Q&A on SeenThis methodology, metrics and considerations when applying the SRI & Alliance Digitale framework

SeenThis measures data transfer and estimates the avoided data waste for all creatives and campaigns that we stream. The following Q&A explains the methodology, metrics, and considerations when SeenThis applies the distribution part of the SRI & Alliance Digitale framework to calculate the carbon footprint of asset delivery and estimate the avoided emissions related to asset delivery.

How do you measure data transfer? SeenThis measures the data that has been transferred for a specific asset, fetched directly from CDN centers and our CDN provider Fastly. “There are several ways to measure the amount of data being delivered from CDN data centers to end users. SeenThis uses the most accurate and reliable method to track and monitor this information, per the CDN's recommendation to track egress bandwidth using the resp.bytes_written variable”, Sales Engineering Manager, Fastly EMEA

How do you calculate carbon footprint for asset delivery? SeenThis applies the distribution part of the SRI & Alliance Digitale framework to calculate the carbon footprint of the asset delivery of the specified campaign(s). The model considers the full value chain of asset delivery from server to end-user device. For the life cycle of online advertising, this would be considered a gate-to-gate analysis, as it excludes emissions from e.g., content production, ad space allocation & analytics, media distribution, post-click, vendors, and advertised emissions, which could all be relevant for ads. The measured data transfer and view time is input in the model, assuming global average electricity emissions factor (0.44 kgCO2e/kWh), a set share of devices, and network depending on device, along with standard international values from the SRI & Alliance Digitale database. For a more detailed carbon footprint analysis, SeenThis can provide your measurement partner, tool or platform with more granular data.

What is carbon footprint? Footprint refers to negative impact on the planet in general, and can relate to environmental aspects other than climate, e.g., biodiversity, or social aspects, e.g., human rights. When referring specifically to climate and emissions, it could be called climate footprint, GHG footprint, or carbon footprint.

What is a kg of CO2e? Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the seven greenhouse gasses defined by the Kyoto protocol. CO2e refers to all 7 greenhouse gasses recounted as carbon dioxide equivalents and the standard unit to measure these in is weight (usually kg or metric tonnes) of CO2e. To make emissions more tangible, we sometimes compare a certain weight of emissions to the equivalent carbon footprint of other activities, such as distance driven in a car, smartphones fully charged, or number of direct flights between two cities (usually presented as either or, not collectively). We also present emissions as gPM, meaning gram CO2e per 1,000 impressions.

How do you estimate avoided impact? The estimated avoided impact is based on a comparison to running creatives of corresponding quality using conventional technology (video codec h264 main, mp4, no larger than 4MB; or static display where images are downloaded and not streamed, no larger than 150kB; assuming full download, caching not considered). Please note that caching can have a significant impact on data transfer, which is not accounted for in this comparison. Please reach out to your sales contact for more details and to discuss performing an A/B test which would capture the potential caching impact.

The estimated avoided emissions considers the full value chain of asset delivery from server to end-user device for the specified campaign(s). If assuming that all other emissions, e.g. from content production, ad space allocation & analytics, media distribution, post-click, vendors, and advertised emissions are unchanged, the absolute numbers would also be relevant for a cradle-to-grave analysis of online advertising. Assuming global average electricity emissions factor (0.44 kgCO2e/kWh), assuming the same values for view time, emissions factor for viewing location, network type, and device type, along with standard international values from the SRI & Alliance Digitale database. Please note that while these values are considered fair and reasonable as an average comparison, adjustments might be warranted depending on specific scenarios, such as local emissions factors, number of vendors, etc. Unless otherwise stated, no third party has verified each specific avoided emissions impact.

What are avoided emissions? Positive contribution to the planet, including avoided negative impact, is sometimes referred to as handprint. This can relate to any aspect of sustainability. Avoided emissions, also called scope 4 emissions, are a dimension of handprint. Avoided emissions are defined as the lower negative impact on society when comparing the GHG impact of a solution to an alternative reference scenario where the solution would not be used. This is a comparison with a fictional scenario. Avoided emissions can provide essential insights for climate-aligned decision-making, innovation and purpose definition. Please note that avoided emissions should always be reported along with but separate from total scope 1, 2 and 3 footprint, and should never be used to adjust or offset the footprint.

What is the difference between emissions reduction and avoided emissions? Absolute reduction in emissions is measured over time compared to a base year, considering the entire GHG inventory in scope 1, 2 and 3. This is an actual historical comparison. Achieving emissions reduction aligned with the Paris Agreement is, and should remain, the primary focus. The data in a report from SeenThis cannot alone be used to draw any conclusions on potential emissions reductions.

What is gPM? This metric refers to gram CO2e per 1,000 impressions. It’s an efficiency metric that can help reduce emissions if used right. However, optimizing for lowest CO2e per impression in isolation can lead to strange outcomes like advertising in the middle of the night when energy demand is lower, removing high-performing, but energy-heavy channels, or favoring extremely compressed creatives that barely can be seen.

It is important to not only consider efficiency, but also look at total emissions, otherwise a high efficiency solution might trigger a rebound effect in increased usage of that solution, leading to higher total emissions.

What does this mean for emissions per spend? Assuming all budgets are spent, reducing emissions per spend would reduce total emissions. It is a metric to keep in mind, but the most effective way to optimize for this metric would be to never negotiate rates and favor more expensive and less efficient solutions, which is both unlikely and counterproductive. Inflation happens, budgets go up, and so emissions can go up while the metric stays the same. This is not a metric to optimize for, unless the spend is actually connected to value creating outcomes. 

What is the metric to optimize for? What is the carbon cost of outcomes? Not all impressions are the same. And not every dollar or euro spent provides the same value. Outcomes can be the great equalizer. Carbon cost of business outcomes can be less straightforward to measure but should be every advertiser’s ultimate goal. Specific outcomes could be ROI, ROAS, attention, or brand lift - an easier to measure proxy could be used during a campaign with richer measurement happening afterwards to drive future optimization and spend. We would propose a combined focus on emissions per impressions, per campaign spend and campaign performance.

By targeting data waste and focusing on quality, performance and efficiency, SeenThis technology enables advertisers to effectively reduce their financial as well as carbon cost of outcome, giving them a tool to reduce their total emissions, while still reaching their marketing objectives.

We already use data centers and Internet providers that use carbon-free energy. Doesn’t that mean that the related footprint is zero? No. Making sure to only use carbon-free energy in your own operations, and sourcing suppliers that do the same is critical and should result in a very low associated footprint. However, this does not consider embodied emissions which are the emissions related to the manufacturing of the hardware used to build the Internet. Furthermore, the share of the world’s electricity from low-carbon sources has been largely unchanged, moving from 35% in 1985 to 39% in 2022, with the total energy need constantly growing. The transition to renewables is not rapid enough. In conclusion, we need to be smarter about when and if resources should be used in order to alleviate pressure on the world’s limited supply of renewable energy. This is why it’s so important to reduce the need for energy where possible.

Can’t we use offsetting and carbon credits to reach net-zero? No. Although projects connected to carbon credits and offsetting are crucial for the climate, the quantification, permanence and additionality of these are mostly very uncertain and therefore they cannot be used to justify emissions or be used to reach emission reduction targets. Net zero entails that emissions must be reduced to as close to zero as possible, with any residual emissions permanently removed from the atmosphere. Also note that the use of terms like “carbon neutral” or “climate positive” are under criticism and facing bans in many countries as they might be understood to mean that a product or service has no impact whatsoever.

By definition, the advertisement industry is not sustainable as it encourages consumption. What’s your view on this? SeenThis thinks this is an important question that deserves front and center attention when discussing sustainability in the advertising industry. Advertising often intends to increase sales of products and services, which depending on the specific product or service could lead to increased emissions. This is called advertised emissions, and is important to consider, however difficult to measure. Marketers have the power to encourage more responsible behavior and consumption, and can influence what demand they create. By promoting socially and environmentally conscious behaviors and increasing the demand for sustainable products and services, advertising can lead to positive impact, and in a global context avoid emissions. The increased demand is also an increased opportunity for brands to reinvest in sustainable innovation.

Nov 17, 2023