We encounter advertising every day – on the street, in the underground or on our own smartphones. More and more companies are using advertising to present their green image. But what about the carbon footprint of advertising itself?
Green is the dominant colour of advertising. This impression could quickly arise if one takes a closer look at the development or rather the appearance in marketing. On almost every product there is at least one green logo that stands for sustainability, biodiversity or a healthy attitude.
And the packaging is also becoming greener and greener. A tree here, a sprouting plant there: an ecologically oriented and sustainable attitude meets the zeitgeist. This is precisely why more and more companies are jumping on the proverbial bandwagon.
Greenwashing works (at least subconsciously)
It is also clear that greenwashing is involved to an extent that cannot be disregarded. Whether it’s a paper bottle being tested at Coca-Cola or the green electricity that Amazon or Deutsche Bahn use to offer some of their services makes little difference.
Despite all the obvious doubts about some sustainability initiatives, consumers subliminally retain a better image in their minds. As soon as exactly that happens, the advertising has succeeded in everything it set out to achieve.
CO2 footprint: How harmful is online advertising itself?
What often gets pushed into the background in all discussions about sustainability is the question about the advertising itself. Or more specifically: how high is the CO2 footprint created by digital advertising?
The employees of the Cavai marketing cloud dealt with precisely this question in a study. The result: online advertising alone consumes between 20 and 282 terawatt hours of electricity in a year.
According to the results of the study, the electricity consumption of the technical infrastructure needed to play out the advertising even amounts to 791 to 1,334 terawatt hours. These are generated, for example, by the data centres, the servers, the desktop screens or the apps on your smartphone.
Incidentally, the large fluctuation margins are due to the fact that the concrete consumption figures differ in the individual countries. This gives rise to average values.
CO2 footprint: online advertising vs. China, USA, Germany and co
As always, it is helpful to put the figures in perspective. According to Statista, China had the largest electricity consumption in the world in 2021 with 7,806 terawatt hours. The USA and India follow in second and third place with 3,979 and 1,443 terawatt hours respectively.
Germany, with just over 500 terawatt hours, is thus below the minimum consumption of the technical infrastructure. Spain, with its 234 terawatt hours, roughly corresponds to the CO2 footprint of pure online advertising.
This is the CO2 footprint of a single digital ad
Of course, the researchers have also broken down the figures to the smallest unit: According to them, between 0.08 and 1.09 grams of CO2 are produced by a single digital ad.
For comparison: this corresponds to an electric car driving between 0.4 and 9.65 metres or the consumption of an LED light bulb that shines brightly for between 30 and 700 seconds.
According to an interview with The Drum by Cavai CEO Steffen Svartberg, online advertising is responsible for around one percent of global CO2 emissions.
According to this, companies that really want to commit to more sustainability should not put up billboards for sustainable campaigns or place millions of online ads, but rather refrain from large-scale advertising campaigns. That helps the environment more.