Media buyers have enough on their hands without having to worry about whether they are hastening climate change.
Yet they are being urged to consider this issue by consumers and their own colleagues -- and some are. For instance, ad-tech firm InMobi is now partnering with Ad Net Zero, a group devoted to driving sustainability in advertising.
Among other things, Ad Net Zero’s five-point program calls for diminishing emissions from media planning and buying, and InMobi has agreed to go along with this agenda.
How this can be done is not clear, given that media buyers are a small part of the larger advertising universe. But InMobi claims that its InMobi Exchange, which is powered by Microsoft Azure, provides full carbon neutrality.
InMobi is also engaged in a two-year goal-validation process with the Science-Based Targets Initiative. The firm served as the primary audience partner in AdTechCares’ campaign with Project Drawdown, which is working to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
All this is very laudable, but skeptics may still wonder whether these goals can be achieved.
Among alleged climate offenders, the advertising industry can hardly be the worst, although InMobi points to statistics showing that the internet in general contributes 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission, surpassing even aviation.
But let’s look at an outside source. A study published last October by academic researchers in the International Journal of Advertising reported these findings (and we quote):
Advertising production and media campaigns cause a significant amount of carbon emissions (e.g., energy consumption).
The advertising industry contributes to the carbon emissions caused by advertising-driven online businesses (e.g. social networks).
Advertising’s impact on aggregate consumption remains disputed but individual-level studies show that materialism and consumerism increase consumption and are negatively related to pro-environmental behavior.
Then there is the greenwashing problem: The study states that “deceptive and ambiguous claims about products’ environmental impact hinder consumers’ green choices and increase their skepticism.”
Assuming these findings are correct, InMobi and other firms have a clear path toward becoming green companies.
In addition to its ad-buying provision, Ad Net Zero's five-point program seeks to reduce emissions from advertising business operations, decrease emissions stemming from advertising production, lessen advertising emissions from awards and events, and harness advertising’s potential to drive behavioral change.
The other question is whether consumers care very much.
InMobi points to a Deloitte study showing that 98% of consumers want to build a stronger environment.
But another study, by GFK, found that 57% of consumers cannot name a single brand promoting diversity, and 57% say the same about companies and the environment.
Age doesn’t matter much: 48% of Gen Zers are unable to name a brand making a difference in any way, this study adds.
Then there are those who deny climate change.
Of course, none of this should matter to practitioners who genuinely care about the climate. Brands and agencies must set their policies, explain them clearly and make sure they are followed by ad buyers and everyone in the chain.
Media buyers can’t reverse climate change by themselves. But, like everyone, they are responsible for doing what they can.