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Blog / How to Measure the Environmental Impact of Digital Marketing

How to Measure the Environmental Impact of Digital Marketing

In the modern marketing landscape, sustainability isn't just a buzzword; it's a necessity. The industry is increasingly recognizing the need to understand, measure, and reduce the environmental impact of digital advertising. 

As businesses embrace eco-conscious practices, the digital marketing sphere faces the challenge of making operations more sustainable. To truly commit to sustainable digital marketing, marketers must first understand and measure their environmental impact.

In this blog, we’ll explore key metrics for measuring the environmental impact of digital marketing, some of the tools you can use, and we’ll address some of the challenges marketers come up against when trying to measure their environmental impact. But first, let's take a closer look at the environmental impact that digital marketing has.

 

What environmental impact does digital marketing have?

Businesses increasingly rely on digital marketing strategies to reach and engage their target audiences. While this shift away from print advertising logically seems like it would decrease the environmental impact of marketing, the sheer volume of digital ads being served has actually increased the industry’s carbon footprint.

One study found that online advertising contributes around 10-20% of the total internet infrastructure’s energy consumption. And this is just the ads that are being served — Ryan Cochrane, COO of Good-Loop explains that with the rise of programmatic advertising, “trillions of auctions take place every day without any ads being served at all.”

So, it’s clear that this mass production of online ads comes with its own set of consequences — but it’s not just energy usage that marketers need to be aware of. Examples of the environmental impact of marketing include:

Water usage

In 2021, Google’s global data center fleet consumed approximately 4.3 billion gallons of water. Data center cooling systems consume significant amounts of water to regulate temperatures, and this is often overlooked in environmental discussions.

 

onsite implementation requires server maintenance

Data centers use water in their cooling systems.
 
 

Forward-thinkers in Finland have managed to use lake water for cooling and redirect the warmed water into the heating systems of cities.

Carbon emissions

Operations of data centers and digital marketing channels, such as email, digital ads, SEO, and social media, generate a significant carbon footprint. A single email will emit around 4g of CO2-equivalent gases, so if email is a big part of your marketing strategy this can quickly add up to a significant amount. 

Energy consumption

Servers and data centers devour vast amounts of energy to keep our digital world running smoothly. New Scientist estimates that online adverts use as much energy as a small country.

Electronic waste generation

Technological advancements lead to the disposal of obsolete devices like old laptops or PCs, contributing to electronic waste.

This is where sustainable digital marketing comes into play. Sustainable digital marketing aims to balance achieving marketing goals with making a positive impact on the planet and society.

Key metrics for measuring environmental impact

In order to implement sustainable digital marketing practices, understanding and quantifying the environmental impact of digital marketing operations is key. Here are a few metrics that marketers can use to measure their environmental impact.

1. Liters of water used

Monitor the amount of water consumption in data centers and other digital infrastructure. Understanding water usage patterns enables businesses to implement water-saving measures and mitigate the impact on freshwater resources. 

2. Tonnes of carbon emitted

Measure the total greenhouse gas emissions, including CO₂ emissions, methane, and nitrous oxide. This metric provides insights into the contribution of digital marketing activities to climate change and facilitates the development of emission reduction strategies. 

 

carbon emissions blog

One email emits about 4g of carbon.
 
 

3. Kilowatt-hours of energy used

Track the total energy consumed in digital marketing operations, including electricity and other forms of energy. By monitoring energy usage, businesses can identify opportunities for efficiency improvements and renewable energy integration. 

4. Tonnes of waste generated

Quantify the volume of electronic waste generated from digital marketing activities. Addressing waste generation helps minimize the environmental footprint and promotes circular economy principles. 

Tools for measuring eco-friendly marketing metrics

In the pursuit of sustainable digital marketing, having the right tools to accurately measure environmental impact is essential. Here are a few tools that marketers can use to measure the sustainability of their activities:

Carbon Footprint Calculators

These specialized calculators provide estimates of carbon emissions associated with various digital marketing activities. By inputting data such as energy consumption, transportation, and server usage, marketers can gauge the carbon footprint of their campaigns and identify areas for improvement.

Sustainability Dashboards

Implementing sustainability dashboards offers up-to-date insights into eco-friendly marketing metrics. These dashboards aggregate data from multiple sources, allowing marketers to track key indicators such as carbon emissions, energy usage, and waste generation, enabling informed decision-making towards reducing environmental impact.

Data Analytics Platforms

Advanced analytics platforms play a crucial role in analyzing energy usage patterns and identifying optimization opportunities. Using data analytics, marketers can uncover insights into areas where energy efficiency measures can be implemented, leading to significant reductions in environmental impact.

 

effective-marketing-dashboard

Data platforms and dashboards can help you get a clear view of sustainability metrics.
 
 

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Tools

Conducting comprehensive life cycle assessments allows marketers to evaluate the environmental impact of their products and services throughout their entire life cycle. LCA tools provide a holistic view of environmental effects, enabling businesses to identify hotspots of environmental impact and prioritize mitigation efforts.

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

Implementing EMS enables businesses to systematically manage and improve their environmental performance. These systems provide frameworks for setting environmental objectives, conducting regular audits, and implementing corrective actions, fostering a culture of continuous improvement in sustainable practices.

Implementation challenges when measuring eco-friendly marketing metrics 

Despite the importance of measuring eco-friendly marketing metrics, businesses may encounter various challenges during implementation. Understanding and addressing these challenges is essential for businesses striving to integrate sustainability into their digital marketing practices. So, let’s take a look at some of the obstacles marketers face when trying to measure the environmental impact of their digital campaigns.

Data accuracy and reliability

Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of environmental data can be challenging if you don’t have string data foundations. Incomplete data sets, disparate data sources, and varying measurement methodologies can make reporting on sustainability metrics a struggle. Marketers need robust processes in place to collect, validate, and analyze environmental metrics effectively.

Integration with existing systems

Integrating sustainability measurement into existing marketing analytics and reporting systems can be complex. Businesses may face technical barriers, compatibility issues, and resistance to change when incorporating environmental performance indicators alongside traditional marketing metrics, so finding tools that easily integrate with the existing reporting stack is key.

Stakeholder buy-in

Garnering support from key stakeholders is crucial for the success of sustainability initiatives. This includes obtaining buy-in from management, employees, and customers who may have competing priorities or lack awareness of the importance of measuring eco-friendly marketing metrics.

Promoting a cultural shift towards a sustainability-driven mindset requires organizational commitment and employee engagement. Marketers need to foster a culture that values environmental stewardship, innovation, and continuous improvement, driving collective efforts towards reducing environmental impact.

Regulatory compliance

Navigating regulatory requirements related to environmental reporting and compliance adds another layer of complexity. Businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions need to keep an eye on evolving environmental regulations and ensure their measurement practices are in line with legal obligations.

 

GDPR-update-2022-blog-hero

Marketers must comply with privacy laws when tracking sustainability metrics.
 
 

Marketers can establish dedicated compliance teams tasked with monitoring regulatory updates and conducting internal audits to assess adherence to legal obligations. Implementing robust documentation and reporting processes streamlines compliance efforts and minimizes the risk of non-compliance penalties.

Conclusion

Measuring and mitigating the environmental impact of digital marketing is essential for businesses committed to sustainability. By employing tools such as carbon footprint calculators, sustainability dashboards, and data analytics platforms, marketers can gain insights into their environmental performance and identify opportunities for improvement. However, they must also navigate implementation challenges such as data accuracy, integration issues, stakeholder buy-in, regulatory compliance, and cultural shifts. 

Ultimately, conscious choices and collective action within the digital marketing industry are crucial for mitigating the environmental consequences of marketing practices and fostering a more sustainable future.

 

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