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Sustainable Advertising: 5 Ways Brands & Agencies Can Help

Time for the advertising industry to get serious about sustainability. Here are a few ways brands and agencies can pitch in and reduce their digital footprint.

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Digital advertising leaves a carbon footprint the industry is only starting to address.

In fact, programmatic advertising alone is generating 215,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions globally. That's equivalent to 24 million gallons of gasoline consumed!


So what can brands, ad tech vendors, and agencies do to make their media strategy more eco-friendly and more attractive to their target audience?

Why sustainable advertising matters to brands

In addition to the very real effects of climate change already wreaking havoc on our planet, brands should care about sustainable media because their audience cares!

Research from Harvard Business Review shows:

“When Gen Z and Millennial customers believe a brand cares about its impact on people and the planet, they are 27% more likely to purchase it than older generations are — a clear measure of sustainability’s power to drive buying decisions in this group.”

By demonstrating your brand's commitment to following through with ethical practices from beginning to end of a purchase cycle, you'll resonate with Gen Z and Millennial buyers, lifting brand perceptions and increasing sales over time.

Just look at Patagonia for an example! The company has an estimated value of about $3 billion dollars and brings in $100 million in revenue annually (Pereira, 2023). Sustainable advertising doesn't have to cut into your business's revenue growth -- in fact, it does quite the opposite.

How to build a sustainable media strategy

1. Invest in eco-efficient hardware

Loading, serving, and engaging with an ad requires electricity, and efficient hardware can minimize the energy output. Companies like Dell and Microsoft offer eco-friendly options.

2. Embrace greener ad formats

Opt for lightweight ad formats that load faster, minimizing energy consumption by viewers. Emissions can be reduced without sacrificing ad performance!

Lightweight creatives are ads with minimal file size, like text ads or simple banner ads.

While video ads can be impactful, pre-roll ads (shown before the main content) are generally shorter and viewed at a higher rate compared to mid-roll ads (shown during the content). This translates to less energy consumption overall.

Compared to video ads, audio ads require less data transfer and processing power, making them a greener option, particularly for podcast advertising.

two women talking into microphones

3. Agencies, sign the Clean Creatives Pledge

...not to work with fossil fuel companies. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded us last week, all of us in the news/media/tech industries have a responsibility not to promote fossil fuels and prolong humanity's dependence upon them for profit. (Exverus signed the pledge long ago!) Join us at

4. Optimize content delivery

Leverage efficient content delivery networks (CDNs) that use renewable energy sources to reduce your digital footprint.

A CDN is a network of servers that store and deliver content to websites and internet services to improve the speed, reliability, and security of content delivery. For examples, check out CloudFlare, Akamai, or Amazon CloudFront.

5. Join Ad Net Zero & the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM)

Ad Net Zero is an industry-wide initiative focused on decarbonizing the advertising sector. Their goal is to achieve net zero carbon emissions from all stages of advertising, encompassing development, production, and media placement by the year 2030. They achieve this by providing resources and promoting collaboration amongst advertising stakeholders to reduce the environmental impact of the industry.

Measuring the environmental impact of advertising campaigns

Speaking of Ad Net Zero: just this week, at the 2024 Cannes LIONS Festival of Creativity, Ad Net Zero announced it's been working with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)'s Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) to develop the Global Media Sustainability Framework for tracking emissions.

As AdExchanger reports, "Advertisers will be able to request data from media sellers using a common form, which should make data collection more efficient. Sellers that use the framework will voluntarily share information about the provenance of data, how the data came about and the scope of the data, so it’s clear how measurements are being calculated."

While measurement has traditionally focused on electricity emissions, GARM also emphasizes the importance of embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or those that occur in the upstream stages of a product's (or in this case, an ad's) lifecycle. Learn more about the new framework here.

Think climate change is too big for one person (or one company) to make a difference? No, that kind of thinking got us into this crisis in the first place! If we each do a small part, we can slow climate change without sacrificing effectiveness. And that's good for everybody.


This piece originally appeared in our weekly Paid Media Insights newsletter. For more tips, research, and analysis; subscribe for free here.

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