A seat at the table series: Sustainable Future in Advertising

On June 12, 2024 2024, a seat at the table series

IAB Australia has partnered with The Women in Programmatic Network (TWIPN) to launch the Seat at the Table Series. The series will dive into the personal stories and professional perspectives of those from the local advertising community, and give these role models a seat at the table to share their story. Each article will feature a different topic and guest speaker. 

The United Nations proclaimed June 5th as World Environment Day, raising awareness and action to protect the environment. The advertising industry is a major offender when it comes to carbon emissions: one ad campaign generates a staggering 70 tons of CO2, which is equivalent to the amount of CO2 seven people produce in a year. So, for our June interview, we are featuring Joanna Georges, Head of Australia & New Zealand at Scope3. Jo will be sharing the industry’s progress towards a sustainable future and what brands can do to decarbonise their advertising activity.

As always, we’d love for the readers to get to know a bit about you and how you got to where you are today. How did you land in ad tech/ programmatic?

Like most of us, it was an accidental beginning. I started in tech in London where I had recognised the hospitality wage and hours were not worth it while travelling. It was very early days in the industry and the call centre was one of the toughest gigs I’ve had. I was teaching traditional business CEOs about the internet and why their companies needed a presence online. It was fun and very educational.

Scope3 was established only three years ago but is incredibly already present in 55 countries. What has the team achieved so far when it comes to decarbonising the industry?      

The work we’re doing and the progress we’ve made to date is incredible, and we’re just getting started. 

First, we educated the industry. The industry has been aware of waste for a long time (fraudulent sites, click fraud bots, etc.), but the carbon lens we’ve brought to digital advertising has put a spotlight on how waste and inefficiency not only affects your clients media dollars, but also negatively impacts the climate. 

On the product side, we created the industry’s most comprehensive and dynamic model of the digital ad ecosystem to understand emissions in the ad supply chain and identify ‘hot spots’ or opportunities for reduction. This model has evolved over the last 18 months to be uniquely granular in depth (covering ad placements and ad formats) and breadth (channel coverage expansion to DOOH, streaming and social) – it’s brought unprecedented insight into the emissions problem of advertising. 

We’ve also launched a number of tools, powered by our model, that put brands in control of their carbon emissions. For the first time, brands have access to emissions data for all their digital campaigns and the solutions to take action with that data. More than 3,500 brands are now buying lower carbon media around the world. Since the start of Q4 2023, Green Media Products specifically have helped avoid more than 500MT of emissions in digital advertising.

Advertisers and agencies can now make smarter decisions about where to spend their money, kicking off the systemic change that will help us secure a more sustainable, and decarbonised,  future for digital advertising.

What steps do companies typically undergo to reduce their emissions? How does Scope3 help them achieve their goals?

All companies (and this includes publishers and vendors) start with measurement. Their first concern is always ‘will it affect my KPIs' or will I actually be able to show reduction. 

We encourage them to look at reporting with a carbon view, which is very different. 

Once brands have measurement data in hand, the four steps they usually follow are:

  • Understand their baseline campaign emissions and take a deeper look into the mix of publishers they are advertising on;
  • Start to reduce by removing the ‘climate risk’ sites from campaigns and see the incredible results it leads to;
  • Adopt always on measurement to keep a pulse on emissions, while usually activating using Climate Shield or consistently buying Green Media Products; 
  • Reward publisher partners that are on the same journey of reduction with more spend, or engage with publishers to encourage reduction.

There are lots of agencies, in particular independent ones, that haven't started working on decarbonising their supply chain either due to a lack of resources or understanding the importance. Where would you recommend starting, and what would you say to companies where resources are light? 

This is where I’ve been most pleasantly surprised. Smaller agencies are always keen to test however previously many haven’t had the tech to build to API‘s. We recently launched Media Reporting in our collaborative sustainability platform (CSP) which allows all agencies and brands to measure their emissions from their campaign directly in the platform.

It’s been very well received with three Australian independent agencies already signed up (stay tuned for the PR and case studies that are coming out soon!).

There are no regulations as such that require ad companies to contribute to Net Zero targets, despite the goals set by the Australian government. In your opinion, is this going to change in the future and what do we need to do in order for it to change?

Regulations are definitely coming - in fact it could be as soon as January 2025, though the details are still unclear. In the meantime the framework from the Global Alliance of Responsible Media (GARM) will assist brands that may have previously been a bit concerned on which methodology to follow.

The reality is that with or without regulation, our efforts to drive systemic change and decarbonise media matter because climate change targets are getting closer. It takes a lot less team to optimise and eliminate waste in the digital world, than it will for physical supply chains to adapt to more sustainable practices. 

In my experience I’ve found that everyone is keen to contribute as best they can, and once a marketer understands that they can both reduce emissions and have better performance, no one has said they will wait for regulations or aren’t interested. Digital advertising has an opportunity to do what is both right for the planet, while also something that is proving to benefit their businesses.

Aside from Scope3, would you say you have a sustainable lifestyle? How are you reducing your carbon footprint? 

I thought I did, until I started understanding what more I could do. I also recognise it's a lot bigger than me. However, there are a few practices I would recommend to all. Seemingly small actions can be meaningful.

For example, if possible try and avoid AI for your daily simple tasks. It uses 6-10x more emissions than most searches. Be more thoughtful about your belongings and avoid fast fashion. Instead invest in a couple of timeless pieces if you can. Besides that, I know it’s a bit of a running joke, but don’t forget reusable coffee cups! And please bring your water bottle.

Finally, I love my Tesla, having registered for one in 2017. I now also have solar panels and a battery. I've opted for green power and I’m trying to do all I can to not use much of NSW's “dirty” grid.

To close, we’d love it if you could share some earned wisdom with our readers. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share today? 

You really need to think bigger than you. You don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of sustainability to start measuring and reducing. If you make changes to just one campaign, you’ll likely be saving more carbon than you can individually in one year (even if you went vegan).