Mon, 24 Apr 2023 15:25:00 GMT
As the industry becomes more environmentally conscious, with significant commitments to progress being made in several sectors by brands, media companies, agencies and production companies across the globe, it has become apparent that this journey towards sustainable advertising has made headway in some avenues, but less so in others. The ‘greenification’ of the production pipeline has long held the spotlight in this regard - despite production contributing a significantly smaller proportion of the ad industry’s emissions than media - representing 14% versus media’s 55% in a 2019 report from WPP.
In the realm of production, several tools already exist for emissions measurement and decarbonisation, such as AdGreen, which offers training on zero-carbon best practices and a carbon calculator tool. However, when it comes to media, “there's nothing industry-wide or free at the point of use in the same way there is with production,” says Anthony Falco, Ad Net Zero global director at the Advertising Association. Describing media decarbonisation as “one of the biggest challenges the industry faces”, he explains that calculating and reducing emissions in media is more complex than compared to production - abetted by the lack of standardised, accessible toolsets to do so.
“We're hoping to make significant progress to create something that can be used and adopted by the entire industry… a global data framework for the measurement of media buying and planning,” he says. “We need consistent values and a consistent methodology so that advertisers can have confidence that the reported numbers are as accurate as possible and calculated in transparent, consistent ways.”
So, as the Ad Net Zero initiative works to make this a reality, how is progress being made in the media space? During the media buy process, what can brands and agencies do to get on top of their carbon emissions - and what are the main challenges they’re having to face? To get insight into all of these questions and the points raised by the Advertising Association’s Anthony Falco, LBB’s Ben Conway also spoke with representatives from a selection of media companies, agencies and OOH specialists including: Wavemaker, EssenceMediacom UK, Starcom, dentsu, Media.Monks, Ocean Outdoor and Clear Channel.
For Devora Mateeva, business director at Publicis Groupe’s worldwide media agency Starcom, adland is in both an improved position and a heightened spotlight, when it comes to facing environmental challenges. And while she acknowledges that measurable change does need to be expedited to meet Ad Net Zero pledges, she says that the work required - namely commitment towards conscious executions - should be “inspired by the substantial progress seen in recent years.”
Suggesting why progress hasn’t occurred in the media sector as promptly as needed quite yet, Fiona Lloyd, global client and brand president at Carat and executive sponsor of social impact for media at dentsu says, “Decarbonisation in media is discussed less frequently than in certain other sectors such as manufacturing and transportation. In part, this is because the carbon impact of media is often far removed from end product users.”
Sharing how her agency currently ensures it produces work sustainably - not just in how it works, but through its content too, Regina Romeijn, EVP of business strategy and global head of ESG at Media.Monks explains that the agency converts certain digital builds to “green builds”. This means reusing existing code and proactively crafting content that raises awareness of social topics and changes consumer behaviour around environmental issues - all while ensuring performance through its data and digital media experts.
These experts, says Devora, are being assisted increasingly by the ever-more sophisticated and accurate tools at their disposal. Carbon calculators, for example, are “making full ecosystem impact measurement a possibility in sight.” She adds, “More importantly, they are now directly linked to offsetting initiatives with vetted certifications and partners.”
And it’s not just media agencies putting in the work either. Martin Page, environment and sustainability manager at Clear Channel UK says that the out-of-home (OOH) media owner has reduced its carbon footprint by 83% since 2008 and has a target of achieving net zero by 2030 (for Scope 1 and 2 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). Underpinned by wider industry commitments like Ad Net Zero’s Planet Mark certification and the Carbon Disclosure Project, Clear Channel has implemented various initiatives and technologies, including replacing its gas boilers, buying 100% renewable energy, implementing solar lighting as standard and transition its fleet to low or zero-emission vehicles.
As you can see from the above, the focus is very much on reducing carbon emissions entirely, rather than trying to offset them after the fact.
“Adopting science-based targets means that we need a reduction-first approach, with offsetting as a last resort to remove any residual emissions,” says Pauline Robson, managing partner at EssenceMediacom UK. This follows Ad Net Zero’s guidance which suggests offsetting be limited to 10% of a business' total emissions.
Fiona Lloyd elaborates with dentsu’s similar philosophy: “Retrospective carbon accounting alone is not sufficient to drive real change in the industry and measuring our impact is only a first step. Although high-quality emissions measurement provides a useful baseline, the most significant opportunities are downstream of that and must be rooted in action. At dentsu, in media and advertising, there are many possibilities for achieving emissions reductions through all stages of the strategy building, planning, activation and review of a campaign… The driving principle for us is about reducing carbon from the supply chain in the first instance and only then looking to offset what can’t be mitigated entirely.”
Fiona reveals that a large proportion of the emissions are tied to the energy requirements of data housing and the connectivity infrastructure that adland uses. This means that it’s difficult to effectively measure and map greenhouse gas impacts industry-wide. Different sectors - and even different individual companies - will use an array of unique (and often proprietary) methodologies, tools and metrics to measure a campaign’s environmental impact across content production, distribution, and disposal.
Ben Brown, SVP of media EMEA at Media.Monks says, “Measuring media buying's environmental impact is crucial in a sustainability-driven world, but the industry's complexity makes it challenging. That’s difficult enough. But then, once you’ve gathered this data, it’s difficult to get like-for-like comparisons across media channels and individual media owners.” Achieving this apples-to-apples comparison is what Anthony Falco terms “the biggest difficulty” facing the media companies today.
This is something that Pauline at EssenceMediacom UK says GroupM’s ‘Media Decarbonisation’ programme is focused on addressing - reiterating that the “key challenge” the industry faces is the lack of an aligned set of industry standards for carbon measurement. Agreeing, Fiona calls for a greater consensus on data sets, terminology and overall goals, which unless unified more consistently will remain a significant barrier to progress.
With the complexity of the media ecosystem, coupled with the wide spectrum of different businesses involved, much of the necessary data is not currently being captured by the businesses that own each individual process - leaving the industry to rely on secondary data from other sources.
“It can be very challenging to quantify emissions at a macro level as many variables could potentially be included,” says Clear Channel’s Martin Page. “While we can evidence our emissions at a company level, being able to produce product-specific data remains a challenge.” As a “one-to-many medium”, he adds that the environmental impact of media placements - from OOH to digital placements on phones, TV and so on - may not always be fully stated or included in emissions calculations.
Under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), this comes under ‘Scope 3’ - defined as ‘emissions that are not produced by the company itself, or from assets owned or controlled by them, but by those that it's indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain’. And this is what Richard Malton, chief marketing officer at Ocean Outdoor, says OOH companies and media agencies alike need to begin to address. “We are tackling decarbonising our business head-on. This means looking beyond the softer Scopes of 1 and 2 (of the GHGP) and getting stuck into Scope 3. This is where I’d imagine most media owners’ carbon footprint is and it’s the most difficult area to address as you are having to ask yourselves and your supply chain some very difficult questions.”
As Richard suggests, with decarbonisation, there is no quick fix for the ad industry - or indeed any industry. “It’s about looking for partners who obsess about sustainability rather than check boxes,” he says. “That way you can travel the journey together, even though it will be tough at times.”
However, Media.Monks’ Ben Brown casts some doubt on the current feasibility of advertisers and agencies switching media partners and every part of their supply chain to alternatives that prioritise low-carbon processes and impacts. He says, “Although there are some low-carbon media channels available, there are limited options. As the industry moves towards automation and programmatic delivery of digital out-of-home advertising, there is an opportunity to make the buying process more targeted and agile, but vendors must also be responsible for the net zero energy effect on their estates and inventory. This responsibility should reflect in buying deals to ensure that the industry moves towards a more sustainable future.”
When discussing the carbon footprint of media buys, Ocean Outdoor’s Richard Malton says that the digital out-of-home placements (like electric billboards for instance) have something of a bullseye painted on their back. But while he says DOOH is a “very obvious target” for criticism and for highlighting energy usage, he believes that DOOH also offers unique real-time decarbonisation applications.
“Green issues are incredibly high on OOH industry bodies’ agendas - at a local level in the UK through Outsmart and at a global level through the World Out Of Home Organization. It’s absolutely moved from a talking shop to developing hard actions,” he says. “We can guarantee our power sources are green and renewable; we can turn our screens down to half power/brightness during certain parts of the day. More and more screens now have downtime at the discretion of the OOH media owner - we literally stop using energy for certain hours of the day. Which is unique in today’s age of 24-hour media connectivity. And we don’t operate at full tilt when there is no audience or a small audience.”
Clear Channel’s Martin Page agrees that DOOH is an obvious target, but also suggests that it has perhaps been the subject of a misinformed or unfair narrative in recent times. “The UK’s OOH sector accounts for less than 0.04% of the UK’s total energy usage, and within that, digital OOH displays represent just 0.03% of the UK’s million digital screens.” He continues, “We’re continuously investing in energy-efficient technologies, outside of developing digital screens that are 50% more energy efficient, and are transitioning to LED tubes in our classic ad boxes - whilst powering down our screens between midnight and 5am to reduce energy usage and light pollution.”
(One of Clear Channel's 'Bee Bus Stops' living roof with solar panels.)
So, we’ve heard from the OOH representatives - but what are the media agencies doing to reduce the carbon footprint of the media buy?
Ben Brown says that Media.Monks has partnered with supply chain emissions data company, Scope3, to comprehensively measure emissions - both direct and indirect. And Scope3 is just one of the adtech providers - as well as GoodLoop, RightThingMedia, and GoodNet - that Starcom’s Devora Mateeva reports have “noticeably increased” their offerings at scale. These sustainable partnerships, she adds, have become priority opportunities for the biggest broadcast and publishing houses, as well as a point of interest and accelerated demand for clients, who she says are increasingly including green KPIs in their briefs.
Anthony Falco shares that he has seen brands like Tesco work with EssenceMediacom UK and GroupM’s carbon calculator to create green marketing and media plans - a tool that Wavemaker’s managing partner Jen Manning says the agency also uses for “granular channel level measurement”. Combining this with Wavemaker’s investment tests and newly-launched eco-effectiveness approach to carbon reduction, she says this is driving results “for clients and the planet - without compromise.”
Describing how carbon measurement and inclusive planning are the default standard on every one of the agency’s plans from 2023 onwards, she continues, “The results are already speaking for themselves. We’ve made more progress in the last three months than we have in the last two years. It has helped us engage clients in conversation about carbon reduction and, more importantly, made it easier for them to ensure their marketing isn't contributing to the climate crisis.”
dentsu has also been committed to carbon reduction for some time, says Fiona Lloyd, who explains that the network co-founded DIMPACT in 2019, a coalition of media companies to help set out and define the scope, scale and tools needed to track and measure carbon emissions within the supply chain. “From these early steps, the media decarbonisation journey at dentsu has really accelerated: we now have fully working cross-channel media carbon calculators in a number of markets and will soon launch our integrated carbon planning offering. dentsu is currently operating with a science-based target of reducing the GHG emissions associated with our media supply chain by 46% by 2030, against a 2019 baseline.”
As EssenceMediacom UK's Pauline Robson says, it is evident from these discussions that it’s vital for the industry to reach an agreement on a standardised carbon measurement, “so we can move beyond discussions about measurement to focus our attention on the decarbonisation of the media supply chain.”
And while the ability to track and compare data proves to be a key issue for these media agencies and owners, Ocean Outdoor’s Richard Malton suggests that perhaps comparison should not be the main focus of this movement, but instead, collaboration and action should be pushed to the forefront:
“Put decarbonisation at the centre of your business. Engage the team, work with your supply chain and understand the individual client/media owner challenges. There is a route forward. The challenge for all media owners is to do as much as is humanly possible to decarbonise our businesses.”