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Corporate Social Responsibility Industry Insights Carbon Emissions

Calculating carbon reductions in digital ads is more complex than you might think

By Jesper Benon, co founder



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February 4, 2022 | 4 min read

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Since the Ad Net Zero Global Summit in late 2021, a lot has happened on the digital marketing scene in terms of sustainability initiatives. This is exciting to see, and as a next step we must think carefully about the conclusions we draw, because sustainability in digital advertising is more complex than it may seem at first glance.

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As an industry we need to come together and agree on emission and reduction measurement standards

We’ve been very excited to see many companies within digital advertising publish their sustainability research. The increasing number of calculations made by other stakeholders means the industry is taking the internet emissions issue seriously and is actively looking for ways to measure and reduce them – this is great news. In this process, it’s expected that each calculation will produce slightly different numbers. As pointed out in our white paper and Predictions keynote, this is because calculating internet carbon emissions requires making certain assumptions and deciding on scope, which is perfectly okay, as long as assumptions are made explicitly.

Based on these numbers, it’s very tempting to then calculate the potential reduction warranted by a digital solution. For example, if you were to implement technology X that reduces the amount of internet traffic by 50%, then your carbon emissions would also be cut in half, right? Well, it turns out that things in reality are more complex than that.

In our white paper, we explain how the internet can be thought of as a supply chain for data: while an ad is initially stored in a data center, it travels through many different technologies before finally reaching the end-user device, where it can then be served as an ad impression. The actual carbon reduction of a given sustainability initiative depends on what share of this value chain the solution targets. For example, if the solution is only about how the ad is delivered to the end user, it may target only half of the internet supply chain, failing to address the emissions that stem from building the infrastructure itself.

The implications of this are twofold. First, it further emphasizes the need for us as an industry to come together and agree on emission and reduction measurement standards for how to measure emissions and reductions. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should wait until we have all the calculations and information on the table before implementing data reduction solutions – as long as there’s some reduction in data, this also implies a reduction in carbon emissions.

For more insight on reducing the CO2 of digital media, watch our keynote during The Drum Predictions 2022 festival below, as well as download our white paper on CO2 emissions from the internet.

Corporate Social Responsibility Industry Insights Carbon Emissions

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Since 2017, Swedish tech company SeenThis has been evolving screen experiences for everyone, everywhere. With its groundbreaking adaptive streaming technology, SeenThis...

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