Greenhouse gas emissions of digital advertising measures

On behalf of the green electricity provider LichtBlick, corsus has assessed the greenhouse gas emissions caused by LichtBlick’s digital advertising campaign “Nothing of CO2“.

The orientative study shows that digital advertising measures do cause relevant greenhouse gas emissions. However, depending on the playout channel – mobile devices or large advertising screens, for example – other emission sources are in the focus. 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 pillars, for example at suburban railway stations or digital advertising pillars, significantly determines the amount of greenhouse gas 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 most significant part of the emissions occurs during 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.

The study shows that the level 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 good 500 grams of CO2e per kilowatt hour. In comparison, certified green electricity causes less than ten percent of the emissions.

The results show that each individual digital advertising measure does not cause immense greenhouse gas emissions. LichtBlick’s advertising campaign, for example, including print advertising, is around 18 tonnes of CO2e, which is roughly equivalent to the emissions of two Germans per year. However, since digital advertising is on the rise and very many companies use digital advertising, high greenhouse gas emissions are caused in total.

It is therefore important to also take these emissions into account in a corporate carbon footprint according to ISO 14064 or the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

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