GARM and Ad Net Zero launch new standards to transform carbon emission measurement in media

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Standards for measuring ad carbon emissions have been overdue, but they’re finally here. Now, marketers can back up their green claims with solid benchmarks instead of fragmented data. 

This progress is thanks to the Global Media Sustainability Framework from the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and Ad Net Zero.

The framework was unveiled earlier today (Monday) at the Cannes Lions Festival, and is the result of working groups that formed last October. Right now, it covers TV, digital, and out-of-home advertising, with plans to expand to include print, radio, and film in the future.

Here’s how it works: advertisers can now use a standard form to request data from media sellers. If sellers adopt this framework, they’ll voluntarily disclose where their data comes from, how it’s collected, and the extent of their data coverage. This transparency ensures everyone understands exactly how measurements are being calculated.

“With the launch of GARM’s sustainability framework, we have the opportunity to re-energize the industry around the importance of sustainability and take a more coordinated approach to how we tackle it,” said Peter Wallace, general manager for EMEA at GumGum. “This could be the trigger that’s needed to drive sustainable tech forward to the next stage of the Hype Cycle — the ‘plateau of productivity’ — where adoption becomes more widespread, and it becomes a self-sustaining innovation.”

Wallace has a point. It’s better to think of these standards as a first draft. In fact, there’s still much to be done — they’ll need auditing and will have to evolve with the changing landscape of advertising. 

But for now, the standards should give marketers confidence in making more informed, responsible spending decisions. When all partners agree on what a carbon emission means, it becomes easier for those marketers to compare who is truly minimizing their impact. With that insight they can then decide where to allocate their budget more effectively. That’s why standards are crucial: they provide a baseline for truth.

“It means marketers can make better calls on who they work with, focusing more on who has the best product and not who invented the best, crazy metric.” said Brian O’Kelley, CEO of ad carbon emissions measurement firm Scope3, which was also part of the working group for the framework.

That said, it could take some time for these standards to achieve full ratification. The necessary auditing process is complex and could take up to 18 months, according to O’Kelley. However, it’s a matter of when, not if.

“The fear of comparing badly against competitors or chasing ‘perfection’ in sustainability has held organisations back from taking steps in the right direction,” said Joseph Worswick, vp of sales for EMEA, and global head of sustainability at ad tech vendor OpenX. “These new standards, therefore, are likely to lead to better alignment on all sides and consequently increased movement toward mutual sustainability goals.”

In the meantime, ad dollars will continue to be guided by a variety of standards rather than a single one. The Global Media Sustainability Framework will coexist with standards from Syndicat des Régies Internet in France, Scope3, and others.

It’s similar to what happened with viewability several years ago and, to a lesser degree, what’s happening with attention metrics now — it takes time for standards to mature and for the industry to rally around them. Even then, they’re meant to be a starting point, not the endpoint, for robust carbon emissions measurement.

That’s why Scope3 is actively working on understanding the carbon emissions of AI in advertising, while the Global Media Sustainability Framework does not. The framework might address this in the future, but until then, other companies will step in to fill the gap. 

This is an example of the second-order effects standards can have. They become a yardstick that companies can point to, saying, “We offer a product that’s better than that,” meaning they’re seen as being more progressive versus reactive to overcoming major barriers in measuring advertising’s carbon emissions. 

How many CMOs will push for this before the Global Media Sustainability Framework gains real traction remains to be seen. Marketers aren’t known for their urgency in making advertising greener. However, they are known for pursuing recognition in the boardroom — something these standards could facilitate. Imagine CMOs presenting a carbon emissions number that reflects their company’s entire advertising footprint. They could show they’ve reduced that number over time and compare these reductions with similar efforts across the business.

“We’ve had conversations with a number of clients in the past year who are unsure on the right path to take, and the right partners to work with to reduce the environmental impact of their campaigns,” said Steven Filler, U.K. country manager of video ad tech firm ShowHeroes. “This new framework will give advertisers a way to benchmark sustainability in their campaigns, as well as the tools and confidence to choose the right partners and increase their commitment to this important area.”

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