Media Adtech Sustainability

Clickbait sites have huge carbon footprints and advertisers urged to snub them


By John McCarthy | Opinion editor

November 23, 2022 | 6 min read

Research finds that made-for-advertising websites provide no value to businesses while generating excessive amounts of CO2 emissions.


CO2PM waste was 26% higher on MFA sites than non-MFA sites / Adobe Stock

A study from Ebiquity and Scope3 has identified made-for-advertising (MFA) websites as heavy emitters that provide ”no value” to businesses: important information for media buyers looking to clean up their supply.

The new report analyzed more than $375m in ad spend from 43 of ”the world’s leading advertisers” to find that 15.3% of this ad spend was ”wasted on inventory that generates no value to business while generating excessive amounts of CO2 emissions”. It analyzed some 116bn display ad impressions to come to this conclusion.

Marking the launch of the report, Scope3 also released a new way to measure carbon emissions in digital advertising that can weigh performance against carbon cost. Using this new metric called CO2PM (CO2 per mille), the total emissions measured were 77,826 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is an average of 670 grams for 1,000 impressions.

In human terms, that was the equivalent of flying 1.35 million passengers from London to Paris. It would take 3.7m fully-grown trees one year to absorb this amount of carbon. Advertising is having a huge, hidden toll on the world and buyers are only now getting to grips with that fact.

But it’s not all bad news. The study found that the carbon emissions of websites varied dramatically, with CO2PM ranging from 55.2g to 4,782.8g on different sites, showing how a bit of scrutiny could massively clear out emissions.

CO2PM waste, as classified by Ebiquity, was 26% higher on MFA sites than non-MFA sites. What it classified as ”trusted news websites,” meanwhile, were 52% lower than MFA sites. In short, the study recommended dumping the low-quality MFA sites, which to many exist purely to drive cheap impressions. An Ebiquity study earlier this year stated that 10% of US programmatic ad spend is wasted on MFA sites.

“Being able to put real numbers against the carbon emissions of digital advertising is just the beginning of a long journey to driving real change across the industry,” said Brian O’Kelley, the chief exec of Scope3. “These metrics highlight that all digital advertising isn’t equal. The wide range of emissions presents a clear opportunity for the industry to make better decisions. Brands now have a guide for what to look for and how they can begin to think about reduction and optimization for more effective and carbon-neutral advertising.”

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Nick Waters, the group CEO at Ebiquity, added: ”This study demonstrates that the advertising industry is now able to quantify CO2 emissions across websites, markets and categories of media. We believe CO2PM should be adopted immediately as a core metric to influence decision-making and lead technology and media partners to optimize for sustainability.

“Instead, this money could have been invested on high-quality news websites, delivering high ad effectiveness in a brand-safe environment, while supporting quality journalism and emitting less than half of the CO2e. By acting together, we can reduce the harmful impact our industry has on the planet.”

Scope3 and Ebiquity plan to conduct additional studies and release benchmarks in 2023 for more advertising channels, including connected TV and social media platforms.

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