The global scale of our industry is not to be underestimated. How we produce and disseminate our campaigns and work with our clients, partners and suppliers has an impact, and will play a critical role in the journey to net-zero for the industry. Businesses like ours can play a significant part, and we can all work together to decarbonisefaster.  

At dentsu, we have set a target to reduce the emissions associated with our media supply chain by 46% by 2030 (from a 2019 baseline). Achieving this will require collaboration across the entire media ecosystem, including our clients, many of whom have set their own science-based targets.

Tracking carbon emissions from digital media is complex and dependent on the availability of accurate and comparable data from suppliers. As such, industry efforts to date have been limited, affected by the availability and accuracy of data. At dentsu, we have been working with the University of Bristol and some of the world’s most innovative media companies since 2019 to map the emissions associated with digital media. The initiative is called ‘DIMPACT’, focused on calculating the GHG emissions from delivering media content, from production to delivery, and on to the end user.   

DIMPACT: Collaborating with the world’s leading media companies to map the emissions associated with digital media.

Today’s carbon calculators use spend-based methodology, in line with the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, to approximate the emissions associated with media. We used this approach at dentsu to establish a baseline for our media emissions in 2019.   

Whilst effective for reporting emissions, spend-based methodology has limitations including the inability to identify emissions hotspots. With radical decarbonisation as our goal, we realised early in our journey that this approach was limited.  

To evolve from a spend-based methodology to a process-based methodology, we need to map the media ecosystem. Like many complex supply chains, this had not been done before. So, in 2019, dentsu joined some of the world’s leading media companies, including BBC, Sky and ITV, to establish DIMPACT, a research collaboration with the University of Bristol. Our aim was to map the digital media ecosystem and create a web-based tool to calculate the GHG emissions associated with digital media content.  

With more accurate data, we will be able to assess the emissions of clients’ digital media strategies and help them choose lower-carbon alternatives. This will provide transparent data for reporting and decision making, supporting others on their journey to Net Zero and best in class climate disclosure. 

In January 2021, we successfully completed the first phase of our journey and published the prototype DIMPACT calculator. 

 “It is rare to see an initiative that combines cutting-edge academic research with real-world impacts to such a degree as DIMPACT. We have seen our research and modelling skills translated into meaningful results for a whole industry. We expect this technology to go far, as we have only just started. Internationalisation, forecasting, validation and increasing the scope are the focus areas that will drive the next phase of development,” Dr Daniel Schien from Bristol’s Department of Computer Science.  

Digital first  

For media placement and distribution, digital media has been dentsu’s initial focus as it accounts for a large portion of our client’s ad spend (55.5% of our ad spend in 2022), and this is only expected to grow (dentsu Global Ad Spend Forecasts).

 In 2021, we augmented our research with DIMPACT with in-house development, creating a dentsu digital media calculator for our clients. This quantifies the emissions associated with all aspects of digital media placement, transfer and distribution. It also allows clients to understand the scale of the emissions and encourages them to minimise these emissions with our technology partners. To date, this has been offered as a pilot for select clients, and we are now scaling the calculator and embedding it into our own operations to track emissions from digital campaigns for all our clients. 

Our digital carbon calculator and methodology have been shared with the DIMPACT members to accelerate innovation.  

Expanding to full-service media 

In parallel, our local market teams in France and the UK have collaborated with Axionable, a specialist in sustainable and responsible artificial intelligence consulting, to develop and test country specific calculations that cover a broader media set. In August 2021, these tools were successfully tested and are now available for clients to calculate the end-to-end emissions associated with TV, digital, cinema, print and display media in the French and UK markets. 

What’s next?  

Today, our calculators are in use by global brands generating insights to accelerate decarbonisation. At dentsu this is our priority – we will continue to collaborate with our media partners to refine our approach, improve data and innovate to identify opportunities for scale decarbonisation. The real value to clients will come when we are able to give them choices at the planning stage. We have a clear roadmap to integrate carbon data into our planning system, this will enable us to give our clients an understanding of the carbon impact of one media plan versus another before they commit their media dollars.   

Decarbonising creative production

In 2021, we became founding members of the UK’s AdGreen initiative, which brings together the advertising industry to eliminate the environmental impacts of creative production. AdGreen has developed a carbon calculator for companies to assess the carbon footprint of production activities in the advertising industry. In the UK, our teams are already looking to embed this into their creative production process, and we plan to expand this globally as the tool develops.