Media Sustainability: What’s in it for Publishers?

Publishers who lead the industry in sustainability efforts are reducing operational risks and increasing revenue profitably. It’s a win-win for the ad tech ecosystem and for publishers’ bottom lines.

Conventional thinking often looks at sustainability as an inconvenience, a mere compliance project, or even an additional cost center lacking in business benefits. However, media sustainability efforts can provide publishers with a unique opportunity to reduce operational risks, increase revenue profitably, and take the lead in the industry.

In our daily lives, we’ve all witnessed the transformation of our food supply chain and its profound effects on food security, nutrition, and health. This is our equivalent of the Farm-to-Table movement. Publishers are in a unique position when it comes to driving conversations and change to improve the sustainability of our ecosystem.

Why Sustainability?

The Shift Project estimated the share of digital technologies in global greenhouse gas emissions increased from 2.5% in 2013 to 3.7% in 2019, while the International Council on Clean Transportation reported that CO2 emissions from all commercial aviation operations contributed 2.4% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use.

The advertising-supported digital ecosystem is an essential part of our digital landscape. As our industry matures and evolves, it becomes increasingly essential for publishers, ad tech, and buyers to address these environmental concerns. Per Scope3’s sustainability report, programmatic advertising alone generates a staggering 215,000 metric tons of carbon emissions monthly across five major economies.

From a financial reporting requirement standpoint, the European Union has taken a significant step by requiring public and large companies to report on their sustainability efforts under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). This will start to force global brands in the EU region to demand sustainability reporting from their suppliers.

Major brands and advertisers are becoming more aware of their overall environmental impact, ranging from their creative builds and media purchasing to data activations. Top ad agencies have created specific task forces and made various commitments to sustainability. Key industry trade groups have also put together their guidance or task forces around the topic of sustainability. In January, the IAB released its sustainability initiative, which includes best practices and standards. Publishers should expect some early RFIs (Requests for Information) from brands and agencies in the next 6 months regarding their sustainability efforts.

What’s in it for Me?

Beyond the emerging Green Media investment from brands, publishers should view sustainability efforts as an operational efficiency and effectiveness project. 

Risk Management

As an industry, we’ve undergone a huge period of expansion where we continue to add complexity to our ad stack in a push toward incremental gain. Meanwhile, every additional component generates a certain amount of operational risks. When these risks are ignored and accumulated, they can turn into a major liability. Sustainability efforts enable publishers to conduct a proper assessment of operational risks by discovering bloated and unproductive demand paths. Additionally, publishers should manage and restrict excessive data matching and collection, heavy creative elements in ad tags, and more.

Intentional Operations

The development of ad tech has enabled us to do more. Programmatic advertising allows multiple SSPs to conduct auctions with a number of DSPs to offer publishers’ inventory to thousands of potential advertisers at scale. In pursuit of scale, we often become less intentional about our operations when it comes to the value of each connection we enable and the value of each bid request we surface. Overall, publishers should adopt an intentional mindset so that we truly own and manage the inventory.

Team/Talent Sustainability

Attracting and retaining talent is increasingly tied to a company’s values and mission. Sustainability initiatives not only instill a sense of purpose but also foster a positive workplace culture. Furthermore, these initiatives can provide valuable learning and development opportunities for our teams, allowing them to gain a comprehensive understanding of our industry’s inner workings.

Where Should I Start?

To address the carbon impact of the media industry, publishers can take several steps:

  1. Audit: Audit the current ad stack and demand-side partners to assess their absolute, relative, and strategic value.
  2. Reduce: Implement strategies to reduce the carbon footprint. Start with ads.txt clean-up, then advance to more sophisticated methods like traffic shaping and bid throttling. Lastly, review the content in the bid requests.
  3. Train: Align the go-to-market teams and operations teams on sustainability concepts and practices. Publishers can lead agency partners and buyers in sustainable media practices.
  4. Innovate: There are ample opportunities to reset the way programmatic advertising operates and to rethink how it may interact with direct and guaranteed deals in pursuit of sustainability. 

Just as the farm-to-table movement transformed the food industry by prioritizing sustainability and transparency, the media industry must embark on a similar journey to reduce its carbon footprint. Publishers have an opportunity to lead in this effort to create efficient operations, foster meaningful partnerships and innovation, and pave the way for a greener, more responsible digital future.