Measurement is key to decarbonise ad production and reduce media emissions

Ahead of Cannes Lions 2023, leaders from AdGreen, WFA and IAB Tech Lab talk about some immediate wins that can accelerate progress.

Measurement is key to decarbonise ad production and reduce media emissions

The Ad Net Zero Action Plan is all about making an impact in five key areas, including ad production (Action two) and media buying (Action three) where we want to accelerate measurement and look at what we can do to decarbonise faster.

From the immediate wins to the long-term goals of standardisation and accuracy, Ad Net Zero aims to make decarbonisation easier to understand, and easier to action for our industry.

There are tools available to add to your arsenal today. For supporters of Ad Net Zero, AdGreen is a means of implementing Action two of the programme: reducing emissions from ad production. Since it launched in 2021, AdGreen’s free carbon calculator has been adopted by over 750 creative agencies, production and service companies, both in the UK and internationally.

Emissions data published in AdGreen’s first Annual Review earlier this year highlighted the huge opportunity for carbon reduction. The mean size of a completed project in 2022 was 4.7 tCO2e, although projects ranged massively from 1.5 kg to 129.6 tCO2e, with the four largest projects having a combined impact of 459.7 tCO2e.

We believe there are many more projects in the 50 tCO2e and above category being produced across the industry both in the UK and beyond, not yet being recorded. It’s clear that engagement is needed from organisations working on larger scale productions so that we have a more even picture.

Across 515 completed projects, 62.4% of emissions were generated by travel and transport. This jumps to 74% for the projects sitting at over 100 tCO2e, with 49% of total emissions being from air travel alone. The total impact of flights taken for production work across the industry is significant and is an activity we urgently need to address. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so we urge anyone working in production to register for a calculator account and start to track their campaigns.

Data is also critical to the next stage of the action plan, Action three, which addresses media emissions. In March this year, Ad Net Zero joined forces with WFA’s Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) to rapidly establish a standard framework for measuring the carbon emissions from media campaigns, utilising GARM’s existing and successful governance model.

This is the most urgent priority for Ad Net Zero’s global programme and the WFA’s Media Charter, and one where we believe an industry-level, "pre-competitive" solution is needed. Advertisers in particular want to see one common data framework and set of standards, as they will have to account for these emissions in their future reporting. Media owners also want to be providing data to consistent specifications while agencies recognise the benefit of a consistent framework for proprietary planning tools and technologies.

By combining Ad Net Zero’s Global Media Working Group plus GARM’s and the WFA’s membership under an advertiser-led process we will accelerate progress in three key areas:

  •  Creating momentum via an Immediate Actions Guide – a set of tangible steps that can be implemented to reduce the environmental impact of advertising campaigns and a set of criteria to consider with advertisers supply chain partners.
  • Benchmarking current media carbon measurement and estimation practices – identifying common definitions and measures to assist industry participants with measuring the environmental impact of their media campaigns.
  • Establishing a global media carbon framework – a flexible voluntary measurement and reporting system based on consistent data inputs, to facilitate the consistent measurement and reporting of carbon emissions from media.

IAB Tech Lab is a key contributor to our Immediate Actions Guide as it relates to media investment and execution. At the beginning of 2023 they launched their Sustainability Initiative with the objective of identifying and specifying sources of waste in the programmatic supply chain.

On 7 June, they published their Sustainability Playbook, which is a guided resource providing best practices and recommendations that help to reduce the carbon impact of the programmatic supply chain. In addition to publishing guidance, IAB Tech Lab is committed to providing technical tools and benchmarks. Together, these invaluable resources come together to foster a more sustainable programmatic industry.

Carbon emissions from media are significant and we believe the answer to decarbonisation is a combination of gaining a better understanding of what we can all do today, while working together as an industry to achieve our longer-term net-zero goals.

There are tools immediately available wherever you lie within the advertising process, whether it is signing up to a carbon calculator to measure your production emissions or implementing the Immediate Action Guide for media measurement. And there are more currently in development.

We encourage anyone who is not part of this effort to join the movement via Ad Net Zero, GARM, or the IAB Tech Lab. We also urge everyone to adopt these at the earliest opportunity and make them part of your everyday approach to producing and distributing advertising, as we help support the industry through the Ad Net Zero Action Plan to decarbonise as quickly as possible.

Jo Fenn is project director AdGreen; Rob Rakowitz, co-founder & initiative lead, GARM, WFA; and Anthony Katsur, chief executive, IAB Tech Lab.

The Ad Net Zero team will be running a Zone in the Act Responsible Hall at Cannes Lions from 19 to 23 June and invites delegates to come and learn more about the Ad Net Zero Action Plan to help decarbonise the industry and promote positive behaviour change. More information available at

Read the first opinion piece in the series: Ad industry must fix gap between intent and action on climate

Campaign Asia

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