UK media rivals come together to measure industry's climate impact

BBC, Sky and ITV collaborate on project to create calculator that could be used by any company offering digital products and services.

Extinction Rebellion: campaigners have called on ad industry to act on climate change (picture: Extinction Rebellion)
Extinction Rebellion: campaigners have called on ad industry to act on climate change (picture: Extinction Rebellion)

The UK’s biggest media companies have joined forces to fight climate change with a new tool showing how damaging the industry's activities are to the environment. 

The BBC, ITV, Sky and Dentsu Aegis Network are among nine launch partners for Dimpact, a new scheme that will try to map the carbon impact of digital value chains. 

Its aim is to create an online calculator that will be available to any company offering digital products and services.

The 12-month project will see University of Bristol researchers work with sustainability and technology teams at the BBC, Dentsu Aegis Network, Informa, ITV, Pearson, Relx, Schibsted, Sky and TalkTalk.

Mapping the carbon footprint of digital services such as advertising, publishing and broadcasting is difficult, because the underlying technological systems are complex. Media content passes through content-delivery networks, data centres, web infrastructure and the devices owned by consumers, with each element of the delivery chain having different owners.

The announcement follows the individual companies’ pledges to make their marketing efforts or digital services carbon-neutral, and therefore environmentally sustainable, as the world undergoes warming temperatures caused by pollution. Carbon neutrality can mean a company or industry has net zero carbon dioxide emissions (by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal) or has eliminated carbon emissions altogether.

Extinction Rebellion, the environmental activists, have made the ad industry one of its key campaigning targets. Last year, it urged adland to act in an open letter that read: "You can do anything you want and you can shift mass behavior in a heartbeat. One of the reasons we’ve got here is because you’ve been selling things to people that they don’t need."

Last week, Microsoft announced that it would become "carbon-negative" by 2030, meaning it would remove more carbon that it emits. Apart from Amazon, Microsoft is the world’s biggest provider of cloud computing services – a rapidly growing global industry that is forecast by Greenpeace to contribute more than 1,000 megatoness in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions this year.  

Ovo Energy, the alternative utility brand, announced last year that its marketing spend would be carbon-neutral, while the The Guardian has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2030. 

Dan Schien, senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Bristol, said: "Given the overall size of the carbon footprint of the digital media sector, it is important that companies assess and report their impacts. By doing so, they can identify the carbon savings that can be made by alternative design decisions and hopefully find ways to reduce their overall footprint."

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