To continue the deep dive into the topic of the carbon footprint of advertising, we have investigated the status quo on Audio and Outdoor (OOH) advertising. Both OOH and Audio are more diverse in their formats, infrastructure, and delivery modes, which impacts the capacity to calculate relevant averages or find overarching papers that present dedicated results on these channels. Nevertheless, we hope you find this overview of the abovementioned channels helpful and insightful.
As explained in the last article, the device on which we consume audio (streaming or radio) greatly influences the carbon emissions of the channel.
For Instance, BBC radio services commissioned a study in 2020 to estimate the energy consumption of each audio device used by the listeners of the BBC radio programs. They found out that using digital TVs (80.6 Wh/device-hour) to listen to the radio is nine times more energy-consuming compared to digital radios or DAB (9.3 Wh/device-hour).
Analogue radio is by far the largest energy-hungry system, essentially AM as the transmitters require a lot of energy but the listenership is limited. As it is made accessible across the land, it basically requires the same amount of energy for one person tuning in as for the entire population.
As part of estimating the carbon impact of this channel, it’s important to take into account the time that relevant devices spend in standby mode: keeping a device connected to the mains 24 hours a day for 2 hours of listening means 22 hours of (reduced but tangible) energy consumption. Turning off the devices could help to save as much as 38.3% of energy, say the researchers.
According to MQA.co.uk, the environmental cost of today’s streaming-centred music business is twice as high as in the CD era. The current model for digital music is quite wasteful.
This statement is illustrating a common problem with social media: the access to content and its consumption have a really high impact as they depend on the digital infrastructure - which is very energy-hungry - running in the countries with a high carbon share in the energy mix.
When compared to other ways of listening to music, such as using traditional CD/Vinyl players: compact disks and vinyl records (or cassettes for those who are as old as the author) are produced only once and repeatedly played until the medium is worn out. The players themselves consume energy while playing and no infrastructure is “on standby” waiting for the next request.
Various articles found on the internet mention the estimate of 55gCO2eq per hour from the Carbon Trust Paper on video streaming, with the calculation based on the Netflix data usage. It seems commonly accepted that the footprint should be equivalent for both video and audio, but the paper states that when streaming via a cellular network, the volume of data also affects the footprint. This comparison made by the News Statesman illustrates well the above problem.
If we refer to the Kommandotech article, the volume of data required is extremely different depending on the size of the file used as a source from video to audio files:
If we consider the footprint of audio and video should not be considered equivalent then we make an estimate based on the public information made available online. According to the Spotify 2021 Equity & Impact Report, Spotify’s Total GHG Emissions amounted to 353,054 t of CO2eq. in 2021. A quick calculation of the total carbon emissions of Spotify related to end usage and cloud storage in 2021 (36% of the total company carbon footprint ) divided by the volume of minutes consumed (also according to the Spotify website) yields a result close to the average carbon footprint of streaming.
The difference is important and this should not be taken for granted: this estimate does NOT include the device used (production and energy consumption/energy mix of the country), which may represent an important part of the GHG emissions but the author is no researcher to combine different datasets and provide the readers with a final value.
Podcast consumption differs from streaming as it is traditionally downloaded before being listened to. According to Catherine Ho’s paper (see the download link in the list of sources), podcasts tend to be listened to only once, which eventually equates to streaming of the file.
Definition of Out-Of-Home:
In marketing terms, OOH usually includes all activities outside: street displays, urban furniture displays, flyers or sample distribution, events, and mobile displays.
Calculating the carbon footprint is as individualized as the formats made available to advertisers, which makes it important to estimate the impact for each individual campaign depending on the different formats used and the length of the campaign (as well as the length of the video ad for digital).
As OOH advertising is extremely diverse, the type of impacts we are talking about include:
In 2008 one of the leaders in the industry, JcDecaux, engaged in an ambitious sustainability strategy to be carbon neutral (including both business and operations) by 2030. With four other major industry players, they built a carbon footprint calculator for the French market with the support of the French trade union of the Outdoor Advertising industry. As we saw in the last article, this only reflects the energy mix (very low carbon energy as nuclear is decarbonated), but it gives an idea of the proportions.
As one can see, digital screens have a larger impact due to the energy necessary to feed the screen. The details of the methodology are explained on the UPE website.
According to Adquick, Advertisers have a great impact on the evolution of the market as they have the capacity to demand change:
In April this year, the first poster sucking carbon out of the atmosphere was set up in London. This new technology can bring an edge to the sector by offering the possibility to combine advertising and offset the negative environmental impact.
Other OOH companies have grasped the impact of their activity and launched sustainable offers, such as JcDecaux, Jolt, Lamar advertising, Outfront, Ströer, and Volta. It is possible to minimize the footprint of campaigns by requiring that agencies work with sustainable partners.
There are clear opportunities for advertisers to refocus the market toward more sustainable offers for both types of media. Realistically, it is already possible to minimize advertising activities and compensate for any carbon impact by requesting a clear estimate of the campaign impact from your agency and including the cost of compensation in the budget. At the level of individual consumers, end usage based on device is the major cause of the increased impact: choosing wisely the device and network on which to consume the media and remembering to turn the system off when not used could bring a great benefit with no impact on your daily life. Just a habit to kick off - think about it!