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Sustainable Transformation Media Planning and Buying Technology

51% of digital advertising businesses aren’t measuring their carbon emissions


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

February 2, 2023 | 4 min read

A report by IAB Europe found marketers agree that measurement is the key to reducing digital’s carbon footprint – but they are lagging on action.

Measuring carbon emissions

CO2 measurement is key to driving down emissions / Adobe Stock

Sustainability is a key focus for the digital advertising sector, as marketers reckon with the hidden impact of its impressions. Last year, it was estimated that a typical ad campaign emitted around 5.4 tons of CO2 (the amount it would take to power your average petrol car for a whole year, according to the US Environmental Agency) with a programmatic ad impression producing around one gram of CO2 emissions.

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When the number of ad impressions transacted on a regular basis multiplies over time, it’s not hard to conceive of the hidden carbon cost of a successful campaign.

The IAB’s ‘State of Readiness: Sustainability in Digital Advertising’ report surveyed 256 respondents across 29 European markets to find out how the digital advertising industry is faring on its journey towards delivering sustainable digital advertising.

What did it find?

  • 55% of respondents believe that their company has started or made significant progress on its journey towards CO2E reduction. However, 18% have not yet started or thought about it yet.

  • In terms of what those companies are doing, 50% have done or are doing a sustainability audit, 46% have a dedicated sustainability lead and 46% have created a checklist.

  • When asked what the top three challenges were for businesses, sustainability is one of the top three challenges, ranking just below cookie-less targeting and measurement.

  • The measurement of CO2E was cited as the top action needed to drive CO2E reduction in digital advertising (35% of respondents cited it as the most important focus), closely followed by the creation of consistent standards (33%) and providing tools and solutions that can reduce the CO2 emissions produced by digital ads today (25%).

  • 51% of respondents stated that their companies currently do not measure the emissions produced by the delivery of digital ads.

Commenting on the findings, Laura Wade, head of sustainability at Essence, said that as 55% of respondents ‘have started’ or ‘made significant progress’ with their own carbon-reduction efforts, she is hopeful this indicates that 2023 is the tipping point for sustainability digital practices to become embedded into the mainstream.

“However, the report also highlights that we need to focus on education and collaboration to turn this into a reality. I believe we need to act quickly and commit fully, to realize the commercial opportunity that decarbonization and sustainable innovation unlocks.”

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