Adtech – where are the carbon emissions coming from?

Brands must plan toward fewer, more impactful campaigns in a more sustainable strategy

Luca Masiello - Partnerships, Northern Europe, Xandr

Senior Manager


The importance of sustainability needs no introduction, both in the media and in our daily lives. From the way we travel, to how we recycle at home and, more recently, to the way we consume digital content. Whilst advertising and content consumption may seem an unusual tie to the conversation around sustainability, unfortunately digital more than makes its mark. With 1.9 billion websites currently in existence and ballooning asset sizes for ads and webpages, digital now accounts for more carbon emissions than the aviation industry – yikes.

Back to the beginning

It can be hard to comprehend how emissions from digital advertising can outweigh an industry like aviation, but it is a bit like plastic. Whilst one plastic bottle itself isn’t an issue, single-use plastic with no recycling is. Content on the web has grown exponentially since its inception, and today its environmental impact has to be considered.

With every new advert adding more carbon emissions, brands should be thinking about how less is more and ensuring they are creating memorable, more enduring campaigns.

Luca Masiello, Advertiser Partnerships, Xandr

The sheer volume of global websites that need to be maintained, for example, is huge. As organisations develop, they continuously build new websites and microsites to support changing business needs. New pages are added but rarely removed. These unused, unneeded content pages often form part of a website that has grown much larger to accommodate all historic new pages. The reality is this leads to vast amounts of carbon emissions generated purely by hosting these mega websites through hyperscale data centres.

When looking at a company as a whole there are three emissions to be determined, commonly referred to as ‘scopes’. The first two come from an organisation’s day-to-day business activities: the energy to power buildings, offices and vehicles. The third is generated by a company’s supply chain, often accounting for more than 90% of total carbon waste. In digital advertising it’s this third set of emissions that potentially carries the gravest impact for planet. These emissions are the result of the vast energy input required to power elements like the servers, the cloud computing and hosting, content production, and everything else that enables the digital media ecosystem to continue working. In order to become truly ‘sustainable’, an organisation must analyse all three scopes together and make the necessary adjustments to reduce unnecessary emissions and find ways to offset those that can’t be cut.

Education is key

While many organisations in our industry are committing to making positive changes to their supply chains, there are still many that do not yet have a plan in place to address their carbon footprint. Education on digital advertising’s true environmental impact will be a key starting point – both for the industry but also for consumers at large. For a consumer this can start in the office as organisations have a responsibility to educate their employees on how to reduce their day-to-day scope one emissions, such as removing old content from their laptops.

For businesses’ third scope it is imperative they partner with companies who can help them reduce their carbon emissions. For advertisements, marketers should focus on creating sustainable and not disposable content. With every new advert adding more carbon emissions, brands should be thinking about how less is more and ensuring they are creating memorable, more enduring campaigns that reach a smaller audience but with a message that resonates much more. They can take this to the next level by tracking campaign emissions and seeking to implement learnings for next time.

Everyone in the programmatic supply chain has a role to play, whether it is a publisher prioritising sustainable solutions, or an advertiser limiting their campaigns’ emissions – working together and continuing to educate others helps everyone do right by our planet.

Guest Author

Luca Masiello - Partnerships, Northern Europe, Xandr

Senior Manager


As Senior Manager, Partnerships, Luca looks after brand and agency partnerships for Xandr’s offering in Northern Europe. He is responsible for working with new partners at the cutting edge of programmatic, ensuring they are leveraging best in class adtech to hit their advertising goals. Luca’s background is in both agency and adtech companies, having worked in the industry for almost a decade now.

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