Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Digital Marketing with Data Standards

Data Standards for Digital Marketing Sustainability

No matter the company, your marketing department has probably discussed a campaign related to sustainability. But are you considering the carbon footprint of your marketing and campaign operations themselves?

It’s time to address the growing carbon footprint of digital media, marketing, and advertising. We can’t escape it, no matter where we hide in the metaverse. 

Maybe you’re launching a new line of products made with eco-friendly materials, or promoting an initiative that reduces shipping emissions, or even planting trees every time a customer buys a product. That’s great! 

But here’s some sobering stats: 

Advertising is responsible for an average 28% uptick in the carbon footprint of the average consumer, while our own research shows that a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – almost half what an average UK consumer produces in a year,” says Ryan Cochrane, COO of green adtech company Good-Loop via ExchangeWire.

The same company has also calculated the computing code for digital advertising to be at about 2% of the total emissions of the internet, as referenced by AdExchanger

The main culprits of a large-carbon-footprint digital marketing operation include: 

  • A large, complex, often siloed, and nearly always inefficient tech stack
  • An immense data load carrying content and campaign assets, plus the programmatic bids to get them in front of users
  • Unreliable data that leads to inaccurate reporting and problematic insights, which in turn drive wasteful strategies and spends

Pushing for sustainability in digital marketing means reducing the energy spent on creating, deploying, and measuring digital campaigns.

The goal here is not to shame you and your marketing team, but to plant seeds of efficiency that can begin to influence your practices. Advertising can be a lever to pull in a corporation’s sustainability pledges.

Tech Stacks with the Efficiency of a ‘60s Cadillac

The 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was a technological and vehicular marvel in its time. Beautiful, too.

What can this Cadillac teach us about sustainability in digital marketing?

It got (when brand new, at its peak of efficiency) an average 8.5 miles to the gallon. Yikes. 

Is your tech stack similar? Large, purposeful, even beautiful — yet wildly inefficient? 

ExchangeWire makes a bold prediction: “2022 will see more agencies take steps to reduce their emissions” — granted, “more” is hardly a stake in the ground, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. 

The carbon footprint of digital advertising comes from a distributed network and process, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to quantify. Or impossible to at least work towards and measure reductions. 

It’s the computational load behind massive bidding networks, often with overlapping inventory, that causes a multiplying carbon cost. 

What’s efficient for ad operations is actually pretty wasteful from a planet-saving perspective. Looking at you, programmatic. 

Crucially, simplifying the tech stack and the number of touchpoints in the digital advertising ecosystem will make a significant change in the carbon footprint. Every time a button is clicked or a file is transferred, there’s a computational load required. And computers don’t run on hopes and dreams — they run on energy, which is most often produced in ways that impact our carbon footprint. 

So what about the carbon footprint of the assets actually being managed across this ecosystem?

Digital Assets Have a Carbon-Producing Data Load

“Optimizing asset size is not just good for user experience, but also reduces the emissions involved in serving an ad and conserves the battery power and overall lifespan of a device receiving it,” explains Caroline Hugonenc, VP of global research & insights for Teads, a global media platform. 

The energy required to pass content back, forth, across, and through different networks and devices isn’t nominal. So when assets are optimized (into smaller sizes) and distribution is simplified, the data load shrinks. 

The amount of data we use and collect doesn’t have an intangible effect — rather it contributes to a computational load that requires energy. And of course, companies sharing data around the world require powerful data engines to make that happen. Just like the Cadillac above takes more fuel to move its excessive weight, digital media assets heavy in data take more power to move, operate, and interact with. 

And that’s just considering individual assets. What about ad campaigns with hundreds or thousands of assets, being displayed in dozens, hundreds, thousands of websites?

Ad clutter isn’t just a poor user experience, it can lead to a poorer human experience as it draws on the world’s energy supplies. And that’s just considering the ads that are seen and clicked — what about the ones that never reach a single eyeball?

How to Bring the Efficiency

Sure, your company can engage in carbon offsets to address the emissions created by marketing and any other business unit. You can also limit your advertising to only minimal, native-text style ads with no imagery or video — but that wouldn’t get anyone very excited. 

Yet without major upheaval to your digital marketing and advertising as it sits today, you can do things like limiting ad variations — sticking with the most successful instead of offering endless personalizations — cut down on complex supply paths, and consider off-peak hours for certain campaigns to run. 

Consider the 3 R approach of “remove, reduce, recycle” when it comes to media campaigns. Remove content aspects that aren’t necessary to tell your message. Reduce, or compress, your assets. And recycle what you can, considering incremental changes over completely new creative productions. 

You can also invest in data standards integrations to break down inefficient data silos, eliminate duplicative creative work, and get more value from the same or less data. 

Another benefit to implementing data standards is relying less on intermediary software to make data handoffs and translations and other tasks that can be discarded with better efficiency and simplified processes. Fewer partners, handoffs, touchpoints — you name it — means a lighter carbon load. When teams and tools speak the same data language, communication is wildly more efficient. 

Data with integrity, in many ways achieved by implementing standardization, also requires less (if any) resource-intensive processes like ETL. Back to our Cadillac, imagine if you had to fire up a gasoline-fueled power washer to hose down your land yacht prior to every time you wanted to drive it. It’s inefficiency on top of inefficiency. 

And how will you know which ad creative is most successful and effective without reliable data informing your reporting and measurement? You have to trust your data and be able to enrich it with data collected elsewhere. Again, data standards make this possible. They can also help you better leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to make smarter, more efficient decisions and investments. 

In the simplest sense, data standards maximize the value and utility of every technology, team, and dataset so you can actually trim down your operations rather than piling on more “fixes”. 

Read This Next