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What’s the carbon footprint of an online ad? There’s an app for that

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'There’s questions that can be asked on the creative side, for example; do you need the all singing and dancing HTML5 creative,' says Converge Digital's Ian Maxwell. Photo: Depositphotos

'There’s questions that can be asked on the creative side, for example; do you need the all singing and dancing HTML5 creative,' says Converge Digital's Ian Maxwell. Photo: Depositphotos

Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital. Picture from converge-digital.com

Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital. Picture from converge-digital.com

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'There’s questions that can be asked on the creative side, for example; do you need the all singing and dancing HTML5 creative,' says Converge Digital's Ian Maxwell. Photo: Depositphotos

The internet is a carbon intensive thing. Around 4.1 billion people – that’s 54pc of the global population – are now online, and the carbon footprint of the devices and systems they use is estimated to account for almost 4pc of global greenhouse emissions. These emissions are predicted to double by 2025.

Digital advertising is part of the problem. Ethical advertising company Good-Loop has found a typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – a third of what an average US consumer produces in a year.

Purpose Disruptors is an ad industry network, promoting attitudes, behaviours and brands aligned with a net zero world by 2030.

It found that carbon emissions that result from the uplift in sales generated by advertising in the UK in 2019 were the equivalent of 47 coal-fired power plants running for a year, meaning advertising is adding an extra 28pc to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK.

Enter Converge Digital. The Irish AdTech platform has launched an online tool to help marketers measure, reduce and offset the entire end-to-end carbon footprint of their digital advertising.

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Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital. Picture from converge-digital.com

Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital. Picture from converge-digital.com

Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital. Picture from converge-digital.com

The tool promises to monitor the energy consumption of each company along the entire advertising supply chain to provide a comprehensive overview of the true CO2 emission value, including emissions from agency overheads, content production and emissions from serving the ads themselves, such as page load, device energy usage and data collection.

So how’s it going? Pretty well, according to Ian Maxwell, Founder and CEO of Converge Digital.

“The reaction is positive,” he says. “There’s stronger demand for ethical ways of media buying. And people have been talking about this for a while – but it’s been hard to conceptualise. To be honest, when they start to see the numbers their first question is ‘is the decimal point in the right place?’”

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According to Maxwell multiple clients are now optimising campaigns for carbon emissions – mind you, only after their targets have been met. What specific steps are they taking? “It’s a little bit of everything,” he says.

“There’s questions that can be asked on the creative side, for example; do you need the all singing and dancing HTML5 creative, or what can you achieve for the static jpeg image?

"There’s hundreds of different combinations tweaks that can be made to reduce the carbon while still achieving those business outcomes and we’re starting to see the agency partners in particular picking up on this.”

Laura Costello is the lead organiser for Purpose Disruptors in Ireland. She is positive about Converge Digital’s tool. “It will deliver useful data and invite greater critical awareness of media channel choice,” she says, “which should help move things forward in the right direction”.

"However, I do worry about carbon tunnel vision – calculators themselves won’t drive the real transformation needed in our industry.

“Globally the marketing and advertising industry has been broadly established as enemy number two – after fossil fuel – in the context of climate, and rightly so. The level of influence we have in driving cultural narratives is one that we have not yet claimed total responsibility for. But inspiring movements have started.

Tech author Gerry McGovern is sceptical about initiatives like Converge Digital’s tool. ‘It’s largely greenwashing’

"There are some brilliant campaigns being run to encourage agency-land and creatives to stop working on fossil fuel projects.

“One lens I’d love to see shift is seeing people as citizens rather than consumers,” Costello says. “We have the talent and the tools to help our clients rethink the role of their business in society in more visionary ways – as an industry we are superbly placed to do this because the climate crisis is also a crisis of imagination and creativity.

"Culture is one of the most powerful change-agents we can harness, and we’re at the centre of that potential.

"This presents an exciting and unique opportunity for leadership to pick a side, especially as young employees are getting more concerned about the net positive impact of the work they do.”

Gerry McGovern, author of World Wide Waste: How digital is killing the planet and what to do about it is sceptical about initiatives like Converge Digital’s tool. “It’s largely greenwashing,” he says.

“The core problem our society faces is that we consume too much and the primary objective of marketing and advertising is to increase consumption. When advertising and marketing starts focusing on reducing consumption, on encouraging people to hold onto their products longer and get them repaired, then we’ll be making real progress.”


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