Greenhouse gas emissions of digital advertising measures

Digital advertising is on the rise, but the climate impact of digital advertising has been poorly studied. For example, net sales of digital advertising in Germany have more than tripled in the last 8 years. On behalf of the green electricity provider LichtBlick, corsus has now investigated the greenhouse gas emissions of digital advertising measures.

The orientative study shows that digital advertising measures do cause relevant greenhouse gas emissions. In our case studies, the emissions for an advertising measure are between four and fourteen tonnes. If we assume that around ten percent of the more than three million companies in Germany play out digital advertising once a year, this causes more than one million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

However, depending on the playout channel – mobile devices or large advertising screens, for example – different emission sources are in the spotlight. For example, in the case of advertising on end devices, transmission plays a particularly important role, while in the case of digital out-of-home advertising, the display on large screens or steles, for example at suburban railway stations or digital advertising pillars, significantly determines the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

It can be shown that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from digital advertising measures, from production to transmission to playout, is determined in particular by electricity consumption. Therefore, the quality of the electricity used plays a decisive role. This is because the carbon footprint of different electricity products differs, sometimes considerably. For example, the emissions of the current German electricity mix are a more than 500 grams of CO2e per kilowatt hour. In comparison, certified green electricity causes less than ten percent of the emissions.

The central interface that connects everything in digital marketing is the infrastructure for transmitting the data. Resources and energy are needed to build the infrastructure. However, the main part of the emissions is caused by the use of the infrastructure. Here, there are major differences between the transmission technologies: At 9.14 Wh/GB, the energy consumption for the mobile system LTE is almost 20 times higher than that of a fibre-optic connection at home (0.45 Wh/GB). It is therefore necessary to look very closely at which technology is being used in order to be able to estimate the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. On the positive side, technological progress has been able to drastically reduce electricity consumption through data transmission over the network in recent years.

Conclusion: In the carbon footprint of companies, digital advertising measures should be considered, because depending on how intensively digital advertising is used, the greenhouse gas emissions caused are not negligible.

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