How much CO2 is generated by advertising media and the agencies providing the associated services?

Forbes recently analysed the carbon footprint of agencies in the US and found that the key drivers are travel, commuting, office supplies, marketing collateral, utilities, shipping and computer services [1].

Within this, we can take a closer look at the marketing and media campaign activities that generate CO2. For example, did you know that:

  • One piece of direct mail costs 205g of CO2?[2].
  • The internet including mobile phone use had a bigger carbon footprint that the airline industry [3].
  • A typical online ad campaign with a spend of £100k could generate as much as 5.4 tonnes of CO2 [4].
  • Digital advertising accounts for 7.2 million metric tonnes of CO₂ annually [5].
  • A single ad campaign generates 70 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions: the same as what 7 people on average release into the atmosphere in a year [6].

WPP agency Essence has created a carbon calculator to look at emissions by media channel. Essence rank display and online video as relatively high emission channels, followed by magazines and social media. The lower emission channels include digital out of home, BVOD, Linear TV and static out of home. According to Essence traditional OOH is a sustainable channel with very low waste across both paper and vinyl channels. Cinema, digital audio and PPC are grouped low and newspapers and radio are the lowest ranking channels.

This may seem like uncomfortable reading, but these are issues we need to confront if we are serious about reducing advertising’s contribution to CO2 increases. If we know where we are generating CO2, we can either manage our emissions or consider appropriate offsets.

Some of the world’s largest media brands have committed to 100% renewable energy including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, HP and Salesforce – thereby reducing the impact of some of the digital media channels and their delivery listed above. Microsoft has committed to being carbon negative by 2030 and has committed to offsetting all its historical emissions by 2050.

And what can you do as an individual marketing or media specialist?

Here are some surprisingly easy to implement recommendations to consider:

  • Consider turning off auto play when you watch online videos
  • When you leave your PC or lap top, turn it off rather than leaving it on standby
  • Dim your monitor
  • Limit “reply all” emails
  • Consider doing more work on a tablet or smart phone if possible as these consume less energy than PCs and laptops.

You might think that as an individual your actions won’t make much difference to overall CO2 emissions, but you can make a difference. By acting in a sustainable way, your actions will influence others, and collectively more and more positive change will result.

Optimise your media plans to minimise CO2 emissions

It is possible to include CO2 emissions in MMM so that you can optimise both ROI and ROR (Return on resources i.e. minimise CO2 emissions). You can find out more here:


  1. Forbes
  2. Prime Data
  3. MediaTel
  4. IAB
  5. Scope3
  6. Fifty-five