Skip to main content
News 26 Jul 2022 - 5 min read

‘GroupM forests’: Big advertisers clocking their role in net zero ad campaigns as GroupM launches project Alpha to decarbonise Australian media; planting forests the start but not an endgame

By Paul McIntyre - Editor

GroupM chief Aimee Buchanan: "Everyone's got a target and a number to hit, an appetite to do something but actually no one in pitches has anything really substantial to say. So we're just having the first conversation."

Blue chip advertisers are only just starting to realise that media spending needs to be part of their broader corporate targets for net zero carbon emissions and it’s a game plan GroupM ANZ wants to be part of from the top down. The media buyer cannot yet optimise budget allocations between publishers or overall channel mix on emissions levels – which means media owners and publishers might have cut themselves some time ahead of a major push to lower carbon emissions through the media supply chain.

What you need to know:

  • GroupM ANZ has launched Project Alpha in what it says is the first agency holding group here to create a carbon-offsetting program for digital display and video.
  • It’s a first-stage release and will not benchmark individual media owners and publishers on their carbon emissions.
  • GroupM CEO Aimee Buchanan addressed media owner concerns that they would bear most of the responsibility for a cleaner media supply chain: “It’s not putting anyone under a bus”, she told Mi3.
  • Most of GroupM’s top 100 clients have been briefed on the programme. Some see it as contributing to their own corporate net zero strategies but did not realise the extent to which digital media contributed to emissions. 
  • Per Group’s M’s digital sustainability lead Charles Dangibeaud, every single digital supply chain components – ad tech, exchanges, every failed bid, “all of that essentially ads up … to quite a lot.”

Every single time any type of technology interacts for the advertising journey, there's a two-way communication with the cloud or a data server, and every single one of these communications, even the bid that fails, emits a little bit of carbon. And the more you add audience segments to a DMP, to ad verification…the type of ad exchange, the number of SSPs that are used, the ad server ... all of that essentially adds up … to quite a lot.

Charles Dangibeaud, digital sustainability lead, GroupM

Alpha enters beta phase

GroupM’s local unit said yesterday it has started the long and complex trek to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 via what is essentially carbon credit offsets through planting trees, funding renewable energy projects and other programmes.

GroupM has already briefed its top 100 advertisers on project Alpha, which in its first phase aims to quantify the emissions generated from a digital video or display campaign and give advertiser clients the choice to offset via carbon credits.

GroupM ANZ CEO Aimee Buchanan acknowledged carbon offsets are not the end-game versus actually reducing emissions in the media supply chain. But she said the task to unravel, quantify and benchmark every media channel and publisher must start with baseline steps. GroupM has a struck an alliance with UK-based Good-Loop which tags digital ads and calculates the emissions generated from those campaigns. Offsets can then be bought off those sums.

Shorter digital supply chains?

Buchanan told Mi3 that GroupM’s client briefings had surprised many by shining a light on how a digital ad campaign generates emissions. A big part of the footprint is from technology – ad servers, DSPs, SSPs, verification firms, programmatic trading exchanges and cloud-based platforms. They all contribute incrementally to significant emissions that urgently require new world solutions to decarbonise marketing’s media supply chain.

Globally GroupM accounts for 55 per cent of parent company WPP’s total global carbon emissions because of the huge volumes it trades in carbon-emitting media channels. Any transfer of data equates to emissions – and Australia, because of its heavier reliance on fossil fuel power generation, has higher emissions per advertising impression than the rest of the world, according to GroupM.

“Everyone's struggling with how to resolve this or how to take a first step with it,” Buchanan said. “When you talk to the pitch consultants about who's asking for this or who is presenting it in pitches, it's on every client's list. Everyone's got a target and a number to hit, an appetite to do something but actually no one in pitches has anything really substantial to say. So we're just having the first conversation.

“What we want to do is get to something that represents a first stage for our client base. It’s quite complicated. We knew that what we were doing had an impact on carbon emissions – but I don't think we understood that the way we use technology magnifies the emissions.”

GroupM ANZ’s digital sustainability lead, Charles Dangibeaud suggested that the increasing complexity of the digital supply chain is compounding the problem.

“Every single time any type of technology interacts for the advertising journey, there's a two-way communication with the cloud or a data server, and every single one of these communications, even the bid that fails, emits a little bit of carbon. And the more you add audience segments to a DMP, to ad verification, whether it's IAS or DoubleVerify, the type of ad exchange, the number of SSPs that are used, the ad server… all of that essentially adds up,” said Dangibeaud. “And the little things end up adding up to quite a lot.”

Equally, Buchanan said 5G versus WiFi has different implications for carbon impacts – and it’s the same for mobile versus desktop.

It's not about who is better or worse – that’s the worst possible outcome from this. It has to be a step forward, and we just want to have a further conversation. The more we try and shoot people down, the more defensive everyone gets.

Aimee Buchanan, CEO, GroupM

Publishers 'not thrown under bus'

“The first phase of this is just understanding. We won't be hastily making a heap of decisions because we don't want to impact client performance. We've done some tests and we're doing some more tests now to make sure it doesn't interfere or disrupt any of our normal architecture running a campaign,” she underlined. “The first phase will be watch and learn. Down the track we’ll get more of an understanding of what else we can do, but there will be an ability to change within the campaign parameters.”

A soft start will provide some relief to media owners, who fear greater responsibility – and cost – will fall on them to address carbon emission compared to gatekeepers like media agencies who might “pass the buck”.

Buchanan rejected that notion outright.

“Everyone's going through this journey, there's a window and it's not putting anyone under the bus,” she said. “It just takes time to sort some of these businesses out, like it's taken time to sort our business out and our clients are in the same position. How do we help find some action to close the gap in that window? That’s what we're trying to do,” she said.

“It's not about who is better or worse – that’s the worst possible outcome from this. It has to be a step forward, and we just want to have a further conversation. The more we try and shoot people down, the more defensive everyone gets. What we need everyone to do is lean into the conversation. We don't have all the answers. We're going to learn a lot in the next six months, but we definitely want to be at that table having the conversations.”

On the risk of ad rate inflation from pricing in carbon emissions, Buchannan suggested “it's not that much”. GroupM’s early work suggests it loads an additional 0.5-1.5 per cent to the cost of a campaign for carbon offsetting, though that increases if an advertiser wants to do more, for example coral reef restoration.

“We're still getting through this but we’ll have one conversation with one client and it's $25k for half a year to offset - that's on a big investment. For another client, it's $100k to offset and to do the positive impact piece,” said Buchanan.

“The most important thing here is we’re all still figuring it out. It’s hugely complex, but we have to start somewhere.”

Some brands are already on board. Volvo’s Australian boss Stephen Connor said the plan aligns with its own deep decarbonisation agenda as it bids to become a fully electric carmaker within eight years, and climate neutral by 2040 – a massive task for a manufacturer reliant on steel and heavy processes.

“I congratulate our partner GroupM for kicking off this groundbreaking initiative in Australia,” said Connor. “We’re proud to be part of it.”

Share your reaction (and see how others voted)

Leave a comment (you must be logged in)

Be the first to comment

Search Mi3 Articles

Make it personal

Join Mi3 to receive our weekly edition and personalise your experience