Does the Ad Industry Take Sustainability Seriously?

In an era where climate change looms large and consumers increasingly demand ethical accountability, the ad industry stands at a crossroads: does it prioritise profits or planet? On Earth Day, we delve into this critical question, probing the complex relationship between advertising and environmental responsibility. 

Despite growing awareness, skeptics argue that greenwashing often prevails over genuine commitment to sustainability. Yet, amidst the cynicism, there are glimmers of hope as some brands and agencies pioneer eco-friendly practices and advocate for systemic change. 

We asked a stellar, global panel of industry experts the big question, and discover if they feel that the media ecosystem is taking sustainability as either a token gesture or a fundamental ethos.

Advertisers and Their Partners Must Commit to Transparency 

In recent years, and with more global standards coming into effect, there’s been a significant push towards committing to sustainability efforts in ad tech and media. According to recent research, 90% of European marketers are measuring carbon emissions, up from 60% in 2022.

To ensure momentum continues, advertisers and their partners must commit to transparency when it comes to their emissions reporting. We shouldn’t expect perfection overnight, but by working collaboratively, ensuring carbon reduction measures are realistic, and independently verifying sustainability reporting, we can ensure the industry remains accountable and avoids green-washing.

Amanda Forrester, VP of Marketing, OpenX

Ad Companies Could Embed Performance-Based Contributions to Real-World Positive Impact

Brands are challenging the ad industry on their sustainability credentials. Unfortunately, the dominant response has been largely besides the point. More and more ad tech companies and agencies measure the carbon footprint of putting an ad on a phone, knowing full well they won't stop doing that if the footprint gets too high.

We are facing a $3.4 trillion annual financing gap in the UN SDGs. Rather than spending money measuring something they will not change, ad companies could embed performance-based contributions to real-world positive impact, aligned with the brand, into the ad directly which will boost audience engagement and ad performance. That's what companies like Handprint and Good-Loop for instance are enabling. 

Simon Schillebeeckx, Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Handprint

Sustainability Needs to Become a Primary KPI

For some incredibly seriously.  Of course though a lot more can be done, and at an accelerated pace.  Sustainability needs to pivot to become a primary KPI. Where working with sustainable suppliers becomes as much of a mandatory requirement as working in brand safe environments.  Buyers need education and knowledge sources on who is and isn’t sustainable in their supply chain. Meanwhile the clean-up process in the supply chain has started and those who have taken care of their own sustainability should benefit from higher demand for their services. We are at the precipice of industry wide change if we all act on it quickly.

Hannah Mirza, Founder and CEO, Responsible Marketing Agency

Tunnel Vision on Short-Term Profits Perpetuates Environmental Impact and Risks Alienating Environmentally Conscious Consumers 

The advertising industry often views sustainability as a peripheral concern, an optional enhancement rather than a core business imperative. This perception is due to the belief that advertising's environmental impact is minimal compared to heavier emitting functions like logistics and manufacturing. Consequently, amidst the economic pressures of today's market, where immediate financial returns dominate corporate priorities, sustainability initiatives in advertising are frequently sidelined. This tunnel vision on short-term profits not only perpetuates environmental neglect but also risks alienating environmentally conscious consumers, potentially hindering businesses in the long term.

Dhruv Menon, Digital Media Lead, Mindshare

The Industry Must Embed Sustainability as a Core Operational Ethos

The ad industry is at a crossroads with sustainability. While there’s a growing awareness and some notable progress, especially with initiatives like Ad Net Zero and GARM standards, much remains to be done. The industry must move beyond viewing sustainability as a marketing angle to embedding it as a core operational ethos. This requires integrating real, measurable sustainability actions into all levels of strategy and execution. Regulation and stronger accountability measures are crucial to push the industry from mere compliance to genuine commitment. We need a shift towards sustainability that is as innovative as it is integral.

Guillaume Grimbert, Co-Founder and CEO, Greenbids

We Need to See More Action and Urgency 

Often cited as a top priority by key players, there’s no doubt the ad industry is taking sustainability more seriously. However, that needs to be backed up with more action and urgency, otherwise we are at risk of warm words being turned into yet more hot air – the last thing the planet needs.

There always seems to be a good reason NOT to start actively reducing emissions. But we’re running out of time. It’s urgent companies across the industry adopt solutions and best practices at scale to drastically reduce Adland’s impact on the environment. 

Vincent Villaret, CEO and Founder of IMPACT+

We Must Remain Committed to Sustainable Changes 

As advertising emissions remain high, it can be difficult to stay optimistic about the industry’s ability to deliver efficient and net-zero services in the short-term. But we mustn’t let these setbacks derail progress. The industry can reduce its impact if all players remain committed to sustainable changes, including better standardisation of CO2e metrics, collaboration on streamlined ad delivery and data transfers, wider adoption of green renewable-powered infrastructure, and transparent reporting that enables informed decisioning.

Antoine Mesuré, Chief HR Officer at Equativ

Adopting Sustainable Practices Has Already Made a Difference 

On Earth day, while we will rightly discuss how far the advertising industry has to go, it’s also crucial to highlight how much difference we have made by adopting responsible practices. At the technology level, vendors are achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions by switching to data centres using renewable energy. In economic terms, media buyers have started leveraging their spending power to do good – including embracing trading tools that allow them to transact against environmental goals and direct budgets towards publishers offering low-impact inventory. Small as they may seem, these incremental steps are essential to fuel the positive motivation that helps maintain sustainable momentum.

Emma Newman, CRO EMEA, PubMatic

Education is Key

Has the industry begun to take sustainability seriously? There are some positive signs that the sustainability mindset is growing, but there’s a significant green skills gap in the industry that prevents individuals from taking action. Our recent research showed that 96% of industry folk think advertising has the potential to become a force for good – but shockingly, only 56% think it is that now.

To overcome this, we must empower individuals to take action, and education is key. That’s why we created the Good-Media Academy, which offers free courses on climate change. It aims to give people the knowledge they need to be able to proactively mitigate the environmental impact of their campaigns and, ultimately, work towards an industry where sustainability is a core consideration in everything we do, not an afterthought.

Marisa Thomas, CMO, GoodLoop

More Efficient Targeting Can Help Reduce Carbon Emissions 

The demise of cookie-based targeting has signalled a move away from unconsented data and in the ad industry, encouraging AI-powered contextual and attention-based optimisation. More efficient targeting helps to reduce carbon emissions and optimising legacy data processing technologies through AI enables brands to do more with less. The industry’s focus now must be to clarify standards around calculating emissions, understand who is responsible for them and recognise which offsetting schemes are appropriate.

Jordi Capdevila, VP Marketing, Seedtag

Assessing Carbon Footprints is Pivotal 

It's imperative to take action to reduce the substantial carbon footprint created by our industry. Assessing carbon footprint across operations, supply chains, and media delivery is pivotal to identifying hotspots, and enabling strategies for reduction.

There's a spectrum of solutions that measure operational and campaign emissions, providing understanding of CO2 outputs and comparison against benchmarks. Businesses doing this will succeed in reducing carbon emissions across operations and media plans, minimising ad wastage, and aligning with industry-wide sustainability objectives.

Dean Nagib, Commercial Director UK, Azerion

Advertisers Should Adopt a ‘Less is More’ Mindset 

The advertising industry is focused on creating bigger and better solutions, but this doesn’t always take environmental impact into account. By adopting a ‘less is more’ mindset, advertisers can make moves towards becoming more sustainable – such as reducing unnecessary data storage and transfers, adopting sustainable cloud infrastructures, and prioritising quality over quantity in ad delivery – to make a considerable impact on overall emissions while also boosting efficiency.

Rob Sewell, Co-Founder and CEO, SmartFrame Technologies

Sustainability and Performance are Not Mutually Exclusive

Indeed, the commitment is there, but the approach is often misguided. Many people in our industry believe that sustainable practices compromise campaign performance, so progress is often halted by those waiting for “the right campaign” to test.

Oliver Deane, The GoodNet

Studies are now proving that the advertisers integrating sustainability metrics alongside performance are the ones making great progress. They are seeing that high attention, low wastage, supply curation and optimisation not only elevate campaign effectiveness but also enhance sustainability metrics like reduced carbon emissions.

The evidence is clear: sustainability and performance are not mutually exclusive but mutually beneficial.

Oliver Deane, co-founder, The GoodNet

AI-Driven Programmatic Technology Can be More Sustainable

Ensuring sustainability for the open web supply chain is hugely important. The good news is AI-driven programmatic advertising technology directly helps this approach, as a result of its efficiency in reducing wastage and then optimising better performing impressions for the buy-side. Supply-side curation also enables better matching versus this being done on the buy-side. All this new efficiency can reduce the QPS for DSPs, as they no longer have to work so hard to find the impressions that matter. We are seeing the positive impact of this on our cloud emissions and look forward to the acceleration of curation driving more positive impact for all. 

Filippo Gramigna, COO, Onetag