New report sets out to show true cost of digital advertising wastage environmentally

Scope3 and Ebiquity coin a new benchmark for carbon emissions measurement on digital advertising to not only demonstrate environmental impact but also illustrate double-whammy cost of ad wastage

More than 15 per cent of ad spend is wasted on inventory that generates no economic value but has an excessively negative effect environmentally, a first-of-its-kind report has found.

The new report from Ebiquity and Scope3 aims to illustrate the holistic cost of digital advertising supply chain waste. To do this, the study analysed more than $375 million of digital advertising spend across 116bn display ad impressions from 43 brand advertisers across 11 markets.

The two companies then created a benchmark using carbon emissions measurement data they’re calling CO2PM, short for gCO2ePM, or grams of CO2e (carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases) emissions per 1000 advertising impressions.

Through this work, the report showed 15.3 per cent of advertising spend is wasted on inventory on ‘made for advertising’ websites and generates no value to advertisers. Nevertheless, it generates excessive amounts of CO2 emissions. Across the board, carbon emissions of websites were shown to vary significantly, with CO2PM per website ranging from 55.2g to 4782.8g, an 87X difference.

The global weighted average of digital ad emissions is 670g CO2PM based on 116bn ad impressions. According to Scope3 data of 77,826 MtCO2e, this is the equivalent of flying 1.35 million passengers from London to Paris. It also noted it would take 3.7 million fully-grown trees one year to absorb this amount of carbon.

‘Made for advertising’ (MFA) websites are particularly high contributors to carbon emissions at 26.4 per cent higher than other websites (814 on average). By contrast, CO2PM on ‘trusted news websites’ was 52 per cent lower than MFA websites (390.5).

“Being able to put real numbers against the carbon emissions of digital advertising is just the beginning of a long journey to driving real change across the industry,” said Scope3 CEO, Brian O’Kelley. “These metrics highlight that all digital advertising isn’t equal. The wide range of emissions presents a clear opportunity for the industry to make better decisions. Brands now have a guide for what to look for and how they can begin to think about reduction and optimisation for more effective and carbon-neutral advertising.”

Ebiquity Group CEO, Nick Waters, urged the industry to adopt CO2PM immediately as a core metric to influence decision making.

“The most striking insight is that brands in the sample spent 15.3 per cent of their budgets on ‘made for advertising’ inventory which has no value,” he continued. “Instead, this money could have been invested on high quality news websites, delivering high ad effectiveness in a brand safe environment, whilst supporting quality journalism and emitting less than half of the CO2e. By acting together, we can reduce the harmful impact our industry has on the planet.”

 Scope3 and Ebiquity said they will conduct additional studies and release benchmarks in 2023 for more advertising channels, including connected TV and social media platforms.

In our latest edition of CMO magazine, we take a deep dive into the work being done to ascertain digital advertising emissions and improve the industry's environmental footprint. Read the full feature and access our digital magazine edition here.

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