Birds eye view

How can we all improve our digital eco-footprint?

The climate crisis has been making headlines for decades now, with a very hot warning from the 40-degree weather the UK saw last month and the flooding in Pakistan, to name two recent examples.  

Over the years, The Kite Factory has worked with clients to produce campaigns that highlight the effects of climate change on people all around the globe. And following the unprecedented heatwave we experienced this summer; the UK has recognised that climate change is well and truly here. 

What is the impact of digital marketing on the environment? 

I want to add an upfront disclaimer: I’m not trying to suggest that digital marketers are driving climate change. Of course, we know that large corporations are the key contributors through the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and so forth, but for this article, we’ll be looking at our industry in particular. 

We often incorporate small changes in our home and social lives to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste (paper straws, anyone?). But how much thought do we put towards our working lives and ecological footprint once we’ve stepped into those glorious air-conditioned, laptop-whirring spaces? 

When measuring our environmental impact, we naturally start with our surroundings and resources, so let’s look at office spaces. To list a few basic examples: 

  • How do you travel to the office? If you drive, can you opt to walk, cycle or take public transport instead? 
  • How many lights do you use? Can you turn them off when rooms and spaces aren’t in use? 
  • How much paper are you using? Can you recycle what you don’t need or reduce your usage in the first place? 
  • Do you leave your monitor on when you disconnect your laptop for the day? It’s a myth that turning it off and on uses more power than leaving it on standby – turn it off! 

We all understand how physical actions like these can impact our environmental impact, but how about our digital efforts?  

Did you know that the act of sending an email emits CO2? Up to 26g in fact. CO2 is produced by the electricity you use to power your device and networks, the energy needed to power the internet and the energy to store the email in the cloud. I sent 30 emails on Monday, meaning I may have generated up to 780g of CO2!  

How can we understand and mitigate our impact? 

First, we need to understand what we’re dealing with and how much of an impact we have. Then, once we have recognised our impact, we must commit to making change by putting in plans to reduce our carbon footprint and offset remaining emissions. Whilst we know due to the nature of our roles, we can’t be pioneers in this space; we can mitigate as much as we can. Committing to change is possible through various organisations. For instance, you can sign your business up to the Science Based Targets Initiative to pledge to limit warming to 1.5°C.  

I’ve already mentioned some key actions we can take within our surroundings, but we can go further here: you could bring a packed lunch in a reusable lunchbox, put food scraps in the food waste bin, turn down the heating (put on that lovely jumper you were gifted at Christmas). We can also look at actions from a company-wide level: partner with banks investing in green energy, register with sustainable energy companies, etc. 

But how can we be cleverer and more sustainable with our advertising? At The Kite Factory, we’re taking steps to improve our sustainability credentials, having signed up to the IPA Media Climate Charter to better understand our environmental impact as a whole and for our clients. The charter ‘provides media agencies with the tools and resources to support their transition to a zero-carbon future’. These tools cover a range of aspects, from guides outlining how to reach Ad Net Zero to carbon calculators to media plans to media owner showcases. 

What can we do to improve our digital eco-footprint?

Be selective with partners and clients. 

Did you know that 28% of clients will only work with accredited agencies that can prove their sustainable credentials? This will inevitably increase, so we must look at our whole agency ecosystem to see how we can make changes. We can look to make more conscious decisions in terms of who we work with, from clients to media partners and platforms, to energy providers.  

Include eco-friendly platformsin plans 

When planning media, we can look to include sustainable partners who are paving the way to a greener world. For instance, search engine Ecosia will plant a tree for every search conducted on their platform. The platform features a Chrome extension where you can track your tree-planting progress and explore your impact on ecosystems and communities. You can advertise on Ecosia through Microsoft Ads by including syndicated partners in your targeting settings. Not only are you then helping to plant trees, but you may also achieve some low CPCs here thanks to lower competition.  

We can also look to work with other responsible media owners, such as Threeps, that offer a solution whereby users can unlock a charity donation in exchange for their attention. In this case, once a user watches the video in full, a donation (at no cost to the user, the donation comes from the tech fee) is given to a partner charity such as a tree-planting or conservation organisation. We expect to see strong results for clients here whilst also driving benefits for charities. 

Implement sustainable website formats 

We often look at improvements to landing pages for SEO or CRO benefit, but these changes can also vastly improve website sustainability. When undertaking such projects, we encourage clients to reduce content, compress images, and reduce the number of pages in their sitemap, improving page speed and accessibility. These changes can easily be implemented but can make a huge difference. You can reduce page load times and your emissions simultaneously, so it’s a win-win!    

Optimise formats for faster loading 

Different media formats create different levels of emissions. For instance, a standard display campaign produces less CO2 than a video campaign. Generally, video formats take longer to load and watch, meaning they require more data. More data = more emissions. When planning campaigns, we strive to drive performance and will therefore advise the assets best suited to drive KPIs, but we can also optimise the higher emission assets for fast-loading to ensure we see results while also reducing associated emissions.  

Offset emissions 

It’s best to reduce emissions, but we can offset them when this isn’t possible. Most people associate offsetting with flying, but you can offset pretty much anything. Once you calculate your emissions from your media campaigns, many websites offer various projects to offset, from worldwide reforestation to building renewable energy, to landfill management. As an example, you can offset through Carbon Footprint or Forest Carbon. However, it is essential to remember that this isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card – let’s focus on reducing energy consumption over offsetting. 

Unsubscribe from email newsletters 

This may sound simple, but every little makes a difference. Don’t just delete those spammy emails you don’t even remember signing up for, let alone read; take one minute from your day to unsubscribe completely. By taking this action, you’re reducing the energy needed for the newsletter to be sent and received and reducing the storage on the cloud. This also saves time clearing your inbox in the long run!  

To summarise

Research in this area is still relatively limited, and we’re still learning in this space, particularly given the shift in ways of working since 2020. However, it’s clear to see that our industry does have an environmental impact, and we have some clear steps that we can take to make improvements to our eco-footprint.  

Digital emissions will always exist, but we can look to treat environmental considerations with the same level of importance as privacy legislation to ensure we prioritise sustainable development across our digital ecosystem. 

Fun fact: since researching for this piece, I’ve planted 35 trees. 

By Naomi Linturn, Digital Account Manager at The Kite Factory