GroupM launches global framework to reduce carbon footprint of media

Clients will be advised on which channels, and eventually media vendors, are causing the most carbon emissions in effort to slash advertising's carbon footprint

Jul 20, 2022 04:14:00 PM | Article | Arvind Hickman Share - Share to Facebook

WPP’s investment arm will begin sharing the carbon footprint of the different media channels advertisers choose in their media plans to encourage the industry to decarbonise its media supply chain by 2030.


The plan includes measuring carbon emissions of 11 different media categories and, eventually, individual platforms and media owners, although GroupM admits this second phase could receive pushback if it cannot get the whole industry on board with its framework.


Initially, GroupM will do this by measuring the carbon emissions of advertising in TV, video on demand, cinema, social media, digital, print, out of home, digital out of home, radio digital audio and transient. This will roll out this later year.


The greenhouse gas protocol (GHGP) life cycle, which considers emission at various times during an ad’s production and consumption, has five stages: raw material cultivation and extraction, production, distribution and storage, consumer use and end of life. GroupM will calculate emissions for the first three stages in its framework because "consumer use" and "end of life" stages have too many variables that cannot be calculated accurately.


Why this matters


WPP has set a target to reach net-zero across its direct operations (Scopes 1 and 2) by 2025 and its supply chain (Scope 3) by 2030.


At WPP, 98% of its carbon emissions come from its supply chain; of these 55% are from the media that Group M buys on behalf of advertisers.


“To put that into a consumer context, we've estimated that's the equivalent of about 7.3 billion petrol car miles. Unless we solve it for media, ​​we’re not really addressing the issue at hand,” Mindshare’s global chief transformation office Oliver Joyce told journalists at a press briefing.


“This work really starts to address Scope 3, so an absolute reduction of 50% in Scope 3 by 2030. We are the only marketing group to have made this commitment.”


Joyce said Group M’s approach moves beyond using publicly available data towards a standardised set of publisher and platform data.


He added: “We're moving from estimates and offsetting as the first step, towards looking at how we drive reduction as the absolute first priority. And we're looking at moving away from multiple approaches towards standardisation (across the industry) so we can accelerate progress.”


Driving Group M’s efforts to decarbonise its media supply chain is client demand and looming legislation that will require listed companies to provide a level of assurance about carbon accounting to a similar standard as auditing a financial statement.


Group M’s global chief executive, Christian Juhl, said its clients want to prioritise media investment with publishers and platforms that are “actively decarbonising their media supply” but having different standards across companies, platforms and markets is “delaying meaningful action”.


Sustainability vs performance


Although advertisers are enquiring about how to reduce their carbon footprint in advertising, many are not yet willing to shift media budgets away from advertising that performs well to those channels that produce lower carbon emissions.


The problem advertisers face is that there are too many different solutions in the market that do not align, and questions over which measurement methodology is the right one to support.


“We have seen that our industry has an increasing number of calculators, but not an aligned reduction plan,” Jérôme Amouyal, media performance insights director at global insurance firm Axa, said. “It is important that we, as a collective, get behind a robust, actionable solution that accelerates decarbonisation.”


Joyce observed that there is “real interest” from clients but “significant money” is not moving.

“It's difficult to reallocate money when you don't have reliable data and measurement in place,” he said.


“The second point I would make is that some companies are way ahead in terms of sustainability. What I would hope is that a significant part of the market has shifted to carbon reduction so that we don’t have to trade-off between sustainability and impact.”


Another factor that could make a difference without having to trade away performance is improving programmatic trading so that it is more effective and less carbon wasteful. For example, focusing ad tech on better performing websites and streaming video content on demand, rather than downloading all available from an ad server, irrespective of whether it is viewed.


Krystal Olivieri, the global chief innovation officer at GroupM and Choreograph, said that most advertisers are not aware of how carbon intensive some forms of advertising are, with digital among the worst offenders. For example, there can be dozens of different trackers sitting on a website communicating with different tech companies that produce a large carbon output. 


She said part of GroupM’s role will be to educate clients: “I think that as advertisers learn and start to factor in their own advertising activities, the Scope 3 emissions outputs into their net zero goals, it won't be so much a trade-off between if it will perform, it will be the right thing to do for purpose-driven brands that have committed to net zero goals.”


What this means for media owners


GroupM plans to roll out its decarbonisation framework providing data and analysis for 11 media channels this year, and vendor-level data in 2023.


The latter ambition requires buy-in from media owners, including the major tech platforms.


Olivieri said GroupM has had conversations with media owners and partners and is starting to advance these discussions around methodology and what data GroupM requires.


“In general, our partners and platforms have been very receptive to the overarching goals and mission,” she said. “For them, there is a concern that if each holding company has a different measurement methodology for this, then it will become more of a hindrance than an accelerator for progress. So they're actually quite open to an industry level solution that everyone can rally behind.”


As legislation and client demand forces media buyers to opt for less carbon-intensive media channels, there will be a level of market pressure for media owners and platforms to reduce their own carbon footprint. Some have already begun doing this, such as Google.


Olivieri said that GroupM is working closely and thoughtfully with media partners in what she described as an “evolution”.


“This is not, at least in the near future, a case of ‘slap your hand’ if you don't provide this information, and you won't get any budget. It’s an evolution we all want to go on together and make sure we do it responsibly in partnership.


“But at some point we will have to make tougher decisions in partnership with our clients in the coming years.”


(This article first appeared on


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