paper to learn more about the industry’s unique position on reducing the internet’s CO2 impact and tune in to The Drum Predictions 2022 Festival where we'll explore why it’s time to agree on a standardized approach to measuring the CO2 impact of delivering digital ads.