‘No More Spray and Pray’ (and Other Sustainable Supply Practices)

Whatever industry you’re in, it’s hard to move without seeing calls for the need to be greener and more sustainable. The digital advertising industry, initially regarded as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional print media, is now fully aware of its carbon impact and is investing significant resources into viable solutions.  


But it can be hard to know what actions to take—something indicated by the BidSwitch research report, Going Green: How AdTech is Approaching Environmental Sustainability. 30% of respondents said they hadn’t yet adopted any green media trading initiatives, despite looking into it. 

Framing the sustainability issue

In addition to simply not knowing where to begin, there's also the issue that the innovative, problem-solving culture of the sector has led to the development of a wide selection of carbon-cutting tools. The problem? There’s always a new, evolved option just around the corner, and it’s potentially tempting for players to delay action until it arrives. 

In addition, fragmented supply chains and header bidding have led to big increases in duplicate bid requests (eMarketer records the volume of bid requests going through the programmatic bidstream increasing roughly 2.3 times between 2020 and 2023.) This ‘spray and pray’ approach means DSPs can see the same impression opportunity anywhere between 20 to 50 times from the SSPs they’re listening to—which results in a big hike in processing costs, and with it, carbon emissions. 

Sustainable supply practices: A checklist

There’s no doubt the picture is highly complex, but there are actions that all players can resolve to undertake. BidSwitch has put together the following checklist so that supply side parties—or anyone working in the programmatic supply chain—can take control of reducing carbon impact and make their trading more sustainable: 

#1: Adopt ‘carbon light’ ad formats and tools  
High-quality creative assets are essential for an advertising campaign – but they’re not all created equal when it comes to energy consumption.  

The culprits when it comes to ads with a heavy carbon weight include those with larger files (because more energy is needed to transmit and load them), video adsparticularly high-definition and autoplay videoswhich consume more bandwidth, as well as ads with animations and interactive features. Design and color choices can all impact file size, and the duration of an ad, along with how often it’s shown can also influence carbon footprint of a campaign.

#2: Focus on data center efficiency

Optimizing infrastructure to reduce the emissions related to processing was the number one sustainability initiative adopted by BidSwitch survey respondents, with 77% saying their company was engaged in this activity.

The huge energy consumption of data centers is therefore clearly well-recognized. As with working with eco-friendly partners (above), switching to energy-efficient technology and renewable sources wherever possible reduces the overall carbon footprint of the organization’s supply chain, while also sending a strong message about its sustainability ambitions and flagging the demand-driven need for a shift in the industry. 
#3: Prevent ad fraud

Artificial traffic, clicks, impressions, conversions, and all the other tricks that constitute ad fraud have plagued the digital advertising sector for many years. To date, the discussion has tended to focus on wasted funds, but as the industry’s attention turns towards the environment, invalid traffic is also recognized for bumping up bidstream activity, thereby increasing the use of energy along the supply chain and creating an additional obstacle to sustainability.

Active steps to maintain a clean and transparent ad ecosystem are needed, for example by implementing advanced fraud detection software and transparent tracking and reporting. Partners areyet againa key element; those that implement anti-fraud measures themselves, protect other companies in the supply chain.

#4: Work with eco-friendly partners

Favoring brand, advertiser and publisher partners that are committed to sustainability reinforces the organization’s own green objectives. It also has the potential to encourage change throughout the industry as players see first-hand the market shift to a more sustainable stance.

The need to be selective about programmatic partners was recognized in the BidSwitch research, in which 84% of respondents wanted to know more about their partners’ sustainability efforts, and 15% were reassessing partner relationships based on sustainability practices. 12% went as far as blocking websites deemed to be carbon offenders.

#5: Measure carbon footprints

Reducing the carbon footprint of digital advertising operations requires knowing what it is in the first place. 22% of respondents in the BidSwitch research were already measuring their carbon emissions annually, with 48% planning to do so.  

Of course, measuring your footprint is a complex process, requiring data gathering from across both your organization and your wider partner ecosystem. Over time, the industry will hopefully develop standards and benchmarks to create a common language around carbon footprint, which should make the process easier for all.  

#6: Deploy traffic shaping

The mass adoption of header bidding has played a big part in the major increase in duplicative bids sent from SSPs to DSPs. Not only does this generate waste and increase processing costs on the buy and sell side, but more processing power means more carbon emissions.

Optimizing (shaping) the bidstream so that traffic is made relevant for each DSP based on that platform’s likelihood to bid increases programmatic efficiency, and in so doing, reduces the carbon weight of each campaign. Find out more about traffic shaping in our dedicated article.  

#7: Communicate environmental initiatives transparently

Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company’s commitment to sustainability. However, in the race to be seen as sustainable, there is a temptation to make inflated statements, or leave out key details; ‘greenwashing’ is now a widely recognized term, with perpetrators called out regularly.

To build trust and demonstrate the industry’s commitment to reducing emissions, players throughout the supply chain need to be clear about their achievements, plans, and intentions. We encourage all partners to regularly and openly share environmental impact numbers with the wider ecosystem.  

If you’d like to know more about the ways BidSwitch is working towards a greener future, ask your account manager or contact the team today.