Sharethrough launches tool to measure carbon footprint of digital ad campaigns

Montreal-based global ad exchange Sharethrough this week launched a free tool that lets advertisers calculate approximately how much carbon is produced by their digital ad campaigns.

By inputting the number of impressions, the type of creative and the type of inventory, the Carbon Emissions Estimator can calculate how many metric tons of carbon a campaign will generate.

“Digital advertising is often thought of as a more environmentally conscious alternative to print ads or mailers because there’s no physical waste. However, the fact of the matter is that digital ads have an impact on the environment as well, even if we can’t see it,” said JF Cote, CEO of Sharethrough, which says it is “taking a human-centric approach to advertising and monetization.”

Digital ad campaigns generate carbon emissions because of the high amount of energy required, explained Sharethrough CMO Benoit Skinazi (photo), in an email interview with The Message.

“It requires energy to power all the devices and servers that will make possible the data transmission, creative hosting, ad delivery, content production, etc.,” he said. “Where programmatic technologies have increased the performance of digital advertising by allowing advertisers to buy advertising in real-time while optimizing the targeting capabilities, it has also increased the carbon footprint of digital advertising by generating way more server to server communications.”

Sharethrough’s estimates are based on hundreds of millions of ad impressions served through its private digital ad marketplaces. “The carbon footprint of those ads come from Scope3, a third-party independent company specializing in measuring the carbon emissions in digital advertising,” said Skinazi.

Using that data, Sharethrough estimates one million ad impressions produce the carbon equivalent of a single passenger’s flight from London to Boston and back.

However Sharethrough said its Estimator tool is intended to raise awareness about the problem of carbon emissions in digital advertising, and not “as a source of truth for campaign reporting or investments on carbon removal projects as it would require a deeper campaign analysis (for example, using a partner like Scope3).”

Digital advertising emissions come in three categories:

  • Creative emissions: all emissions generated by the ad production and creative hosting;
  • Supply path emissions: all emissions generated by all the intermediaries between the advertisers and the publishers (demand-side platforms, supply-side platforms, etc.); and
  • Publisher emissions: all the emissions generated by the publishers (website and apps) each time a web page is visited.

Many factors impact the carbon footprint of an ad,” said Skinazi. The type of creative, whether its display or video, for example, the type of devices that are targeted, the complexity of the supply path between the advertiser and the publisher, and even where in the world the campaign runs will effect emissions.

“This is why the Carbon Estimator requires those kinds of information to better estimate the carbon footprint,” he said. “For example, an ad delivered in a [country] where the energy is mostly produced from hydro-electricity might have a lower carbon footprint than an ad delivered in a [country] where most of the energy is produced from coal.”

David Brown