Practical steps towards a greener digital ecosystem

Posted on Wednesday 11 October 2023 | Patrick Hann - IAB UK

Get to grips with the challenges and considerations surrounding creative ad load size, focusing on small but impactful changes

Environmental awareness is continuing to grow in the digital advertising world as sustainability is brought to the forefront of discussion across industry forums. Calculating the exact emissions of different parts of the ad delivery chain is not easy, but advertisers, publishers, and other groups should be looking at ways to limit their carbon footprint, at both the macro and micro level. In this piece, we will look at the challenges and considerations surrounding creative load size, focusing on the small but impactful changes that can be made to ads to help reduce the carbon footprint of digital advertising as a whole.

Ad load size & carbon footprint

While only one of several key determinants of carbon emissions in digital advertising, the size of the creative being delivered has a big impact when it comes to larger creative within a typical digital ad campaign. Ad load size is measured in bytes and, perhaps inevitably, there is a positive correlation between the size of an ad load and the carbon footprint associated with delivering that ad - particularly when operating at a large scale across millions of impressions. 

The main culprits

A couple of key factors contribute to the ballooning load size of ad creatives. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of utilising multiple verification scripts within the same creative. Often these scripts will be tracking similar or, in some cases, identical metrics, which is not only wasteful financially and operationally, but also creates a larger ad load and consequent carbon footprint. Another key factor is the use of overly large assets within an ad - for example, overly detailed logos and creative images may push the load size up significantly when a lower resolution image will have looked virtually identical but required a far smaller load size.

Practical solutions

To mitigate the environmental impact of digital ads, it is essential for advertisers and agencies to adhere to guidelines set out in IAB Tech Lab’s LEAN Standards. These standards promote various principles that drive streamlined experiences for the user, such as guidance around recommended initial load size for ads of different dimensions, as well as subload sizes, and the ways in which both can be optimised. 

As part of the LEAN framework, The Lightweight Ad Guidance provides five pieces of advice to decrease the initial load sizes of ads, to the benefit of the environment and the user. These include:

  • Using light weight file loads during initial load on the page
  • Eliminating or minimising render blocking scripts like CSS, JavaScripts during initial load stage
  • Using subload for rendering ad experiences that require heavy file weights
  • Minimising the number of files requested during initial load
  • Ensuring that user initiation is required for ad functionality that needs large file downloads

As well as the LEAN Principles, there are practical solutions that combat some of main contributors of load size:

  • Using an ad load size compression tool, that will allow for automatic reduction of assets within an ad to bring the overall ad size in line with the LEAN framework
  • Manually taking steps to compress asset files, be they JPG, PNG, SVG, or even GIF files
  • Utilising sites that will streamline superfluous lines of code to reduce unnecessary functions in dynamic creatives

Collective responsibility

While creative size plays a pivotal role in determining carbon emissions, it is important to remain cognisant of the other factors driving the emissions of the digital advertising world. Other variables, including device emissions, distribution emissions, and data transfer emissions, also contribute significantly to the overall carbon footprint.

The Ad Net Zero Guide outlines actionable steps that should be embraced by all stakeholders in the digital advertising ecosystem. The report endorses incorporating media carbon calculators into media planning to make informed choices about sustainability.

ESG issues are becoming increasingly prevalent in the digital advertising world and will remain so for the foreseeable future. While initial ad load is, at first glance, a fairly granular issue to be addressing when considering the digital ecosystem’s carbon footprint, once you consider that a typical ad campaign is serving millions of impressions, a small change to a creative setup can have a large, positive impact.

Written by

Patrick Hann



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