Programmatic advertising is wasteful. Huge amounts of consumer data are passed between hundreds of actors, in every bid request. Glimpse prevents personal data being transmitted, removing most of the energy-intensive data processing and dramatically reducing CO2 emissions.

We are proud to launch the Glimpse carbon calculator, a tool to help understand the carbon impact of digital advertising, and show how Glimpse can reduce that impact.

Data processing across the internet causes about 2% of global carbon emissions, a number that is now well recognized, and rising.

What is less well known is that digital advertising causes up to 10% of that figure. That’s an impact of 73 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

And this is just the digital supply chain of advertising.

There are many initiatives across the advertising industry helping to reduce the impact. But nearly all the focus is on reducing the harm from business operations, such as the production of adverts and travel to conferences. 

Some attention is focused on the digital transmission of creatives to the consumer. 

And very little is looking at the digital supply chain. We need more.

Everyone in the industry is familiar with “the Lumascape” – the diagram showing the huge number of third parties involved in adtech. SSPs, DMPs, DSPs, exchanges, verifiers, brand safety services – the diagram is well known because it covers such a vast number of players.

We know that the system is optimized around consumers’ personal data. Personal data is passed around the Lumascape, allowing targeted ads, retargeting, profile building, and measurement and optimization services. Every bid request sees that data passed to hundreds of adtech companies.

It isn’t a surprise, then, that this vast amount of processing is consuming significant energy, operating at the scale of global advertising.

From offsetting to reduction

This level of consumption is not sustainable. 73 million tonnes of CO2 annually is not justifiable. 

The good news is that we as an industry are recognizing the impact. Ad Net Zero’s intends to analyze the media supply chain, through their ‘Action 3’. Others are providing tools to measure the impact caused by the delivery of the creative.

We need to improve this in two ways.

First, we need to expand our attention from only looking at the transmission of the creative to the whole digital supply chain, to account for those hundreds of data processors. The impact of the supply chain is around four times more harmful than the impact of the creative being transmitted.

Second, we need to urgently move beyond offsetting. As with every other global industry, we know that offsetting isn’t enough. Offsetting is only acceptable once every possible reduction has been made.

 We need to focus on reducing the impact, not offsetting it.

Decarbonizing the supply chain

We measured the data being transmitted from websites into the advertising system. 91% of the data was consumers’ personal data. The other 9% was what was actually needed to define the bid request.

Imagine how many times that personal data is transmitted across the Lumascape, to hundreds of third parties. Those third parties store the data, and they process it. They pass it to other third parties, who store it and process it. 

Consider how much energy is consumed by these hundreds of actors processing consumer data. For every ad bought programmatically. Globally.

Our calculations show that a typical campaign of 10 million impressions, using a static image, has an impact of 3.6 tonnes of CO2. That’s split between two areas of impact:

  • The programmatic supply chain creates 3 tonnes of that impact.
  • Transmitting the creative to end-users creates around 600 kg of emissions.

Glimpse stops the personal data entering the bidstream. This reduces the amount of data flowing from the source by 91%. That reduction is then amplified across the supply chain. At every stage, less data is passed. Many participants are so heavily optimized for processing personal data that their function is removed entirely. Overall, we reduce emissions from the supply chain by 97%. That’s a reduction of 2.9 tonnes or 78% of the total impact.

Reducing the impact from the creative

That still leaves room for improvement. We still need to tackle the impact from transmitting the creative. Again, we need to reduce the impact, not simply measure it and offset. 

Advertisers can help by making the right choices around design and choosing the file-types and compression systems that minimize creative sizes.

Publishers have their part to play here as well. They can make a big difference by choosing the right design principles, such as not pre-loading all resources in advance. 

To find out more, please get in touch. We’d love to explain how to work with us to decarbonize programmatic and make it fit for a sustainable future. And we’ll be happy to share our full working.

Glimpse

Glimpse is a next-generation privacy platform for programmatic. We stop consumer data leaving publishers and so bring cast-iron compliance as well as dramatic sustainability benefits.

We also bring some pretty unique cookieless measurement and optimization tools – ones that are truly anonymous and which survive the cookiepocalypse. They work across cookieless environments now, bringing unique measurement and insights across all browsers including Safari.

We’re a B Corp, meaning that we have publicly signed up to the highest standards of corporate governance, pledging to have a positive impact across environmental and social issues. 

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