If it is unthinkable, in 2022, not to evaluate the “business” ROI of its advertisements, calculating the environmental impact of its digital communications is not yet part of the “good gestures” adopted for the planet. But, times are changing. “The sector has been waking up for two years and we are finally experiencing a momentum on measuring the ecological, social and societal impact of marketing”, rejoices Assaël Adary, co-founder of the independent consulting and research firm, Occurrence. The author of Responsible Communication and Marketing (Dunod, 2022), regrets the ten years lost by the sector, he who admits to having taken a passion, from 2010, for the international standard ISO 26000, dedicated to the social responsibility of organizations. In 2012, Assaël Adary also participated in what the standard he calls “122 very poetic pages”is available in a sectoral application guide specific to communication professions.
So why the carbon calculators, and other tools for measuring the impact of campaigns, are only now emerging? It will have been necessary to wait for the combination of several factors “exogenous and endogenous”, as Assaël Adary explains. In addition to a data culture and “good old excel spreadsheet”not always well shared in the communication sector, it is “the pressure exerted by the company and by the young talents internally, combined with the pressure of the legislator” which, this year, pushed the measurement of the carbon impact of digital technology to the top of the to-do list of advertising professionals.
Thus, while the latter do not hesitate to make advertising the armed wing of the environmental transition, the Bousquet – Leroy report, submitted following the Citizens’ Convention last June, evoked the establishment of “climate contracts “, through which the actors concerned make concrete commitments to the regulator. And media companies are not the only ones concerned: on December 16, 2021, Barbara Pompili, Minister of Ecological Transition, brought together the players in the sector to invent the responsible advertising of tomorrow. Among the measures mentioned: the obligation for advertisers making more than 100,000 euros of advertising investment per year to declare whether or not they adhere to a climate contract, thus making commitments to the regulator. Enough to help the entire sector to formalize its promises in the fight against climate change. Among the areas of work mentioned, reducing the impact of campaigns and setting up indicators to measure it are the ones that have given rise to the most concrete actions, as evidenced by the multitude of calculators available on the market.
1 campaign = 35 return trips Paris-New York?
What is the ecological impact of a digital advertising campaign? To find out – and let it be known – the fifty-five consulting firm released the calculator. Result: 71 tons of greenhouse gases (CO2) are emitted by a classic digital campaign, based on video advertising, supplemented by paid referencing on search engines (SEA), sponsored posts on social networks (social paid) and display in display or programmatic display. That is the equivalent, for one person, of 35 round trips by air from Paris to New York… or the annual carbon footprint of around 7 French people, for a single campaign. Staggering? “Digital is responsible for around 3.5% of global CO2 emissions, growing at 6% per year. That’s more than civil aviation! We can no longer afford to continue this worrying trend, while global warming is at work”slice Ludovic Moulard, Head of delivery management within fifty-five and member of the Shift Project – think tank which works in favor of an economy freed from the carbon constraint.
In this public study measuring the carbon footprint of the main digital advertising channels (excluding organic channels and CRM), emissions related to creative production are taken into account – management and travel, filming, post-production, offices – and carbon emissions related to the advertising device as such: distribution (depending on the network and data center) and viewing of digital content (depending on the device), as well as audience targeting (data storage and audience calculation). Result: a typical shoot would represent 35 tons of “equivalent” CO2, on a par with broadcasting (36 tons). Targeting is equivalent to 100 kilos of CO2 emitted.
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1 email campaign = 14 return trips Paris-New York?
A popular contact channel for marketers, email marketing would represent a sending volume equivalent to fourteen round trips from Paris to New York each year, for a team of 100 employees (source: Validity Inc.). The weight of an e-mail is estimated at 0.17 grams CO2 equivalent, according to digital marketer Sendinblue, who sought to measure its own carbon footprint. Signatory of the Climate Act – a collective that brings together companies committed to reducing their environmental impact -, Sendinblue has quantified, with Aktio, its own impact at 4,552 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over one year. A result that takes into account direct carbon emissions, but also indirect emissions such as data storage centers, business travel, the software used or even the food and drinks made available in the offices. Emissions whose weight represents, according to Sendinblue, half the impact of an e-mail. Same observation with the Kiliba solution, which aims, via more precise targeting of campaigns, and therefore the sending of fewer messages for an equivalent result (1000 clicks), a weight of 0.24 grams per email, against 2 grams per email as part of a non-targeted campaign.
How many trees should be planted for an emailing campaign? This is the question that many advertisers adept at carbon offsetting must have asked themselves. Since 2020, Canada Goose has measured, and published, each year the carbon footprint of its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from its headquarters, factories, stores and transportation. For its latest “Live in the Open” campaign, the Canadian brand has also worked to reduce the carbon footprint of the filming of its promotional film. In partnership with the production agency nuevo, she explains that she reduced the carbon footprint of her filming by 40%, “a figure compensated compared to a traditional creative agency”. How ? By planting 100 trees (25 tonnes of CO2 offset, according to Canada Goose), creating 17m² of wildflower meadows and wildlife habitats, donating £2000 to charities and 80 hot meals for homeless shelters, support for ethically run local businesses, “which reduces the impact of the supply chain”specifies the mark, or, even, the compensation of 40 tons of carbon emissions due to international flights.
Commendable efforts, which go beyond the environmental spectrum alone, but which are no longer enough. “Carbon offset promises are not a solution to the problemshares Pierre Harand, Partner of fifty-five. Planting trees, for example, to offset the use of fossil fuels, is not tenable even though we are deforesting to fuel our way of life. We have to change our behavior.” For Assaël Adary, it is thus now a question of “renunciation”, namely “what is a brand willing to give up to have a lower environmental impact?”. A complex shift in mindset, “especially since the cost of carbon offsetting, which is still too low, represents a blank check to pollute”regrets the co-founder of the firm Occurrence.
To halve its environmental impact, without compromising the performance of its digital advertisements, fifty-five therefore offers more “realistic” solutions. Brands are invited to favor “local” filming (to limit air travel and encourage the rental of equipment on site), to make more use of 3D rather than shooting and, even, to avoid shootings by preferring the recycling of films and/or existing shots.
Second series of advice: lighten the rendering of video, the most “heavy” advertising format. It is therefore recommended to favor shorter videos and lower resolutions to reduce the weight. Brands also need to rethink their targeting. fifty-five recalls the basics: it is necessary to target the most qualified audiences, in order to reduce unnecessary impressions that generate emissions. With this in mind, the firm offers a new indicator, the “gCO2PM”, the carbon cost in g CO2 equivalent for 1000 impressions (the twin of the well-known “CPM”) to compare search, display, programmatic, video and social channels.
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To reduce the impact of broadcasting, the idea could be to use the Wifi connection more than the mobile network, which emits six times more CO2. “In content platforms like YouTube, one of the targeting criteria is Wi-Fi. Switching half of your targeting to Wi-Fi drastically reduces your carbon bill”, says Pierre Harand. Finally, last suggestion of fifty-five: the reduction of the number of stakeholders in programmatic auctions – because the more intermediaries and competitors there are, the more auction calculations and therefore emissions there are. Once is not custom: less is more.
A state of mind that is all the more important as digital uses develop. To reduce intermediaries and support the development of the “metaverse”, many brands will be tempted to turn to blockchain and VR, whose environmental impact is certain: let’s not forget that it is the production of devices, processors, graphics cards or servers that weighs the most on nature. Moreover, it is the most accessible field of engagement for brands: most have no past to assume in terms of digital uses! No risk of being canceled, and all the good reasons to be up to the challenge now.