What’s the Carbon Footprint of a Banner Ad?

The carbon footprint of a banner ad? Damned if I know, but read on for a few clues.

I had an interesting interview with Don Carli, research fellow at the
non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communications (ISC).

Carli’s a veteran tech
analyst who’s been working with the print industry on ways to measure the
so-called “carbon footprint” of its activities. A carbon footprint
is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment,
specifically, the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of
carbon dioxide.

Carli’s been looking at print because it leaves such a recognizable
footprint, but he says digital publishers are hardly free of environmental

“It is wrongheaded to assume that the use of digital media is without environmental impact,” said Carli. “In addition to problems with e-waste disposal, much of the energy used to power and cool data centers and ISPs comes from coal-fired power plants. Keeping a megabyte of data alive on the grid and moving it from server to server means that somewhere puffs of CO2 are being released into the atmosphere to make it possible.”

In April the U.S. Supreme Court ruled CO2 (carbon dioxide) is a pollutant
giving the Environmental Protection Agency the legal right to regulate
emissions from new cars.

We’re not talking about cars here, but there’s little doubt CO2 emissions
faces greater regulation going forward. Carli argues that even some of the
most environmentally responsible companies don’t do enough to reduce their
carbon footprint because they largely ignore their supply chain.

“Does a big digital publisher have a say over how a [third party] data
center operates?” Carli said today that the answer is no, but that could change
in the future.

He’s looking to work with groups like The Green Grid and funding from ad agencies and other groups to quantify just what
computing resources are used to generate ads, content and e-mail.

encouraged,” said Carli. “I’ve got calls from four different interactive
agencies who want to be able to calculate the carbon footprint of ads.”

The idea is that ad agencies and publishers would see value in promoting
themselves as certifiably carbon neutral through some kind of offset program
they pay into. Carli said those funds would be invested in ways to
re-engineer the supply chain.

The ISC walks at least a bit of the talk; its Web site is hosted by
solar-powered Aiso.net, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Ad “Lock Ups” in Web’s future?

Imagine you’re watching a video on the Web of some innocuous fare like
the latest attempt to break the record for eating hot dogs. The judges are
just about to announce the winner when an animated remote control pops up,
freezes the screen and a new video narration is super-imposed to remind you
of other “great” shows you can watch. Finally, the screen is restored and
you finish watching the show.

If you think this is far-fetched, you haven’t been watching the TBS cable
TV channel, which has taken the “pop-up” ad to a new low; I’m calling them
“lock-up” ads.

I was watching a rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond” when just such a
virtual remote appeared in the hand of someone named Bill Engvall. Bill started yakking over the frozen image of “Raymond” to promote the debut of his new comedy sitcom (btw, trust me I saw the show; you’re better off
sticking to “Raymond” reruns). After his spiel Bill was nice enough to let
me see the end of show I thought I was watching.

I should add that TBS didn’t freeze “Raymond” until after a pop-up ad
for Envall’s show had already been super-imposed on the screen for a while. Someone in the network must have decided taking up part of the screen (the traditional print ad model) just wasn’t enough. Instead, TBS went ahead with an abrupt lock-up, forcing viewers to
watch and wait out the ad to see the end of the show. Brilliant.

TV advertisers face a lot of challenges in this age of TiVo, but this is not the
answer. Let’s hope this innovation doesn’t make it to the Web.

David Needle is West Coast Bureau Chief for internetnews.com.

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