Making Advertising Sustainable: Introducing Scope3
I decided that the most important thing I could do with my time was to figure out how to build a comprehensive and granular data set for supply chain emissions. I realized this would have to be done an industry at a time... and what industry do I know better than digital advertising?
Imagine a supermarket where products don’t have nutritional labels. Instead, when you check out, your receipt has an estimate of calories based on what you spent:
- Dairy: Spending $14.32 results in 1718 calories (120 calories per dollar)
- Meat: Spending $18.10 results in 2534 calories (140 calories per dollar)
- Bread: Spending $7.24 results in 1303 calories (180 calories per dollar)
Thanks to a sale on yogurt, the calorie count for dairy was lower than you expected. You get home and decide you want to eat healthily. Looking at your receipt for guidance, you eat half a bar of cheese and slather butter on some bread, then have some ice cream for dessert. You are shocked, a month later, to find that you’ve gained five pounds.
It seems a little ridiculous to think that people would make critical health-related decisions based on category averages. It may surprise you that this is exactly the methodology we use to make critical decisions about planetary health.
When companies want to calculate their carbon footprint, they get a report of spend by vendor, categorize the vendors, and look up an emissions factor for each category:
- Advertising & public relations: Spending $302,120 produces 34.4 metric tons of CO2e (0.114 kg-CO2e per dollar)
- Computers: Spending $64,200 produces 31.3 metric tons of CO2e (0.488 kg-CO2e per dollar)
- Legal: Spending $31,200 produces 2.0 metric tons of CO2e (0.065 mt-CO2e per dollar)
Imagine an executive looking at these numbers and thinking, “hmm, maybe I should spend more on lawyers and less on advertising.” This example isn’t completely made up! A friend recently did a carbon inventory for the public company she works at and the number one emitter was - according to the software - their law firm.
Using spend-based emissions factors means that choosing a cheaper supplier will result in a lower carbon footprint. In a world where executive compensation and stock prices are tied to hitting ESG goals, this breaks the chain of accountability with suppliers. It penalizes companies that invest in sustainable practices.
If we are going to address the climate crisis, we can’t afford to make bad decisions because we lack the granular data to make good decisions.
With this in mind, I decided that the most important thing I could do with my time was to figure out how to help companies measure their true carbon footprint by creating a comprehensive and granular data set for supply chain emissions. I knew this would have to be done an industry at a time... and what industry do I know better than digital advertising?
Over the past few months, I spoke to over 100 leaders in and around the digital advertising ecosystem. I was overwhelmed by their genuine desire to make the industry more sustainable. One CMO told me “I’ve been in digital marketing for twenty years, and I never knew there was a problem. Now that you tell me about it, I want to do something about it!”
I realized I felt exactly the same way.
It was time to start a new company with some of my favorite people: Andrew Sweeney, Anne Coghlan, Emma Etherington, Holly Peck, and Mike Freyberger. We founded Scope3 as a public benefit corporation. Our mission is encoded into the company’s charter: to decarbonize the global economy, thus reducing the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions on society, people, communities and the environment as a whole.
Our first step at Scope3 is to make sustainable advertising a reality. We will collaborate with the leading companies in the digital media ecosystem - brands, agencies, publishers, trading desks, technology companies – to help us measure and reduce the carbon footprint of the ad-supported internet.
Over the next weeks and months, I’ll share more about our methodology, and talk about our learnings and progress. If you’d like to learn more or be part of this journey, please check out www.scope3.com or email me.
In closing, I want to say thank you to all of the people that have spent time with me over the past months and encouraged me along this path. I didn’t think I missed ads, but I missed ad people: open, honest, creative, and somehow cynical and idealistic at the same time. I’m so excited to be building something with all of you again.