Did you know digital marketing leaves a carbon footprint?
Most marketers understand the carbon footprint of print marketing mediums. For more sustainable marketing options, they know to analyze the complete life cycle of a printing project. To consider the paper and ink, source renewably, use recycled or sustainable paper options and choose plant-based ink. Some may even push for paperless marketing, engaging with ideal clients solely in the digital space.
It’s easy to think a switch to all digital fixes the environmental impact problem, but digital marketing practices carve their own carbon footprint.
Are Digital Communications a Sustainable Marketing Option?
The environmental impact of digital marketing comes partly from the overall footprint of the internet age.
The Shift Project 2019 says, “The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions.”
International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts the challenges of the digital age have only just begun: “By 2025, worldwide data will grow 61% to 175 zettabytes, with as much of the data residing in the cloud as in data centers… the average person will have nearly 5,000 digital interactions per day by 2025, up from the 700 to 800 or so that people average today.”
Data centers, where all those zettabytes are stored, require an enormous amount of energy, primarily because they need a cooler climate. In warm-climate countries, that means housing the centers in a cold, temperature-controlled environment 24 hours a day. Studies have shown the process of cooling the equipment is where as much as 40% of the energy is expended.
Other environmental challenges of data centers are the chemical coolants often used and the backup battery centers needed to guarantee power 24 hours a day. These challenges with data storage have become a real threat to sustainable marketing in the digital age.
By 2019, Computer World reported a growing commitment by corporations such as Apple, Amazon, and Facebook to reduce the impact of data storage centers. BBC’s Smart Guide to Climate Change reported Microsoft’s pledge to be carbon negative by 2030 and Google’s promise to offset its emissions while moving toward renewable energy.
The changes are good news for those of us invested in sustainable marketing practices.
What Are Some Best Practices for Green Marketing?
As marketers, we can lead the way in sustainable marketing, using emerging best practices for green marketing.
- Cut emissions from business travel, and purchase carbon offsets when travel is necessary.
Transportation accounts for 28% of GHG, according to the EPA.
Work-from-home options and virtual training have lessened the need for business travel, but sometimes it’s still necessary. Marketers and event planners can purchase carbon offsets to contribute to the reduction of emissions elsewhere and compensate for those they create when traveling.
- Use sustainable web hosting services.
Website Builder Expert lists Green Geeks and InMotion among the top six sustainable web hosting services.
Web hosting services like these become classified green when they implement renewable energy, purchase carbon offsets, partner with green initiatives, and make other changes to reduce their environmental impact.
The Green Business Network points out the importance of partnering with sustainable hosting services, “Unless you host your site yourself, your website likely lives on a data server in a warehouse powered by fossil fuels.” Eco-friendly web hosting solves this dilemma with a sustainable marketing option.
- Source locally.
Sourcing from local suppliers reduces the need for long-distance transportation and supports the small businesses in the community.
Consulting firm McKinsey & Company says, “The typical consumer company’s supply chain creates far greater social and environmental costs than its own operations, accounting for more than 80 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90 percent of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources. Consumer companies can thus reduce those costs significantly by focusing on their supply chains.”
For digital marketers, hosting on-site or at regional facilities may be an option.
- Use a calculator like the terrapass business carbon footprint calculator to calculate your marketing department's carbon footprint.
Understanding our own environmental impact has never been easier. The calculator can help marketers evaluate which marketing activities create the most impact.
“Once you have a clear understanding of your CO2 levels, you can create strategies to reduce your energy and fuel consumption, and then purchase carbon offsets and renewable energy credits to balance the remaining emissions,” says terrapass.
- Consider fair trade and carbon footprint when gifting to clients.
Fair Trade organizations are known for taking care of people—helping them get fair prices for their goods and services—and stewarding the environment responsibly.
Green America notes, “Fair Trade organizations aim to equip farmers with the tools to adapt to and combat climate change, such as developing nutrient-rich soils and investing in reforestation projects. These projects not only sequester carbon but foster environmentally sustainable agricultural production.”
Gifting clients with Fair Trade merchandise demonstrates a commitment to reducing our carbon footprint, one of the best practices for green marketing.
- Remember to include environmental impact when making decisions about technology purchases.
For example, consider keeping equipment longer rather than replacing it just because replacement is on the schedule. The Shift Project explains, “Increasing the lifetime of devices is direct and fairly simple to implement… and permits reducing by 25% to nearly 40% the annual impact of two key items of a company’s digital ecosystem [laptops and smartphones].”
- Opt for collaborating on projects in a shared drive rather than emailing.
“A typical business user creates 135kg (298lbs) CO2e from sending emails every year, which is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in a family car,” notes BBC’s Smart Guide to Climate Change.
Rather than communicating with team members or clients with multiple emails, store documents in a shared drive where all invested parties can access it, comment, and make changes as needed. This small change can improve the efficiency of the workflow and, in the process, lessen its environmental impact.
- Build a culture of responsible stewardship in the work environment.
Follow best practices in the office. Use energy-efficient lighting. Power down equipment when it’s not in use. Make it easy for team members to recycle when working at the office. Keep sustainability at the core of your operations.
More best practices for green marketing will likely emerge as more marketers commit to sustainable marketing in the digital age, but these are a good place to start.