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 Decarbonization in the Ad Industry: A Noble Quest or Just Smoke and Mirrors

In the turbulent tides of 2022, when the world’s gaze was locked on the existential threat of climate change, a new contender stepped onto the stage of environmental responsibility: the advertising industry. 

Brian O’Kelley, that super-trailblazer in ad-tech, ignited the spark by co-founding Scope3, a company aimed at wrestling the carbon emissions of digital advertising into submission.

 But as the curtain falls on another year, the grand implementation of media decarbonization remains a lofty ideal rather than a concrete reality. Is this drive for sustainability a true crusade, or merely a fleeting fad?

Let’s not mince words here. The advertising world, like an attention-hungry celebrity, loves to hog the spotlight. In January 2022, Brian O’Kelley’s Scope3 burst onto the scene, promising to cleanse the murky emissions of the digital ad realm. 

GroupM, the colossal media buyer, jumped on board with a global framework to assess carbon footprints in the media supply chain. A

d Net Zero, the knight in this narrative, promised global standards for media decarbonization after unveiling their ambitions at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

A year later, the skeptics aren’t entirely surprised. According to almost anyone I’ve chatted up, progress is about as slippery as a wet eel. 

Yes, there’s more chatter about digital advertising’s role in climate change, and a few pioneers are inching forward, but what’s it worth if the rest of the parade is playing catch-up? And don’t get me started on the mess of measuring these emissions – it’s like trying to count raindrops in a storm.

You might wonder why this is even a thing? 
After all, shouldn’t we be pointing our climate-change fingers at bigger culprits like fossil fuels? 

Well, here’s a plot twist for you: digital advertising churns out a mind-boggling amount of emissions. Programmatic advertising, the fancy term for the automated buying and selling of online ads, is the sneaky villain here. Imagine thousands of little digital bidding wars happening every second, each one burning up precious computing power like a frenzied auctioneer.

Did you know that your average online ad campaign can spew out about 5.4 tons of CO2? 

That’s like half the annual impact of an entire British citizen. Mind-boggling, right? Each digital ad impression can generate a shocking 1.09 grams of CO2 before offsetting, according to the science nerds who crunched the numbers. Ryan Gordon, a sustainability guru, puts it bluntly: “Trillions of digital impressions equal a lot of CO2.” And here’s the kicker: only one bidder wins, while the rest waste their energy.

But hold your applause. The industry seems to be taking this whole matter with the urgency of a snail race. Danielle Azoulay, sustainability virtuoso, drops a truth bomb: “Media buyers don’t quite get how they’re contributing to sustainability.” It’s like telling a toddler to eat their broccoli – they know it’s good for them, but they’d rather play with the shiny toy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The media’s carbon guilt is tiny compared to the oil giants and their smoky dance. But that doesn’t give the ad industry a free pass. The internet’s contribution to global greenhouse emissions, about 3.7%, is on par with the airline industry’s pollution party. Programmatic advertising alone spews out a staggering 215,000 metric tons of CO2 per month across major economies – that’s like chugging 24 million gallons of gas. Say it with me: not small fries.

So, what’s the ad world doing to clean up its act? Well, some are taking baby steps. iRobot, the household name, is partnering up to tackle emissions with Scope3 and Sharethrough. They’re trying to target low-emission inventory and offset their carbon mess. But here’s the catch – this carbon-cutting venture isn’t exactly a sprint. Sure, there’s a finish line somewhere in the distance, but nobody’s entirely sure when they’ll get there.

But let’s take a moment to recognize the champions. SeenThis, the superheroes of streaming and data transfer, are joining forces with GroupM to measure and curb carbon emissions in digital advertising. It’s like Batman and Robin fighting the CO2 Joker. They’re tossing their hat into the ring, using their tech-savvy prowess to turn the tables on carbon emissions while keeping the ads snappy.

In the tumultuous seas of media decarbonization, the voyage is treacherous. Standards are a mess, and everyone’s too busy guarding their turf to take a leap of faith together. But remember, every empire starts with the first brick. The industry might be squabbling over timelines and strategies, but in the midst of it all, a spark of change is igniting.

So, is this decarbonization frenzy a fleeting trend? A glitzy facade to distract us from the true culprits? Or is it the dawn of a new era?

 Well, my dear friends of industry, only time will tell. But one thing’s certain – with carbon emissions, there’s no room for smoke and mirrors. It’s time for the ad industry to step up, or risk getting lost in the ever-thickening haze of its own making.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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