Are UK marketers accurately measuring the impact of their CO2 emissions?

Environmental impact of our marketing campaigns

When Mike Berners-Lee’s groundbreaking book, How Bad Are Bananas? – The carbon footprint of everything, was first published in 2009, many of us were seeing the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ for the first time.

Today, we know that virtually everything we do in our lives has a measurable carbon impact. And given that the UK’s CO2 emissions per head are at the higher end of the global scale, UK marketers must consider – alongside personal activities such as home heating and air travel – the environmental impact of their campaigns.

Assessing the environmental impact

There are basically two ways of assessing the impact:

  1. Measure the uplift in overall CO2 caused by advertising, which takes into account the increased number of goods and services we buy, or
  2. Calculate just the actual carbon released by the campaigns themselves.

The broader measure, called ‘advertised emissions’, is used by Purpose Disruptors, whose mission is to catalyse the industry’s climate transition to align with the 1.5 degrees IPCC global warming target. They concluded that, in 2022, UK marketers were responsible for 208m tonnes of additional CO2.

We respect, but also have some concerns about, this measurement method as it assumes that the impact of advertising is all incremental, whereas in fact a great deal of it may just result in business being transferred from suppliers A to B.

Accurate campaign measurement

As an alternative approach, we’ve been working with Net Zero Media, an Australia-based consultancy whose mission is to measure, reduce and authentically offset the climate contribution of media. They have developed a platform that accurately measures the actual CO2 emitted by the marketing campaigns themselves, evaluating every possible channel, including TV, social, email, outdoor and direct mail.

The platform measures the scale of each campaign, the materials it uses and the impact of both the distribution and consumption of advertising. This produces a smaller, but we believe still extremely important measure – one that marketers have much more power to control.

The challenge to smaller organisations

As a distributor of Net Zero Media’s CO2 measurement platform in the UK, we enable organisations to cost-effectively achieve:

  • Baseline measurement and analysis, including Scope 3 emissions
  • Ongoing measurement, analysis and emissions minimisation
  • Climate Active-approved carbon offsetting

To date, the platform has been adopted by larger organisations, such as banks and energy companies. Why smaller organisations have so far not elected to introduce a CO2 measurement approach is debateable – perhaps it is a lack of awareness, or cost, although that it is usually a small fraction of their annual marketing spend.

Or they may be under the (somewhat false) impression that online digital marketing has a very limited carbon impact. The opposite is true, particularly when you examine the amount of carbon emitted for each sale made. This is due to the fact that social and email campaigns often have very high volumes, and as a result consume large quantities of power in the data centres that automate them.

AI and more coming down the track

In the 2020 revised edition of his book, Berners-Lee updates all the figures (including from data centres) and introduces areas that are now part of today’s online marketing life, from Twitter (now X) to the Cloud.

With even more marketing technology advances, many fuelled by AI, coming down the track, the question all marketers need to be asking today is: are we ready to accurately measure and offset the environmental impact of all our marketing campaigns?

Find out more about how Unifida can help you achieve Sustainability in Marketing.

UniFida logo

UniFida is the trading name of Marketing Planning Services Ltd, a London based technology and data science company set up in 2014. Our overall aim is to help organisations build more customer value at less marketing cost.

Our technology focus has been to develop UniFida. Data science business comes both from existing users of UniFida, and from clients looking to us to solve their more complex data related marketing questions.

Marketing is changing at an explosive speed. Our ambition is to help our clients stay empowered and ahead in this challenging environment.