Below, Ad Age explains the state of ad industry emissions and efforts to measure them, including what more needs to be done.
Where do the ad industry’s carbon emissions come from?
While there are varying figures showing the carbon output from specific sectors of the advertising industry and emissions scopes, a broad figure showing the industry’s total carbon output is not readily available, say organizations working on measurement, including Scope3 and Ad Net Zero.
A report from sustainability initiative AdGreen this March showed that the industry emitted 2,446.1 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) as a result of 515 projects completed last year. But “we believe that there are many more projects akin to those in the 50 tCO2e and above category being produced across the industry both in the UK and beyond, not yet being recorded,” the initiative's global director, Jo Fenn, said in a statement. “It’s clear that engagement is needed from organizations working on larger scale productions so that we have a more even picture.”
Here is a breakdown of what kind of emissions the industry needs to account for.
According to international standards, an organization’s carbon emissions are broadly categorized as Scope 1, 2 or 3, which respectively refer to its direct emissions; indirect pollution from external providers used by the company; and the even more indirect greenhouse gases produced by its supply chain.
The advertising industry’s Scope 1 emissions are straightforward: as with most other sectors, they come directly from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization, such as its vehicles or facilities.
Its Scope 2 greenhouse emissions are indirect, meaning the emissions that come from services purchased from an external provider, such as the energy bought from an electricity company.
Scope 3 emissions are harder to get a grasp on, and they are also the largest part of any company’s emissions and the most complicated to reduce. For companies in the ad industry, Scope 3 can include suppliers they use during the production process or events. Less tangibly, it also includes the carbon impact of products advertised and the emissions produced by digital-only processes, such as placing and targeting ads and digital campaigns.
This last consideration is a big one: the internet generates carbon by consuming electricity through data centers, mobile devices and transmission networks, according to Website Carbon Calculator. Online advertising is the cause of about 1% of all global energy consumption, according to researchers of a 2018 study reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Also see: 15 execs leading sustainability efforts
What have carbon measurement efforts looked like so far?
Efforts have included creating measurement tools and plans, as well as coming up with solutions to standardize measurement.
Ad Net Zero has created a five-pronged plan to reduce emissions.