Make Better Ads: Understanding The Advertising Industry’s Environmental Impact And What We Can Do To Reduce It


Being online, like most things, generates emissions. In fact, the latest studies estimate that the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them may account for 2-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions (ouch). That’s almost double the airline industry. The good news is that awareness of this hidden footprint is growing, and the wider industry (including major brands and media buyers) is taking steps to counteract it. The not-so-good news? There’s little transparency from digital media owners on campaign emissions. And, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Advertising’s hidden footprint

How can digital ads create greenhouse gas emissions? When it comes to online advertising, sharing data, powering data centers and device usage all create emissions. In the milliseconds it takes for an ad to pop up on a webpage, many companies like ad agencies, data platforms, and ad servers are in a fast-paced bidding contest. They’re all vying for the chance to display an ad to a particular group. It’s a rapid digital competition behind the scenes, making sure the right ads reach the right audience. All this requires energy, which creates emissions.

The importance of calculations

Awareness of this hidden footprint has been growing, and the wider industry is starting to take steps to counteract it. It’s becoming clear that the carbon footprint of various media distribution options is gaining significance, and will play an increasingly important role in shaping where media budgets are invested. It’s expected that this will become more urgent as brands need to deliver on absolute emissions reductions and net-zero pledges. This is why we worked with DIMPACT to calculate the CO2 footprint of our wallpapers and include it in all campaign reports: 83kg CO2 emissions per 1,000,000 impressions.

Transparency is key to driving the ad industry forward, so we wrote a whitepaper to share our full methodology on how we were measuring and reporting the footprint of serving a digital ad, how we calculated the footprint, and what we’re doing to improve it.

We therefore also celebrate the launch of the Global Media Sustainability Framework, a cross-industry collaboration between the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the Ad Net Zero community. This comprises a series of voluntary industry standards to improve consistent, comparable measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from digital, television, print, audio, outdoor and cinema channels.

What to do to reduce advertising’s impact on the environment?

At WeTransfer we are committed to reducing emissions. Therefore we took the following steps that others may follow:

  • High attention, less waste - Fewer (high quality) ads on site means less emissions and a better experience for customers. Win-win.
  • Keeping build sizes as low as possible - Optimizing file sizes helps reduce emissions from digital ads.
  • Compressing/shortening video assets if possible - Video is the heaviest of advertising formats and hence has a bigger impact on the environment.
  • Avoid auto playing large video assets- Auto playing does not only increase the emissions, it also limits accessibility on web pages for people with disabilities.
  • Guardians of brand safety - We do not advertise brands from specific industries (oil, gas, etc).

Looking ahead, we want to take more steps together with the industry to reduce advertising’s footprint:

  • Give preference to eco-conscious behaviors - Normalize green choices and help people make positive changes in their daily lives.
  • Bake sustainability into the creative review process - Ask if there are any sustainability requirements that need to be considered.
  • Keep an eye out for greenwashing - Deliver reliable information to help people make better choices in the context of their lives.
  • Consider the carbon footprint of asset generation - Consider ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle creative assets and ideas.

Three things the industry can do today To wrap up, we would like to share three simple steps you can take to join our mission to advocate for more transparency, while reducing the environmental impact of your next campaign.

1. Ask publishers to provide emissions per impression

Not enough digital media owners offer transparency on campaign emissions. It’s only when advertisers have the ability to compare the carbon footprint of different media placements that they can make truly informed decisions and take steps to reduce emissions in their media strategies. The new Global Media Sustainability Framework can help you in those efforts.

2. Cut complexity and improve transparency of supply chain

Action across the entire supply chain is critical, timely and transparent vendor data are essential to understanding the footprint of digital advertising and actively addressing it. Shorter supply chain means a smaller footprint. The longer and more complex supply chain that an ad has to travel from server to user devices, the more energy and emissions are created. Based on a recent study, a shorter supply chain with fewer intermediaries, such as direct spend campaigns, can produce around ~80% fewer emissions in comparison to programmatic.

3. Optimize ad spend with higher-quality publishers

Digital ads with higher attention have been tied to lower carbon emissions. Fewer ads on a site is a better experience for the user. And fewer ads mean less emissions and greater attention on those that remain. It’s a win-win.

To hear more from WeTransfer Advertising, catch us at MAD//Fest London 2024 or visit

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