Sustainability In Digital Advertising – Initial Best Practices & Recommendations

Posted by Jonas Jaanimagi On August 03, 2023 ad tech matters, Programmatic, sustainability

The topic of sustainability in digital advertising has a recently become an increasingly important consideration for industry to consider and collaboratively focus on. Due to the largely unseen and traditionally overlooked high levels of energy consumption required to power the servers, data centers, and devices that enable advertising online it is now clear that we have to be as efficient and effective as possible in terms of operational processes.

There are several elements to the functional requirements for producing, decisioning and delivering ads and each of these areas need to be closely looked at, reviewed and optimised in order to effectively minimise ad wastage. One of the best summaries of the core requirements can be found in GroupM’s excellent report on ‘Calculating a Cleaner Future Now: A Unified Methodology for Accelerated Media Decarbonization‘ published last year (see below for an example of the key considerations for a video ad campaign).

image source: GroupM

As a local industry body here in Australia we have been working for some time now to consult and align globally on what the best practices and recommendations are on this critical topic – but more importantly how we provide a consistent set of metrics, measurement guidance and a meaningful framework to support our industry in such an important area of focus.

Technically we are liaising with IAB Tech Lab’s dedicated Sustainability Working Group – who are committed to working with our industry to produce guidance, tools, and initiatives that can be used to help reduce the carbon impact of the programmatic supply chain. This involves evaluating processes that can be implemented to minimise the number of ad requests being processed, as well as the amount of data being processed via ad requests.

Additionally, IAB Tech Lab’s Sustainability Working Group are working on creating a ranking for the processes that are most effective in minimising waste and iteratively adding benchmarks of the expected levels of carbon emissions from the programmatic supply chain to the and assisting industry with realistic targets to work towards. The intention is to draft a framework for these benchmarks by the end of 2023 and from there to start thinking about how the emissions signals and related telemetry can be passed seamlessly and meaningfully through both direct advertising campaigns and critically the OpenRTB protocols that enable programmatic advertising across all environments and devices.

Many IAB’s globally and IAB Tech Lab are working with Ad Net Zero to ultimately help enable these benchmarks and establish a fdraft framework for review. Again, there is a lot of work still do be done but the 5-step action plan that Ad Net Zero recommend feels like a meaningful approach and their recommended steps can be seen below:

image source: Ad Net Zero

For now, we have worked on collating and publishing some basic and sensible guidance and best practices that our industry can immediately consider and hopefully follow in order to reduce carbon emissions via minimising wastage. We ran a dedicated panel on this topic at our 2023 Digital AdOps event in Sydney (click here to watch a recording of this session) from which we have gathered some basic recommendations. Additionally, there is some excellent recent guidance from both IAB Europe and IAB Tech Lab which we have summarised below and shared links to. We hope you find this useful. If you require more information, have feedback or want to know more about what we are doing here in Australia on this important topic then please email Jonas Jaanimagi at

Our S&G Council Recommendations

  • Review and adhere to the Creative Guidelines: These guidelines (click here) are maintained by our S&G council and are the result of testing a full and diverse range ad creatives for load performance and optimal user experience in order to determine the optimum specifications for allowed file sizes and other HTML5 considerations. This ensures that the ads and ad tags being produced and delivered though the eco-system are as efficient and effective as possible. Establish a process for regularly reviewing all of your ad tags and creatives, communicate your requirements clearly with your partners and clients and ensure that your ops teams standardise this as a practice.

  • Focus on Supply Path Optimisation (SPO): SPO is a process in which multiple variables are assessed and analysed in order to drive buyers towards the most efficient programmatic buying path. Focusing on these practices can help to improve efficiency in the programmatic supply chain and ensures that advertisers are wasting bids on any duplicate inventory.

  • Monitor the output from your ad calls: this can be done via dedicated tech partners but also through simple and very affordable debugging proxy tools such as Charles or Fiddler2 – which can enable you to monitor, review and debug the outputs from any ad calls on your web pages. This is a simple starting point for understanding what the potential computational efforts are required to deliver the ads on your web pages. Establish a process for reviewing and assessing this in your ops teams.

IAB Tech Lab’s Sustainability Green Playbook

In 2023 IAB Tech Lab’s Sustainability working group, published the Sustainability Playbook – as a guided resource promoting sustainable media best practices in programmatic advertising.

This excellent playbook serves as a valuable technical guidance and assist industry professionals in their endeavors to make advertising more environmentally friendly. By providing comprehensive guidance to both buyers and sellers, the Sustainability Playbook empowers participants in the digital advertising industry to proactively reduce the carbon emissions of their programmatic supply chains. Key topics include the below:

  • Implement Global Placement Id (gpid)
  • Use Preferred Paths
  • Lazy Load Pages
  • Limit Cookie Syncs
  • Always Include Bid Floors
  • Multi-format ad requests
  • Use Compression, Minification and Modularization
  • Reduce Duplicate Bid Requests Using Global Placement Id (gpid)
  • Limit purchases of Multi-Hop impressions and Limit Multi-Hop Resellers
  • Use managerdomain and inventorypartnerdomain
  • Support Pod Bidding
  • Avoid Inventory that is ‘Made For Advertising’
  • Leverage interoperable IDs where possible
  • Implement Ad Management API
  • Utilise Lean Creatives

The playbook places a strong emphasis on practical recommendations, and the utilization of existing best practices that enable buyers and sellers in the advertising industry to simultaneously minimize their environmental impact and uphold their responsible economic principles.

To access this playbook simply click here

IAB Europe’s Guide to Improving Sustainable Business Decision-Making

This initial guide from IAB Europe has been created to assist businesses in the digital advertising ecosystem navigate the ever-evolving landscape of sustainability and responsible business practices. The key content areas of this guidance is below:

  • Environmental Considerations for Business Decision-Making
  • Company-Level Environmental Strategy
  • European Legislation and Guidelines
  • Anti-Greenwashing Principles
  • Social Considerations for Business Decision-Making
  • Economic Benefits of Business Decision-Making

We work closely with the IAB Europe Sustainability Standards Committee, are in regular contact and are very supportive of the work that they have been doing.

To access this guidance simply click here

For a couple of other handy links including resources from IAB Europe – please see below:

Jonas Jaanimagi