Why Sustainable Brands Need to Care About Scope 3 Emissions
by Avril Tomlin-Hood
You wouldn’t think that an industry built entirely around being paperless would be a major contributor to global emissions. After all, one hears the word “emissions” and thinks of oil companies, fast fashion, or Jeff Bezos’s private jets. Not digital advertising.
Yet, the digital ecosystem’s carbon footprint (powered by the advertising industry) is larger than that of the aviation industry. And the biggest culprit: scope 3 emissions.
But what exactly are scope 3 emissions? In this article, we’ll explain what they are, and why, if you’re a sustainable brand, you should care.
Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions: What Are They?
Businesses are being held accountable for measuring and reducing their carbon emissions, which are categorized into three layers, or, scopes, depending on where they occur in a company’s operations.
Carbon emissions can be classified into 3 categories of scope:
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions that come from assets the company owns and operates, such as exhaust from company vehicles or energy used to power manufacturing equipment.
Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from assets the company uses or leases, such as the electricity a company purchases to power or heat their office.
Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that are not produced by the company but are generated as a result of said company’s activity, such as the energy used to power the many layers of technology involved in serving digital ads to a company’s potential customers.
Scope 3 Emissions and Digital Advertising
Programmatic advertising (the automated buying and selling of digital ads) represents over 50% of US ad budgets, and is estimated to surpass 200 billion dollars in 2023.
In the digital advertising industry, scope 3 emissions are generated through the actions of advertising (i.e. server power, device power, data transmissions, etc.) and throughout the programmatic supply chain (consumers, publishers, ad servers, brands, etc.).
This can look like:
- Ad and content production: Emissions generated from equipment used to generate assets, employees traveling to production sites, etc.
- Ad impressions: Emissions are generated from devices (drawing power from a battery or outlet) when a user lands on a publisher’s site and loads up the content. When serving an impression to that user, carbon emissions are produced through the programmatic supply chain.
- Performance reporting: Servers storing and sending performance data produce carbon emissions.
And according to Scope3’s State of Sustainable Advertising Q1 2023 report, the digital ecosystem accounts for 3.7% of global CO2 emissions, more than the aviation industry (2.5%).
Put into context: 1 million ad impressions uses approximately the same amount of energy as a return flight from Paris to New York City.
It’s (really) not easy being green
While it’s important for brands to be aware of their scope 1 and 2 emissions, the larger impact is going to come from activities that reduce scope 3 emissions. And that’s because, for many brands, scope 3 emissions account for more than 70% of their carbon footprint.
While sustainably minded companies are already tracking their scope 1 and 2 emissions and actively working to reduce them, the challenge they face with scope 3 emissions is that they are hard to track. With no scope 3 measurement standards and consistent, reliable and comparable disclosures from companies, it’s nearly impossible to determine if they are living up to climate commitments.
And since governing bodies haven’t yet made explicit recommendations about how best to address digital emissions beyond hardware providers, there is often unclear guidance for how to measure and mitigate scope 3 emissions in digital advertising.
So what does this all mean?
That means, even if you’re the most sustainable brand, or adhere to the greenest lifestyle possible, if you aren’t considering your scope 3 emissions, you’re missing the big picture.
Ways to reduce your Scope 3 emissions
The good news? The digital advertising industry is starting to take initiative.
Not only are there ways to measure and offset your scope 3 emissions, your consumers want to see you take action: 80% of consumers favour brands that are actively working to reduce their carbon emissions.
In our opinion, the easiest place to start is by changing your advertising habits, or, in decarbonizing digital media. And that can look like taking the following steps:
Understand your baseline
It’s essential for companies to measure their campaign carbon emissions accurately. You’ll want to take a look under the hood to see where your digital emissions are coming from. Establish your baseline and set a goal for what you hope to achieve.
Measuring your digital ad supply chains is challenging, but not impossible. You can partner with measurement providers to help you pick a solid, data-backed emissions model.
Build a methodology
You can’t measure what you don’t track. Add a step to your campaign checklist where you can analyze every step of your ad lifecycle for opportunities. Having processes in place can help you pinpoint opportunities to offset your emissions.
Look at your data to understand where else you can offset. Where, in your actions or programmatic supply chain, can changes be made? Look at leveraging Green Media Products to help neutralize emissions.
Ask your digital marketing partners for insights into what steps they are taking to help you deliver effective and efficient campaigns that spend as little energy as possible.
And if they can’t or are unable to, then look into partnerships that are aligned with your efforts and can help you scale them. Look for mindful partners who prioritize working alongside sustainable brands to help build customizable and conscious digital marketing campaigns (hint: that’s our speciality!).
All of this can feel overwhelming. But there are ways forward that are easy to implement. And as long as the whales are doing their part, then so can you.
By adopting sustainable practices, working with responsible partners, and accurately measuring and reporting on emissions, you can ensure that all areas of your business are putting sustainability first.