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November 10, 2022

How a flying carbon footprint reframes marketing decision-making

A million Facebook impressions can create a tonne of Carbon.” is the headline that got me wondering: What is the link between media, advertising and global warming? Everyone’s talking about carbon footprints, net zero and these decarbonisation targets. But do we actually understand what it all means? And what we can do to change it?

Let me demonstrate by example. I recently booked a flight home to New Zealand and was asked; “Would you like to offset your carbon footprint for $7?” I declined. Mainly because I wasn’t sure how that $7 was going to offset a 4,000km flight. So I looked into it.

How do Carbon offsets work?

The calculation goes like this:

  1. Your flight’s carbon is calculated based on how much fuel it will burn
  2. That’s divided by the number of passengers
  3. That’s my personal carbon footprint on the flight.

When you pay to offset this, your money buys “carbon credits” – basically, it’s invested in projects which take carbon out of our atmosphere or prevent more carbon entering. Think renewable energy. Think reforestation.

So, what’s Net Zero? It’s the point in time where we’re taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as we are putting in. It’s where we stop damaging our atmosphere and start healing it.

What connects CO2 and the Digital World?

So that explains flights but what about the carbon footprint created by the internet, and digital advertising. The internet creates around 4% of the world’s greenhouse emissions – almost double that of global aviation emissions. Emails on their own create more carbon each year than cars. The question is; How?

The internet is an enormous, physical infrastructure. There are over 7.2 million data centres around the globe – some the size of multiple football fields. They’re filled with servers, interfaces, etc – all using power. They’re connected by ‘Submarine cables’ spanning 1.2M km under our oceans. Every website, image, ad, and email creates data – data that’s stored, transmitted, re-sent and available to every single device around the globe – burning fossil fuel at almost every step.

What that means in practical terms

All in all, the internet creates around 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon each year. When you think 1 tree is estimated to offset 1 tonne of carbon over its entire life, then we need 1.6 billion trees each year to offset internet emissions.

Clearly, offsetting won’t be enough. We need to reduce the amount of power the internet uses. Switch to renewable energy. Use more efficient coding. Reduce file sizes. Turn off auto-play on our videos. Target better to reduce bounce rates.

It all helps.

Who’s already changing?

Like any problem, step one is acknowledging there is one. Some of Australia’s biggest advertisers have already set major decarbonisation targets – like Telstra, Commbank, IAG, Suncorp, Westpac and Woolworths. Their internet usage is usually included within those targets. They’re also measuring the footprints of their suppliers – including media companies.

Eventually, carbon based media planning will be unavoidable – everyone will need to think about it.

At AFFINITY, we buy 100% of our media through Net Zero. The platform measures, reduces and offsets our carbon by managing our assets, using smaller files, choosing off-peak times and looking at our tech infrastructure.

It’s also important to work with likeminded, carbon conscious partners. AFFINITY recently signed Comms Declare – stating we will not support any activities, organisations or individuals that promote the growth of fossil fuels, high greenhouse gas, or deception around climate science.

Some final thoughts

Understanding the carbon footprint of the internet as well as how offsetting works has made me a more mindful scroller. I’ll even pay the $7 next time I want to fly home, carbon neutral! Hopefully this has made you a little more mindful also, and you might consider the same.

If you’d like to make your business a force for a better world, why not look into becoming a Certified B Corporation? And if you’d like to work with people who care for the planet, along with the work they make, why not reach out to us here? You can contact us via


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