I had a fascinating meeting recently with a senior executive from a large advertiser.
I shared what we've learned about the environmental impact of advertising: that every digital ad has a significant carbon footprint; that advertisers need to take action to measure and reduce this footprint; and that reducing advertising waste has a positive impact not only on carbon but also on attention and other KPIs.
He said, "I want to do something about this problem." He told me about his personal commitment to the environment, the volunteer work he does, and the investments that his company has made around sustainability.
You can imagine me leaning in on my seat. Yes! This guy gets it!
And then he said… BUT.
But how do I get you the data you need to do this measurement?
But how do I get all of the different partners I work with to make these changes?
But how do I make sure what I’m doing aligns with our corporate sustainability processes?
But how do I comply with the corporate reporting regulations in Europe, in Australia, in California, and probably many more places?
But what about all of the innovations I see in this space - how do I know which are actually going to make a difference?
As I listened, as we talked through the challenges, I realized that our industry needs a new approach. One that can quickly help us understand the scope of the sustainability problem. An approach that acknowledges that we don’t know everything yet and that enables us to make progress, right now, to make things better. We need to be ready to comply with standards and policies from regulators, from investors, and from industry groups. We need a way to engage our partners to help us understand the value chain and work with us to systemically decarbonize the media and advertising industry.
Here's my key insight: only by understanding the interactions of complex value chains can we unlock the data and insights we need to act on the climate crisis.
What we need is a Collaborative Sustainability Platform. Here's what I think that needs to look like in order to give advertisers, agencies, publishers, platforms and vendors the capacity to work together to solve this climate crisis right now.
- Data sharing up and down the value chain to accurately map and measure environmental impact. As an example, imagine an advertiser trying to gather emissions data from all of its suppliers. Instead of having to ask each of them for the data, it’s automatically gathered into a single place. It’s data sharing instead of data collecting. This is great for media companies who are getting inundated with RFPs for sustainability data and it’s great for agencies who are trying to make sense of the data they’re getting back. This idea of data collaboration has proven incredibly powerful in other areas - look at Snowflake or LiveRamp - because it magnifies value as more and more companies participate. That’s collaboration in a nutshell: the more we collaborate, the more value we create. I love that.
- Open source research and methodology to improve our shared understanding of the complex ecosystem we operate within. As you may know, Scope3 has been driving collaborative research on how to measure the carbon footprint of this industry for the past two years. We worked closely with GroupM on their Media Decarbonization whitepaper last year. We collaborate actively with Alliance Digitale in France on their excellent (and open source) methodology work. We encouraged IAB Tech Lab to start a sustainability working group, which we are closely involved in. We partnered with the WFA to pilot ideas on systemic decarbonization and encouraged them (and now GARM) to get involved with industry standards on behalf of the world’s biggest advertisers. And we’ve created an open source repository of the best research and data we’ve found about measuring advertising sustainability. We all have to learn together and share what we're learning.
- An ecosystem of solutions to encourage and invest in innovation. Scope3 isn’t the only company working on sustainable advertising, and that’s fantastic. We need ideas from all sides of the ecosystem and all around the world if we’re going to make a difference fast enough. You may have seen the Ad Tech Greenscape that I put together a few months ago. There are so many companies with innovative ideas here! Take Sharethrough, the first company to launch Green PMPs - and they just delivered their billionth green impression! Or Microsoft, who have reduced the footprint of MSN by almost 90% in the past twelve months. Or SeenThis, who streamline creative delivery and make it dramatically less bandwidth intensive. All of these companies have collaborated, not just with Scope3, but with brands and agencies who have been brave and bold enough to invest in these solutions.
- Accurate models of advertising value chains: every single step required to choose an ad and deliver it to your phone or computer or TV or car or refridgerator; the total emissions of each company involved in that process, how they shape, decision, and filter traffic; the bandwidth of the internet backbone; the energy emitted by a cell tower or wifi router. All measured in context of embodied emissions through the production of physical equipment, all normalized to properly account for real-time grid intensity, renewable energy sources, and the latest research on how corporate emissions impact our physical environment.
- Alignment with standards and regulatory requirements. California just passed environmental reporting standards which look to be even stricter than the CSRD in Europe. Financial organizations are introducing standards for ESG investing and for green finance. Industry groups are creating standards, like the WFA and GARM. Companies - especially global ones - need to be aligned with all of these standards, and a CSP must make this easy and consistent across the value chain.
- Granularity to enable effective action. We need to know what are our hot spots. Which channels, which processes, which vendors, which regions, which placements. Going back to collaboration, we need to be able to share this data with our key partners, like our agency or key publishers, and help them see the world through the same lens we do. We can't let averages remove the incentives for individual companies to innovate and differentiate themselves. We need to see sustainability next to media metrics and invest real money in great media that is also green.
- Powers other companies. It's not a platform if you don't have other companies building on top of the platform who thrive and make money, and if you’re really doing your job right, to make more money than you do. The platform has to be flexible so that partners can do things that you might not have imagined - but not in ways that would undermine compliance with standards, of course. A true platform is inherently collaborative as the ecosystem learns and evolves together.
- Powerful APIs that facilitate integrating data, ideally bidirectionally, and with reasonable economics. The biggest difference betweeen advertising and other supply chains is that we have massive, real-time, granular data. A sustainability platform has to make it easy to ingest, process, and share data at internet scale, normalize this data to align with standards and best practices, and rapidly incorporate changes to the overall emissions model.
So let me sum all of that up. A Collaborative Sustainability Platform will enable companies in a value chain to share data, to accurately measure environmental impact, to comply with key standards and regulations, to take action, and to power an ecosystem of solutions that leverage the platform to innovate and accelerate change.
As of today, Scope3 is fully committed to building a CSP. We are actively working to integrate our 70+ partners into our platform; we're building a new set of APIs that vastly enhance our ability to ingest granular data into our model; and we're building a user interface on top of all of this that makes it easy for advertisers and agencies to collect, benchmark, and take action on the full breadth of their media and creative production activities. It's a big undertaking that, like programmatic, requires a fundamental change in one of the biggest and most important industries in the world. It's also a mission that has the potential to make a substantial impact at global scale in our collective fight against climate change.
Take a look at our new open data platform at scope3.com, and please get in touch if you'd like to collaborate with us on our mission to build the industry's first collaborative sustainability platform to systemically decarbonize media and advertising!