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How media brands can pave a path to more sustainable outcomes

December 9, 2022 | By Benjamin Davy, Sustainability Director – Teads @Teads

Although COP27 has finished for another year, and the environmental torch may have been momentarily passed on by politicians, sustainability remains an important issue. For example, the International Publisher Alliance (IPA) recently staged its second Sustainability Summit in Frankfurt, and Cannes Lions this year was dominated by discussion of the carbon footprint of digital media. With the significant and continuous increase in resources and energy usage to run digital services, the need for publishers and their monetization partners to become more aware of their digital carbon footprint is expanding.

Additionally, the call for action from within the digital ecosystem is growing louder. Lip service may have been an acceptable solution at one point, but it just won’t cut it with today’s more savvy marketers. Who, as part of their own net-zero commitments, are demanding to know the environmental initiatives of their media partners.

At the same time, publishers are also caught between those advertisers who still prefer ‘spray n’ pray’ campaigns, which may deliver on basic media metrics but also significantly increase a publisher’s emissions by making the supply chain more complex.

So, how should publishers approach this tightrope walk of balancing revenue with their environmental duties? The answer lies in having these discussions with adtech and advertising partners, leveraging available technologies, and exploring how current media strategies can be made more sustainable. Thankfully, being responsible on this aspect need not come at the detriment of business outcomes.

The battle against climate misinformation

The most important thing publishers can do in the fight for sustainability is make sure that they are not perpetuating climate misinformation. A recent report by Climate Action Against Disinformation found that 23% of the U.S. population believes that climate change is a hoax. It also found that those who read the news more often were less likely to believe in climate change misinformation than those that did not consume news at all. To this end, it is imperative that reputable publishers look to remove both climate disinformation as well as engage and educate advertisers who carry these messages.

The progress of measuring sustainability

When it comes to trying to map out publishers’ material contributions to carbon emissions, the problem is that the overall picture is tied up within the myriad partnerships that make up digital media. For example, while the energy required to load a page is relatively transparent for the publisher running the  website; what is not, is the computing and networking resources required to produce the ads on that page. Indeed, a recent study found that the carbon emissions of a website running digital advertising can range anywhere between 55 grams to as high as 4,782 grams. From data centers to design and delivery, the web of production is complex and a huge factor in the emissions of digital media.

This lack of visibility is compounded by the fact that there is still no agreed standard for reporting and measuring carbon emissions in digital. While some solutions are becoming increasingly popular, how exactly digital advertising’s carbon footprint should be measured, and what should be measured, is an ongoing and slow process. That said, recently IAB Europe established a new Sustainability Standards Committee, bringing together motivated parties towards establishing these standards and reducing the amount of carbon produced by digital media.

While this works in the background, there are means available which provide holistic and granular insights over digital carbon footprints. It is up to publishers to start exploring these methods with their tech partners. The more that can be measured, the more that can be understood, and the more that publishers can grow together with their partners. This includes available carbon calculators, which can be used to interrogate the emissions produced by client campaigns running in a publisher environment.

Choosing high-quality, low-carbon outcomes

Addressing this carbon cost is also in line with improving media productivity overall, and should be viewed in conjunction to delivering media results and business outcomes. For example, if a campaign contains lots of impotent impressions, then this means there is carbon being wasted along the supply path. It also means that this inventory is not performing as it should. Indeed, 15.3% of ad spend accounts for inventory that generates a huge amount of carbon, yet offers no business value. These ‘spray n’ pray’ approaches can also be damaging to the customer experience of that publisher environment and significantly damage brand impact – a lose-lose scenario for all involved.

Instead, carbon KPIs should be thought of both qualitatively and quantitatively, in relation to achieving responsible business outcomes for partners and the publisher environment. Attention is an invaluable metric for success here. For example, choosing to carry clients which advertise with less ads but which have high-quality formats, which are not intrusive and which are contextually-relevant, can be more attention effective than loads of boring ads that the user ignores. Not to mention that multiplying the number of low quality impressions vastly increases the amount of supply and server-side auction processes.

Choosing sustainable partners

Publishers looking to partner with advertisers who deliver these high-attention, creative and interactive ad formats should also consider the carbon footprint of these quality formats. For example, if two campaigns perform similarly, but one has assets which are less taxing for the device running it, with a lighter design or no ‘dead space’, the leaner format will reduce the amount of emissions the ad experience is responsible for. Likewise, exclusively partnering with tech providers who do not resell any media inventory will reduce the impact of these impressions being duplicated in multiple auctions.

By leveraging quantifiable outcomes and collaborative tools for measuring carbon KPIs with their partners, it will be much easier for publishers to start actioning sustainable strategies at scale. As part of a wider push for a more responsible approach to media, including refusing to publish climate disinformation, these strategies can be easily tied to improving efficiencies overall. Indeed, by rejecting spray n’ pray ad partners and instead championing those who deliver attention-grabbing campaigns, publishers will see their inventory performance improve while their carbon footprint reduces.

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