Negotiations are closing out at COP26 in Glasgow this week. From working out forestry issues to talks around CO2 production and the usual political and business machinations, the event is one that we all hope will be one where leaders see sense.
When it comes to sustainability, we can easily think about plastics, ice caps melting, oil production and energy waste, things that companies, governments and individuals can work on, but what about digital waste?
The internet is seen as a wide open infinity that we keep throwing things into. Endless dead websites litter the digital landscape and yes, in comparison, the environmental impact is not the same as a coal mine,but it does use energy and maybe we should be thinking about tailoring what we do online, especially when it comes to advertising.
The BBC recently explored digital sustainability on its Digital Planet radio show. It mentions services like the Green Web Foundation which has a web-checker to find out which sites have a green bill of health in terms of their sustainability. When brands and businesses consider where ads go, it’s not surprising to believe most would go for some targeting but mostly a wide breadth when it comes to trying to reach a wider audience. How many are thinking about whether their ads are on sites that are powered in efficient ways or consider CO2 output?
When it comes to our beloved internet, the data centres that it runs on use a lot of energy. According to McKinsey research, data centres have been known to emit 80 megatons of carbon dioxide per year. Globally, data centres account for around 1% of total electricity demand.
It’s something that needs to be a part of ad spend planning. Consumers are now more aware than ever when it comes to climate. When NFTs were making global headlines, part of the story was the cost to the environment as well as the high price of some of the art sales. The planet is now part of everyone’s narrative and brands need to be paying attention to even the digital details, because consumers are likely to already be ahead of them.
What’s the solution?
It’s unlikely that we will see a drop in digital advertising any time soon, but this doesn’t mean that brands can’t be more thoughtful about where their ads appear. A more targeted approach doesn’t just mean who you are trying to reach in terms of demographics, it also means taking care and making better decisions when it comes to placing ads in the best locations.
A scattergun approach is no longer appropriate. All it does is create more digital waste. Good-Loop has a carbon calculator that shows what a typical online ad campaign emits — on average this is around 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The internet now has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry with online video and display ads generating the most emissions according to WPP agency Essence.
The answer is to be more thoughtful about the ethics and sustainability of how we place ads. Scattering videos everywhere is not a personalised service, it’s not well thought out and it shows a huge insensitivity toward the environment and future generations.
If we want to be better for the people who will live in the future, we need to give them a better future to live in. Instead of greenwashing and giving talks, maybe business leaders and brands need to shut up and think a little more about making better decisions so that they will have an audience to speak to in the coming generations.