A common misconception about digital marketing is that it is ‘eco-friendly.’
As there is no physical end-product like you may have in other marketing channels, like direct mail or outdoor posters, it may be eco-friendlier but we can’t accurately call it eco-friendly.
Eco-friendly means that a product or service has no negative impact on the environment and with digital marketing, there isn’t an area you can really confidently say that this is the case.
The Carbon Footprint Of Email
The simplest way to think about the impact of digital marketing on the environment, is to think about energy usage. Using energy, like electricity, has an impact on the environment.
For a basic digital marketing example, lets consider sending an email.
To send an email, at a minimum, you need 3 computers running.
- For the person who composing the email.
- For the application that is sending the email.
- For the person receiving the email.
It’s estimated that there are 320 billion emails sent every day and while you don’t need a computer for every single of those emails it means there are:
- Millions of computers composing emails.
- Millions of computers receiving emails.
- Thousands of computers that power the applications that send them.
The carbon emissions of a single email can be anywhere from between 4g to 50g. Applying this to the the scale of email sending, shows the impact of the problem and how we can’t accurately define email marketing as ‘eco friendly’.
Carbon Footprint Of Other Digital Marketing Channels
Now that is just email, but when you look at other channels such as:
- Digital ads
- Social media
The same principles apply. Therefore, to think about the effect of digital marketing on sustainability, we need to think about both the individual impact of the channel and the scale.
How to measure the impact of digital marketing on emissions.
There are some good frameworks in place that can help us understand our ability to address the different types of emissions a business can generate. A common way of breaking these down is into different scopes of emissions. These are referred to as scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 emissions:
Scope 1 ( Burn )
Scope 1 covers direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the company. This includes emissions from company-owned or operated facilities and vehicles. These are emissions you burn yourself. They are the emissions you can directly address.
Scope 2 ( Buy )
Scope 2 covers emissions from the generation of electricity purchased by the company. Emissions that you effectively buy. These are emissions you can indirectly address through changing plans or vendors.
Scope 3 ( Beyond )
Scope 3 encompasses emissions that are not produced by the company itself, and not the result of activities from assets owned or controlled by them. They are the emissions beyond those it is indirectly responsible for. This includes everything it takes to make and consume your product.
An example of this could be emissions generated through the marketing of your product. In our email example above, this would include all the stakeholders in sending an email. The emissions generated from the computer sending the email, the emissions generated from the computer powering the email software, and the emissions generated from the computer receiving the email.
These emissions are harder to measure but can be modelled. However, an easy way to address this is to make choices all along your supply and value chain that prioritise sustainability, like selecting companies that align with your sustainability goals.
What can we do about it?
While digital marketing will inevitably still need to be a part of the marketing mix, there are two ways we can reduce our impact.
- Offset the emissions you are generating.
If you can measure this yourself, you can purchase offsets or you can work with companies that help you measure and offset the impact of your work. Scope3 is a great example of a company that helps to measure and offset the impact of your digital ad campaigns. Or EcoSend, a new GoSquared product designed to offset emissions from email marketing.
- Reduce unnecessary output.
This involves making choices in your marketing strategy that means you won’t be generating as many emissions. These could be choices like reducing the number of SSPs you work with in your digital ad campaigns and using segmentation to send fewer but better emails in your campaigns.
What does this all mean?
Awareness is the first step in making any type of positive change. If we can become more aware of the impact our day-to-day work has on sustainability, we’re surfacing a huge opportunity for impact.
While each individual contribution may seem minimal, the level of time we are applying to these tasks means that we can see positive changes, at an exponential scale, in no time at all.