How do you quantify your carbon footprint in a complex supply chain network? For the media industry, that is becoming a key question.

Initiatives like Ad Net Zero, launched by IPA and ISBA, are focusing on minds around a target to achieve "real net zero carbon emissions from the development, production and media placement of advertising by the end of 2030".

To get there, the industry has to accurately count carbon emissions accounted for at each step in sometimes-opaque digital advertising networks, as well as from physical media.

And advertising agencies are increasingly stepping up to that challenge.

Dentsu's data

In the latest demonstration, dentsu International says it will integrate carbon emissions data into its CCS Planner, the media planning software used by all its global teams.

According to the holding group's announcement, made ahead of Ad Net Zero's second Global Summit in November 2022.

"This will ensure, for the first time ever, brands can set clear carbon targets for campaigns and model alternative scenarios for optimal impact, reach and carbon levels, long before any third-party investment is made, or resources committed."

How has dentsu International been able to calculate the carbon cost of media inventory? The group says it made an "early investment in media decarbonisation and calculating carbon emissions at channel and format levels for clients" back in 2019.

In a project named DIMPACT, it worked with University of Bristol and media companies including BBC, Sky, Netflix and ITV to map the digital media ecosystem.

An output has been the creation of a media carbon calculator (MCC), whose 1.0 began with digital inventory before a version 2.0 added in print, TV, radio and out-of-home. That calculator has already been in used by the group's Carat, iProspect and dentsu X agencies.

Coming in early 2023 as part of a "phase three" of dentsu International's decarbonisation agenda, the addition of this datapoint to CCS Planner means planners will get to see the relative carbon cost of different media opportunities, alongside more typical measures like reach, consideration and purchase intent.

Essence's marketplace

Dentsu International is not alone on the quest for a carbon-neutral media ecosystem.

In September 2022, GroupM's Essence launched a "sustainable programmatic marketplace", aiming to "reduce the carbon footprint of advertising campaigns, and reward publishers that are actively addressing the climate crisis in their editorial coverage".

That marketplace comprises "trusted UK publishers with clear Net Zero strategies who have committed to decarbonising their media supply and adopting GroupM’s framework for measuring and reducing carbon emissions".

Those publishers clock up an average 33% lower carbon emissions per ad impression compared with Essence's regular list of UK publishers, Essence says.

The marketplace also aims to achieve carbon reduction by proxy by removing wasteful programmatic supply chain intermediaries - a step which may please many from a general efficiency perspective.

Essence also says it is aiming to tackle the thorny issue of measuring programmatic carbon emissions by working with Scope3, an organisation that is the "source of truth for supply chain emissions data". Once measured, the agency says it plans to "compensate" for carbon by undertaking "carbon removal projects.

It is part of Essence parent GroupM's wide-ranging global framework for media decarbonisation, launched in July 2022.

Future focus

Dentsu International and Essence are just two examples of how ad agency groups are acknowledging advertising's joint responsibility to reduce global carbon emissions.

All agencies are engaged in such initiatives, and publishers, too, are working intensely on the problem.

As Wavemaker UK chief strategy officer Vera Budimlija wrote for The Map, agencies are also being pushed by brand clients to interrogate all aspects of sustainability - and the brands are often being pushed by audiences themselves.

For more on these sustainability developments, check out this page on The Map.