Sustainability has Landed in Online Advertising – An Earth Day 2022 Reflection

The last in-person Cannes Lions Festival in 2019, placed the practice of “greenwashing”, which means talking up the benefit to the environment of a practice, product, or service despite there being no underlying change taking place under the microscope. One memorable quote from the sessions was that “we all say we want to be environmentally friendly, but we still won’t give up our white toilet paper”. These words seemingly foreshadowed what became a run on that very paper product during the early stages of the pandemic. Fast forward to 2022, Cannes in-person is roaring back and this time, the theme of sustainability is baked into its DNA. What makes this move fascinating to us, is that it is a true reflection of the progress the entire industry has made to bring congruency to the hand-wringing and voiced commitments to drive positive impact on our planet. We are finally arriving. 

In October 2021, IAB Canada began to explore the emerging concerns expressed from ad agencies about investing in low to zero carbon media. This prompted us to probe industry stakeholders to better understand what the definition of low to zero carbon media is in the context of online advertising so that we could begin to collaborate on developing standards and best practices. 

Initial findings in our discovery phase revealed that programmatic advertising was indeed a major source of emissions given its dependence on servers and other intermediary technologies that compute, bid on and deliver on billions of dollars in ad units each year. The good news is some of the smartest minds in the industry are on the case. 

Following are three areas to make us feel hopeful heading into this year’s Earth Day: 

  1. The industry is now able to measure and benchmark carbon emissions through advanced models. Organizations like Scope3 have been cracking on delivering sound equations to assess emissions and report on impact by advertising campaign. This work is critical for media investors that are bound by specific limits commitments or that are in the early stages of evaluating their overall impact so that they can begin gauging their performance year over year. 
  1. Publishers are committed to reducing their emissions. Recognizing that emissions are tightly hinged to the sheer number of vendors associated with a publisher, the general level of awareness is now established, and publishers are actively looking at strategies to streamline their vendor lists. Once the industry establishes best practices and standards that are rooted in the science of accurate assessments, the environmental status of a vendor can then be included into certifications like the IAB international gold standard
  1. Tighter security, elegant coding and fraud have all been key priorities for the IAB internationally. Years ago, there were billions of invalid transactions that were generating immeasurable emission levels. Today, as we see advanced methods of coding to help lessen the computation loads and solutions like ads.txt and ads.cert effectively choking out bad actors, the industry is making great strides towards lower emissions. This will continue to improve over the coming years as sustainability is raised in the consciousness of ad tech programmers.  

We are encouraged to see such positive movement in our industry on this important area of innovation. Just last week, we saw announcements from MiQ, The Trade Desk and Pinterest about their commitments and we have seen a tremendous amount of interest from our publisher members as well. 

IAB Canada will be coordinating efforts with IABs internationally and plan to kick off our local working group in May. To participate in this group or in any other IAB Canada initiatives, please contact us at