Your Marketing’s Carbon Footprint: Does It Matter?

On LinkedIn’s Answers Forum, Don Carli asked this question:

Is it important for advertisers to know the carbon footprint of the advertising media they buy?

My answer, which I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about, was this:

While there may be exceptions (skywriting comes to mind), in general, carbon footprint has to rank near the bottom of the relevance scale for an advertiser. Any advertising will use some resources — in most cases it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to accurately calculate and compare each opportunity on that basis.

Marketing dollars are precious, especially in these times. The goal of most advertising is to generate customers and business — if the campaign achieves that, I suppose you can use some of the income to plant a tree.

Mr. Carli sent me an email (which he has given me permission to quote) taking issue with my answer. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication, and is chairing an upcoming conference on sustainablility in media. Carli points out that there are already some tools for measuring some media campaigns:

The carbon footprint of some advertising media options are easier to determine than others, but none are exceedingly difficult or expensive to determine or to offset. For example if you want to know what the carbon footprint of a banner ad is you can get a free estimate by using the ClearSky carbon calculator developed by imc2:

And, if you want to know what the carbon footprint of your website is you can use the free widget developed by CO2stats:

Some advertisers are already want to know. Recently Timberland determined the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the broadcast campaign for its EarthKeepers product launch in Boston and offset them by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits in Massachussets.

So I’ve learned that although not all media is measurable, carbon-footprint-wise, some of it is. And that some major advertisers are paying attention to the subject. At the same time, I’ve had hundreds of meetings, and thousands of conversations, with my own local customers in the past year, and the subject has never once come up.

Which prompts me to put out a two-part question:

1. If you’re in the media business, has a client ever asked you for information on your media’s carbon footprint? If so, how did the conversation go? Do you offer any kind of offset program as as an option for your customers?

2. If you’re an advertiser, have you ever asked your media partners for this information? Would you ever switch media (or options within a medium) to reduce or mitigate your impact on the environment?

Please answer by leaving a comment below.


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3 thoughts on “Your Marketing’s Carbon Footprint: Does It Matter?

  1. The advertiser definitely has a responsibility for the carbon emissions that are created by their marketing communications. But firstly they need to understand them. We have developed a consistent methodology and calculator to help advertisers measure the amount of CO2 that is created in their marketing communications. Armed with this information the advertiser can then engage with their media buyers to discuss whether there is anything that can be done to reduce carbon while at the same time not adversely effect the strategic requirements of the media buy. As with all things in life if you are wasteful you will be emitting more CO2 than you have too. By measuring then reviewing the strategy advertisers will be able to do their bit to reduce emissions. The more targeted any advertiser is, the less impact they will have on the planet. This is not just good business sense it is good environmental practice. Sky writing is at the top of my list as well. Closely followed by any mobile (car or truck) billboard.

  2. Phil,

    Thanks for your questions and I would love to reframe it slightly.
    In our perspective, the opportunity here is not so much about the offset but about starting the dialogue with our clients around this topic. We do need to start thinking about how we are impacting the environment and looking for ways to reduce that. And to echo Chris’s point if we can do that more efficiently why wouldn’t we – it is just good business sense.