The Net on Net Zero Carbon Media

As 2021 draws to a close, IAB Canada is looking forward and preparing for the coming year by conducting stakeholder discussions and evaluating the current state of the global supply chain. One of several topics becoming increasingly relevant in 2022, is the issue of net zero advertising investments. Marketers and agencies are launching initiatives ranging from ad impact awareness research all the way to public pledges to hit net-zero carbon emissions by specified dates. Meanwhile, the supply chain, equally committed to driving positive change, is interested in better understanding how to deliver tangibly towards the new world view and buy side expectations. To start the conversation, IAB Canada completed some preliminary fact finding to help start the conversation and is currently connecting with international IABs to coordinate information, research, and potential policy to drive the industry forward in a realistic and impactful way. 

As agencies begin to explore the environmental impact of their media investments they work to define their potential role in the climate crisis. Among the early findings is the immense computational power needed to serve ads programmatically. Similar to what we recently reported on the lack of sustainability of NFTs, the internet represents an estimated 4% of emissions today which is more than the pre-covid airline industry. Any area of the internet that is dealing with split second transactions is bound to be responsible for some of that percentage and agencies are starting to take note and are already exploring options to offset the impact to hit net-zero carbon in their media buys. For context, the term “net zero” refers to the theoretical amount of carbon offset/output where global warming stops and more technically, in the Paris Agreement, it is defined as “achieving a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.

One of the leading international holding companies leaning into the crisis, WPP announced their commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2025 and across its entire supply chain by 2030. The media company plans to source all their operational electricity through renewable sources by 2025 and investigate the production and placement of advertising content in media channels from television and press to radio and online through the lens of sustainability to achieve their net zero commitment. Including emissions from the placement of advertising is a first for the industry and we are anticipating more commitments of this nature will follow.

Recognizing that climate change is a priority for many of its global advertising clients, WPPs initiative to reach net zero by 2030 will help ensure clients can meet their own targets. GroupM is consolidating its existing carbon calculators to allow a single view of emissions across channels and is making them available to clients at scale. Carbon data will be integrated into media vendor procurement requests, and all media plans provided to clients will be net zero by the end of the decade.  

The good news is that the industry has been working on efficiencies that have the fortunate byproduct of addressing waste in the supply chain. As we work towards eliminating fraud, tightening controls on supply paths and choking out redundancies, inevitably there will be an impact on computational power required to support the digital media industry. The more we focus our attention on streamlining ad tech through elegant architectural planning and coding, the more we are contributing to reducing our footprint.

In the meantime, several IAB Canada members have made significant changes to their operations and ways of doing business to signal their commitment. Programs include recycling initiatives (particularly in hardware categories like phones, computers etc.) to environmentally friendly building certifications and everything in between. News publishers have made efforts to dedicate editorial coverage of the crisis on a consistent and prioritized basis while brands have been adamant about producing ads using vendors that can demonstrate their sustainable practices and certifications. While it may not be immediately possible for every media stakeholder in the supply chain to remove C02 from their activities, there are emerging opportunities to support environmental projects that would offset their own emissions. Reforesting and regreening the planet represents a clear opportunity for brands to offset more CO2 than they contribute by simply planting trees. In the short to mid-term, this type of activity can help secure meaningful partnerships between the media supply chain and the buy side. We have been watching several publishers take on the crisis by investing in corporate social responsibility programs that aim to fulfil their goals while exploring longer term solutions to hit net zero.

As IAB Canada brings in the Gold Standard, a global supply chain accreditation program to the Canadian media marketplace, the issue of sustainable practices will inevitably surface in our evaluations and standard setting. We invite our members to participate in these critical discussions to help raise the industry bar and help bring the industry forward. If you are an IAB Canada member and would like to join the conversation, please reach out to