Moving Towards Ecologically Sustainable Advertising – The Actual Method
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Cavai’s Top Tips when Assessing Sustainable Advertising Partners

Apr. 28, 2023 | by Karol Smith
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The importance of environmental sustainability is more obvious than ever. As more people, companies, brands, and the advertising industry's supply chain are becoming aware of their impact on the environment, the trend towards more sustainable practices has acquired urgency.

Unfortunately, this has a negative side that leads to a lot of uncertainty and greenwashing. 

It's incredibly simple for partners, brands, and agencies to be duped into believing that sustainability statements are more credible than they actually are because there is a lack of a minimal level of awareness and several misconceptions about sustainability throughout our industry. 

This blog post serves as a brief review to assist you in not only understanding and dissecting the claims made, but also in making better decisions for your business and the industry at large.

Tip #1: Information is Power

What would be your first response if someone asked you what Scope 3 is?

Probably a pretty amazing business aiding the measurement and reduction of emissions in the advertising sector.

You'd be about half right.

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Standards are where Scope 3 (assumedly) derives its name from. There are three main global standards established by the GHG Protocol that should be used to assess emissions:

This article, "lifecycle of an ad", offers a pretty straightforward summary that aids in categorizing the value chain visually. 

Understanding what to measure is one thing, and leading organisations like Ad Net Zero, Scope3, and the IAB are guiding the discussion on what should be included and excluded. Putting this understanding into the context of the entire consumption cycle is a significant consideration too; how the advertising industry impacts other industries emissions.

There are many excellent materials available, and I implore everyone to invest some time in their own learning.

Check out these as a place to start:

GHG Protocol


Ad Net Zero




Mikko Kotila

Tip #2: Look Under the Hood

The internal commitment of a company is the next item you should consider after learning more about the measuring standards. Partnerships and accreditations with pertinent organisations do not imply that these standards apply to the company's internal procedures. In other words, even if they talk the talk, do they actually walk the walk? 

Every business should make an attempt to evaluate its own (at minimum) Scope 1–3 emissions with a long- and short-term reduction outlook. Enquire about obligations and the stage of the lifecycle they are in. And how the results of your individual Scope 3 computations will be compared.

By 2040, Cavai intends to have achieved Net Zero for GHG Protocol Scopes 1–3. To achieve this goal, we have already made substantial progress. In 2022, we baselined our Scope 1 and 2 with the assistance of our partners Zerobees, and we will shortly achieve our Carbon Neutral status on these. With the ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral on Scope 3 this year, we have already started baselining that too. We decided to partner with Zerobees because they employ a science-based methodology that complies with the GHG Protocol, ISO 14064, and delivers outcomes that are Science-Based Targets Initiative ready.
Our Environmental Management System (EMS) was in place when we received our ISO 14001  accreditation in 2022, ensuring that we actively pursue reduction efforts. This influences not only how we choose our offices, how we confront our landlords on energy providers, and of course, which partners we choose to collaborate with to power our technology and services to our clients. It also motivates our workers to promote sustainability.

"You may come across certain partners that are just considering a fraction of their possible Scope 3 evaluation, which they have bundled and commoditized for sale."

Tip #3: Creative and context have never been more important

The push to make our industry more sustainable has only highlighted the value of creativity. 

We know that Cavai's unique formats draw 60% more attention time than database norms based on our preliminary research findings with the leading attention researchers, Lumen. Our formats are able to engage and maintain consumers' attention thanks to their distinctive interactiveness. Optimizing towards higher attention inherently means less ad wastage and inevitably fewer emissions in a sea of clutteredness. There are also many factors aside from creativity that feed into this, and Lumen and Scope3’s partnership on the carbon cost of attention explains this in more detail

This is where contextual also comes into play. ‘Spray and Pray’ advertising is not only annoying but it’s inefficient for brands and incredibly high on ad wastage, therefore resulting in higher emissions. In our Lumen studies where agencies have used contextual buys, or we have delivered contextually ourselves via our wonderful partners Multi Local Media, we have seen the highest attention and higher KPI performance for brands.

In addition to looking at creativity and context, making your ads work harder all leads to fewer emissions. The idea of digital ad efficiency originally came from DCO; utilising third-party signals to optimise creatively. But what if you can take this even further and enable consumer-based optimisation to reduce the number of ads and therefore emissions? 

With Cavai’s formats, you can ask a user what their interests or preferences are and offer up content based on that; a campaign that needed to talk about 5 products across 2 sizes would have traditionally resulted in 10 ads (at least - not taking into account the different tags for different platforms). Now you can reduce that to just two ads - with one tag - and significantly reduce your Scope 3 emissions.

Tip #4 Always ask what impact can you make

We have examined the stage of the advertising lifecycle to which we directly contribute, namely creative rendering and distribution, because we are committed to helping measure and reduce emissions in our industry. For 18 months, we worked together to develop the Cavai CarbonTag with The Sustainability in Advertising Lab at UC3M Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, led by renowned Professor Rubén Cuevas Rumen.

The research resulted in 1000’s of tests that were able to determine a machine model to calculate energy usage at the level of creative rendering, and as a result we published this research paper and are working on building the CarbonTag into our platform. The model's implementation takes javascript code added to an ad tag and measures the impression-level creative rendering based on weight, device, and operating system.

The Wall Street Journal (articles 1 and 2) and The New Scientist have both featured our CarbonTag research project, and it also took the prize for Sustainable Innovation at the Norwegian WFA's ANFO Effekt awards. 

This also highlighted how we work with our Server provider in understanding how to render ads on device in the most energy-efficient way without sacrificing quality or speed. Whilst streaming is emission efficient in some instances, our research highlighted that this is only the case for video ads under a certain duration. 

Although we are extremely proud of our work and commitment to the industry, we recognise that we're only getting started and having a genuine sustainability impact takes a lot of hard work over time, and no quick fixes.

However, those with the knowledge and deep understanding of what sustainability in advertising really means and the impact that this has and can have across the industry and beyond, will be in the best position to select the best partners and drive deep impact.

by Karol Smith