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27 . 10 . 21

Ad Net Zero asks for all media channels to be carbon accountable

Words by: Print Power
As the world gears up to COP26, Ad Net Zero is encouraging the ad industry to account for the hidden environmental effects of all media channels. Could its carbon calculator eventually level the playing field for print?

Did you know that UK advertising agency CO2 emissions exceed 84,000 tonnes per year? That’s equivalent to the annual CO2 output of 15,500 people. According to a report by Ad Net Zero, the UK advertising industry could have a carbon footprint that comes close to a hefty one million tonnes.

Today, every company is being asked to take urgent action to reduce their carbon emissions. And thankfully, many industries have been inspired to put a strategy in place to reduce their carbon footprint and help towards reversing climate change. Take the automotive industry. Mobility comes with huge emissions, and the future of automotive vehicles depends on investment in electric and engines. That’s why many car companies have set a date for phasing out internal combustion engines and going fully electric instead.

Being a responsible company or sector is what’s needed to combat global warming and to invest in the future. It’s encouraging news then, that the ad industry is responding with an initiative called Ad Net Zero, the authors of the report above. Launched last year, they’re about to celebrate their first-year anniversary with a two-day online Global Summit on 3 and 4 November. Broadcast from Glasgow’s STV studios directly opposite the COP26 conference, it will host a programme of thought leadership and practical workshops for advertising professionals. Over 700 people have registered for the event with talks from Facebook’s new Global Advertising Chief Nicola Mendelsohn and WPP’s CEO Mark Read.

The initiative was set up in response to concern about slashing emissions from the development, production and placement of advertising. A cross sector of organisations got together to address the crisis, and out of that, the Advertising Association (AA) created a Climate Working Group with the help of the industry’s thinktank Credos.

In partnership with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), the Ad Net Zero campaign sets out a five-point plan of action for businesses signing up to the initiative. Backed by Unilever, it already has 76 leading supporters from across the UK advertising industry on board.

Our ambition is to get the climate impact of our industry’s operations down to ‘real net zero’, in terms of carbon output, within the next decade. This goal is within our reach by the end of 2030, through a clear series of actions
Keith Weed
President/Advertising Association

Earth matters

At the Global Summit, they’ll be laying out their five-point commitment plan. That:

1 All companies should commit to reducing their carbon emissions by reducing travel, fossil energy use and waste. 

2 Advertisers, agencies and production companies should measure and reduce their impact with support from AdGreen’s tools and training that let you measure the footprint of the production office, logistics and travel.

3 Media agencies to commit to the IPA Media Future’s Group Climate Charter and respond to it responsibly. The Charter introduces best practice on three levels:

  • Operations: reducing the carbon impact of your company’s business operations
  • Output: reducing the carbon impact of media planning and buying. The Charter’s carbon calculator lets agencies work with clients to develop lower carbon media plans. This is a hugely important tool as channels will be able to be compared on their carbon emissions.
  • Industry wide: adopting the measures from Ad Net Zero, such as reducing the impact of ad production and promoting consumer choices.

4 Organisers of awards and events to include sustainability criteria into awards and to plan events to minimise carbon footprints.

5 Agencies and clients to use advertising’s positive influence to promote more sustainable consumer choices and behaviours.

Keith Weed, President of the Advertising Association explains: ‘Our ambition is to get the climate impact of our industry’s operations down to ‘real net zero’, in terms of carbon output, within the next decade. This goal is within our reach by the end of 2030 as the report sets out, through a clear series of actions.’

Print v digital

The Ad Net Zero report notes that 71 per cent of people working in the advertising world are worried about the negative effects the industry is having on the environment. With so many in the industry on-board when it comes to being serious about cutting their emissions, and various carbon calculators coming into play, does this mean that print’s emissions will be judged fairly against digital? After all, there’s a myth that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper-based communication.

However, according to a recent trend report by Two Sides, a campaign funded by various companies in the paper and print industry, paper and print products are among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters at 0.8 per cent, while the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry accounts for 2.5 to 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is expected to rise to 14 per cent by 2040. The same report reveals that despite these figures, 66 per cent of consumers surveyed think digital technology is more environmentally friendly than paper.

Stand up and be counted

Is there a simple comparison that will level the playing field for print and close this perception v reality gap? The IPA Media Future Group’s Media Carbon Calculator uses a range of data sources, including DEFRA electricity emissions factors, device power outputs and energy intensity to calculate the carbon emissions associated with a media plan based on a campaign’s channel mix.

With the calculator, the industry will be able to measure the carbon footprint of a campaign that agencies put together for clients across all channels. And in doing so, they can plan and buy more responsibly and work to reduce a campaign’s impact on the climate.

It calculates the carbon emissions based on the media mix, taking into account the average emissions in each channel. Variables include desktop v mobile consumption, file sizes, view time, screen time, power consumption, run cycles and posting cycles.

However, at the moment, the calculator is limited to end delivery and currently excludes the entire production cycle or impact of content delivery, data centres and web infrastructure. So while they can measure the number of print’s posting cycles, they don’t take into consideration its supply chain.

‘Measurement is based on standard formats, but there is also an option to include custom formats in the calculation,’ says Pauline Robson, Managing Partner, Head of BLINK Consulting UK, MediaCom UK – one of the backers of the IPA Climate Charter. ‘The calculator is really at the first phase of its development, and we are not suggesting that it is used as an input into planning and channel selection at this stage. Rather it is a starting point for the industry to begin considering the emissions associated with our work.’

‘The calculator is not currently at a point where it can be used as an input to optimise campaigns – it needs more refinement and more granular data before we can do that, and we are looking at how we develop it further to make this possible. We really welcome input and engagement from media owners and trade bodies in doing this. For example, we have been engaging with the out of home industry and the print industry in the UK and look forward to working with them more closely.’


Print, the sustainable partner

Jan Sanghera, the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero Project Manager sums up: ‘When creating the Ad Net Zero plan we recognised that media are not equal when it comes to their carbon impact. Though buyers and advertisers do recognise that media owners across all channels have made great strides in reducing the carbon impact of their operations. For example, our report shows that the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) has supported members by conducting research into environmental credentials and the economic costs of different types of magazine wrapping, including compostable plastic films and paper wraps. The News Media Association (NMA) reports that in 2019 the recycled paper content of UK newspapers was just over 63%, and the combined recycled/certified fibre content ration stood at 95%.

‘What our plan does say is that the weight and mix chosen for a campaign can make a big difference. Advertisers and their media investment advisors need to know so they can plan their schedules with their carbon footprint in mind.’

As companies such as Newsworks, Haymarket and other publishers sign up to the Charter, hopefully we’ll see a much more developed calculator that takes more variables into consideration, like the recyclability of paper that Sanghera mentions. A proportion of future subscription fees will go towards investment in making the calculator more sophisticated, so hopefully we’ll see changes soon. And as publishers, direct mail companies and printers are required to be transparent about the impact of their products, then carbon emissions as a metric could prove a huge boost for print as a sustainable partner to super charge a media mix. Count print in!