OOH is growing, but is it good for the planet?

OOH, especially digital, is booming. Market research has found that the number of digital OOH (DOOH) displays increased by 43% between 2017-2020 in the US. In the UK, Clear Channel estimates there are 30,000 DOOH panels in the UK. This issue covers everything from billboards and bus shelters to small storefronts.

With so many screens, understanding the environmental impact of digital billboards has become a concern for some in the industry. But measuring it has been a challenge. Christopher Sewell, CEO and founder of Net Zero Media, says there is no metric, officially. “16 years ago I developed a methodology that I took to the Carbon Trust in the UK. At that time, there was no official standard… and I’ve been working on it ever since. But it really hasn’t been that long until the last two years, when we all started talking about net zero targets.”

Since then, various media agencies and owners have developed their own tools to measure the carbon output of OOH and DOOH throughout the buying chain. IPA’s carbon calculator has been widely adopted, with IPG and MediaCom recently signing a net-zero media buying partnership with Scope3 to understand the full carbon impact of OOH, among other platforms.

But according to Sewell, this should have been done 10 years ago. “The advertising industry is a very late player in the game.”

According to Tim Lumb, director of knowledge and efficiency at Outsmart, the challenging measure is one that weighs the price of emissions against the impact. And in that, OOH is one of the most efficient mediums that marketers can choose. “Carbon calculators show that on a carbon per impression delivered basis (eg tCO2e/Mill) OOH is very efficient. For brands looking to reduce carbon emissions from their advertising, OOH is the clear choice,” explains Lumb.

But there are still improvements that can be made. He cites various ways that media owners can take control of the supply chain and further reduce their emissions, such as turning off screens at night or powering them with purchased energy from renewable sources. He also adds that innovating through technology by installing or upgrading displays with significantly reduced power consumption, such as adaptive brightness, LED lighting, and recycled paper is the future for OOH.

“Media owners can also invest in sustainable infrastructure, such as vertical meadows, solar panels, air cleaning units, recycled building materials, electric vehicle fleets, air quality sensors, temperature sensors, traffic monitoring.”

Finally, it highlights the ability of OOH to promote sustainable lifestyles and trends. In fact, one of the most memorable 3D billboards this year came from the Woolmark Company, in their ad that challenged the use of synthetic materials used in clothing.

So could OOH work in the public interest? Lumb says yes, through ad-funded sustainability projects and community initiatives like playgrounds, tree planting, sustainability partnerships and community cleanup projects, working with wildlife trusts.

“OOH advertising finances the installation, renovation, cleaning and maintenance of public infrastructure, particularly in public transport and communications,” he says. “In 2018, PwC estimated that approximately 40% of OOH advertising revenue goes back into the UK economy. Good public transport reduces overall vehicle travel, which is a key source of emissions.”

Both Sewell and Lumb also point out that the long tail on OOH and DOOH impact is preferable to saying, emailing, or clicking, as they are placed in common areas and public spaces, such as transportation.

“Public transportation is a great medium because you can print on paper and hopefully it’s recycled,” says Sewell. “There’s really no footprint because the trains run independently and as long as it’s not digital, there’s no difference in the amount of electricity the train uses to run.”

However, there is a growing activist movement against the presence of advertising within public spaces. AdFree Cities is an organization that lobbies against the installation of new digital billboards across the UK.

“Advertisers prefer digital screens due to higher earnings from continuous viewing of multiple ads per minute. But as the UK faces power shortages and a related cost-of-living crisis, the sheer power requirement for these brightly lit displays raises uncomfortable questions,” says AdFree Cities anti-greenwashing campaigner James Ward.

Meanwhile, art director Robbie Gillett reminds us that we are currently in an energy crisis: “And digital advertising screens are consuming huge amounts of energy for little social value and active environmental damage, like junk food ads, fast fashion and products with high carbon content. No wonder these displays were one of the first things to go off when countries in Europe needed to save energy to avoid shortages this year.

“We are asking the UK government to follow the example of Germany, Austria, France and Spain and mandate digital signage screens to be switched off at night to save energy.”

But overall, AdFree Cities wishes we could have few ads across the board, as the consumption it generates contributes to an increase in emissions, or ‘Advertised Emissions’: 32% per year of an average carbon footprint. UK consumer, according to a study by Purpose Disruptors.

In a recent interview with The Drum, Seb Munden, president of the Advertising Association’s sustainability bid, Ad Net Zero, told us that the industry oustruggles to act faster to minimize its carbon output throughout your supply chain, particularly media and OOH. “We are going to have to have a pre-competitive collaboration to establish the carbon footprint of various channels.”

He also expressed that while “we can never do enough” to change desires and behaviors towards more sustainable lifestyles, “I don’t think advertising can do it all, and I’m not sure it should be responsible for a footprint beyond its own.” . ”, calling sales attribution a “dark art”.

According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which breaks down the different types of emissions that companies can generate into Scopes 1, 2 and 3, the third area in which industries must address their impact on the planet includes emissions. indirect, or those that occur in the value chain of a company.

Gillett says, therefore, that while it is worth minimizing the environmental impact of OOH and DOOH, the fastest the advertising industry can do to immediately reduce its carbon footprint is to stop advertising the most damaging product categories. . “That is, cars, airlines and fossil fuel companies,” he says.

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