Digital Advertising

Sustainability in digital advertising part 1: Ad Net Zero

Switchboard Mar 13

Sustainability in advertising part one
Table of Contents

    In recent years, climate change has become a critical global issue, and as a result, there is a growing push for companies across all industries to operate in a more sustainable and environmentally conscious manner – not least digital.

    As more and more people carry out their business online, and generate an ever-growing amount of data, the internet is now thought to account for almost 4% of the world’s carbon emissions, calling for more urgent sustainability efforts in the digital space.

    A 2019 Hotwire survey showed that 47% of internet users had ditched products that went against their environmental values, showing that customers prefer brands and products working towards a sustainable future.

    In this four-part series, we explore the impact of the digital advertising industry on the environment and the steps the industry is taking toward a greener future.

    What is Ad Net Zero?

    Sustainability has become a mainstream buzzword in recent years, but we can really see the industry start to action in 2023. Ad Net Zero, launched by the Association of National Advertisers, aims to help the advertising industry reach net-zero emissions by 2030.

    The initiative is joined by over 50 organizations including Cannes Lions, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, dentsu, Havas, IAA, Interpublic Group, Reckitt, Unilever, PubMatic, WARC, and WPP – representing 40% of the world’s ad spend.

    In September 2021, the Ad Net Zero US chapter launched, supported by leading industry associations such as 4A’s, Advertising Week, IAB, and some of IAA’s global corporate members including Google and Meta.

    The initiative, which claims to be “advertising’s response to the climate crisis”, is a framework for measuring and reducing the digital advertising industry’s greenhouse gas emissions – across data centers, servers, and ad delivery networks – from the production and distribution of ads to their final placement and measurement.

    What is greenwashing?

    One of the challenges the digital advertising industry faces is greenwashing, where companies make unfounded or exaggerated claims about their environmental performance or sustainability practices. Greenwashing undermines the credibility of genuine efforts to become more sustainable and can lead to a lack of trust among consumers.

    Digital advertisers, agencies and tech vendors need to transform their operations to become more truly sustainable, rather than making hollow claims. As regulation grows globally to tackle greenwashing, brands must be careful to avoid the practice and instead commit to real changes in their operations. A study by Amazon Ads shows that 73% of consumers are tired of brands acting as though they are exempt from environmental responsibility.

    The industry is now beginning to implement tangible measures to become more sustainable. Ad tech companies have started exploring new ways to reduce their environmental impact, such as reducing data usage (by reducing data requests), moving towards more efficient servers, and exploring alternative renewable energy sources.

    The digital advertising industry still has a long way to go to become truly sustainable, but with initiatives such as Ad Net Zero – coupled with a conscious effort to avoid greenwashing – we can all play our part in reaching those all-important net-zero emissions by 2030.

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