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Stand up to stand out: 4 paths to sustainability for digital marketing agencies

By Aisling McCabe, Paid Media Director

Tug Agency


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March 3, 2023 | 7 min read

Aisling McCabe of digital agency Tug looks at the responsibilities and opportunities for sustainability-conscious digital agencies.

A tiny globe lying on a bed of grass

Are digital marketers paying enough attention to the world outside? / Guillaume de Germain via Unsplash

According to a 2018 study by Accenture, more than half (53%) of consumers who were frustrated with a brand’s views or lack of action on a social issue have complained about those issues; 47% walk away disappointed. 17% never return.

Gone are the days when sustainability was a niche idea. Consumers are now actively seeking brands and businesses that do their part when it comes to protecting the environment. Of course, digital marketers are not solely to blame for the climate crisis. But there are steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint in the advertising space.

Like many others, marketers are wondering how they can contribute to being more sustainable. If they can, where do they begin?

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1. Consider green hosting

Green hosting is becoming increasingly popular, with companies moving to website hosts with ‘green’ certificates. The two most common green certificates are renewable energy certificates (RECs) and carbon offset certificates, or voluntary emission reduction (VER).

REC-certified sites are proven to use low or zero-emission electricity sources. These certified hosts send electricity back to the grid, which is measured in megawatt-hours.

VER certificates indicate the number of greenhouse gases reduced by the web host. Generally, larger web hosts with a bigger carbon footprint will acquire carbon offset certificates since their data centers use more resources. These units are measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide.

By shifting your advertising dollars to sites that have green certificates, you can contribute to helping the industry become more sustainable. This allows advertisers to make an impact by supporting sites that are actively reducing their carbon footprint, by hosting their websites in a harmless and damage-free way. This all helps build a more trustworthy brand by supporting social matters that consumers care about.

2. Build eco-friendly digital campaigns

Being more aware of digital advertising’s environmental impact is the first step here, followed by reducing your impact within digital campaigns. Advertisers can refine campaigns and assets by reducing the file weight of their banners and limiting animation and frames to only those absolutely necessary.

You can also run reports to see if your ads really need to run during energy grid spike times, (in Canada, for example, this is 6-8 pm); tighten video ads to less than 15 seconds to get access to more inventory; and review your keyword list to make sure you aren’t negating any climate change content. You can negate climate change denial terms without removing important climate-related content that needs monetization to support it.

3. Reduce greenwashing spend

While this one might seem obvious, it’s an issue that persists (thankfully, it’s also one that the industry is picking up on). During a recent digital sustainability event here at Tug, our head of programmatic Hannah Thompson discussed how some companies spend more on greenwashing marketing and PR than they do on research and development for genuine green technology.

Furthering awareness of greenwashing, and training marketing teams on how to avoid it while creating ad materials can benefit companies in multiple ways. Not only can it help to clean up the amount of greenwashing out there, but it can also improve a brand’s image by reducing ties with this practice, and free up spend on other, more productive areas of the business, including research and development.

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4. Measure and track sustainability impact

For an advertising agency to stick to its sustainability plan, it must set goals. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start with reducing carbon emissions, so setting a well-structured, simplified plan will help keep your team on track.

Set a baseline goal for what you hope to achieve, record your current emissions, and find where they’re coming from. From there, commit to lowering your carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases by taking part in Ad Net Zero or Science-Based Targets for further accountability. Allocating a portion of ad spend toward lowering emissions can further develop trust in your brand.

Advertisers need to stand up to stand out in today’s market, especially when it comes to climate change. Digital advertising plays a role in contributing to the climate crisis, so the industry should be reducing its carbon footprint wherever possible. Consumers trust brands that actively play their part in social issues, and the world can’t wait. We need to do better for our customers and our planet.

Agencies Agency Culture Sustainability

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