About the research

The Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC) conducted a qualitative study to better understand the perspectives of online users regarding sustainability. This study addressed key questions, including user awareness of carbon emissions associated with their internet usage, their views on “sustainable advertising” and strategies to reduce carbon footprint. These findings will form the basis for a larger quantitative study that the AAC will commission later this year.

Key findings

Brands and agencies must bear responsibility to reduce CO2

Users feel that the responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of online advertising falls primarily on advertising agencies and the brands commissioning the ads.

Participants suggested several ways that brands and agencies could contribute to emissions reductions, such as:

  • Implementing formal certifications or compliance standards
  • Reducing the no. or types of energy-intensive ad formats
  • Requiring advertisers to offset carbon emissions from ads.

The path to advertising sustainability is unclear

Users want the carbon emitted by online ads to be reduced, but most are unable to elaborate on how this can be achieved. Notably, users perceive certain types of ads  (primarily video ads, but also interactive ads, animated ads and pop-ups) to be more energy-intensive and therefore negatively impact the environment more.

There is a gap in users’ understanding of the online advertising ecosystem, which suggests that industry stakeholders should collaborate on providing clear information and guidelines for sustainable advertising practices.

Users want credible industry-wide standards

Making online advertising more sustainable is difficult given the industry complexity and number of stakeholders involved. The consensus from users was that sustainability initiatives require a united industry effort spearheaded by independent and credible organizations.

While some participants mentioned the need for a governing body or regulator to oversee emissions reduction in online advertising, others were unaware of any existing such bodies. This indicates a potential opportunity for industry associations or organizations to step in and fill this role.

[…] someone who’s credible and has authority over the environment, or someone you can trust. You can’t have people just making up their own badges and saying this is legitimate. You need a body to authorize it.

Internet user
Male, 44, United Kingdom

(on the importance of the source of a sustainability initiative or credential in determining its trustworthiness)

What is needed

Without reliable data, effective management is difficult. Credible information is the catalyst for transformative actions and behavioral shifts.

The IAB Tech Lab has released a comprehensive starter guide, empowering stakeholders to initiate immediate changes. Brands, agencies, publishers and ad tech companies are eager to make a difference – they need clear directives to commence their sustainability journey.

Without reliable data, effective management is difficult. Credible information is the catalyst for transformative actions and behavioral shifts.

📣 Spreading the sustainability word

The Acceptable Ads Committee recently held a sustainability panel at the Ad-Filtering Dev Summit 2023 on ‘Redesigning advertising in a climate emergency: Prioritizing sustainable media’, featuring:

  • Terry Taouss, President of the AAC
  • Leigh Freund, CEO of the NAI
  • Claire Gleeson-Landry Head of Investment and Sustainability at Good-Loop
  • Justin Wohl, Chief Revenue Officer, Salon.com, Snopes.com and TVTropes.org

'Sustainability and digital advertising — ad execs question whether regulation will be required'

This article featured on Campaign US is a coverage of the panel discussion above.

Let's connect

If sustainability is an important initiative within your organization, I encourage you to join our dedicated ‘sustainability working group’. Your participation will help shape future AAC initiatives in this crucial area. 

About Acceptable Ads Comittee

Established in 2017, the AAC creates nonintrusive, exceptionally-researched ad standards that respect user experience while delivering real value to content publishers and online advertisers.

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