Art & Technology
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Art & Technology

How Much Does an Ad Impression Emit Carbon?

Art by Rika @ Cavai

Background

The purpose of this article is to summarize our findings regarding the environmental impact of an ad impression. Simply put, we will answer the question, “how much does an ad impression emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?”.

To answer this question, we utilize our novel eight-phase framework defined in the peer-reviewed scientific article Environmental impact assessment of online advertising, published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review Journal.

In the article, we assess the total energy consumption of traditional ICT infrastructure as the basis for approximating the total energy consumption of global online advertising delivery. We then established the share of online ads from total ICT energy consumption.

As the results of the article, we find:

  • 20–282 TWh of energy consumed by online advertising in 2016
  • Total ICT infrastructure consumption ranged from 791 to 1334 TWh
  • With an emission factor of 0.5656 g / Wh, online advertising produced between 12 and 159 million tons of CO2e before offsetting

Energy consumption of a single ad impression

There are significant uncertainties when the energy consumption of a single ad impression is evaluated. The outcome of such an assessment is necessarily a broad distribution of possible results instead of a single figure. The simplest option to establish energy consumption per ad impression is to divide the total energy consumption of online advertising by the total amount of impressions. Here we have used the expert opinion of 146 trillion ad impressions per annum.

As the result of the analysis, we find the following:

  • The energy consumption of a single impression is between 0.14 Wh and 1.93 Wh
  • With the emission factor of 0.5656 g / Wh, a single online ad impression produces between 0.08 and 1.09 grams of CO2 before offsetting

It is important to understand that these results come with several caveats:

  • The figures are averages, and there can be significant differences between ad impressions
  • The emission factor is based on Germany and will change country-by-country
  • The figure assumes no offsetting, where in fact, some of the emissions are already offsetted

An average online ad impression emits carbon equal to:

  • Driving an electric car between 0.4 to 9.65 meters
  • Watching a 40” OLED TV on 4K between 1.5 to 35 seconds
  • Having a LED light bulb on between 30 and 700 seconds

These examples should be considered only as a way to understand the magnitude and not as an absolute comparison.

Conclusion

For every thousand ad impressions delivered, between 140 Wh and 1930 Wh of energy is consumed, resulting in 0.08 kg to 1.09 kg of carbon emissions before offsetting.

Read another article in this series:

  • Moving Towards Ecologically Sustainable Advertising: Introduction[LINK]
  • Moving Towards Ecologically Sustainable Advertising: The Five Fives [LINK]
  • Moving Towards Ecologically Sustainable Advertising: The Actual Method [LINK]
  • Is carbon offsetting a viable solution for reaching sustainability goals? [LINK]

Thanks for your time! If you have a moment more, please share.

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Mikko

Worked with machine intelligence for 15 years, and built the interwebs for 25. Nothing here is my own.