Adtech for the Planet: A Sit-Down on Sustainability With Dentsu

We’re all aware that climate change is an urgent problem. With every further degree of warming that the world fails to offset, worst-case scenarios grow more catastrophic.


But that urgency clashes with climate change’s complexity. The actions and stances that we all hold are often contested for being ineffective, not going far enough, or missing the point. Switching to paper straws can be seen as a band-aid solution, planting trees might not be as effective as first thought, and even electric cars are complicated.


Working in AdTech, it’s tempting to think the industry is a safe haven from the entire climate conversation. Being a mainly digital, paperless industry with hardly a truck in sight, it seems to be far removed from more obvious pollutants. Does that mean those urgent and complicated conversations needn’t be had in the AdTech space? Why not focus on more obvious pollutants, such as air travel? As it turns out, every professional in the advertising industry must reflect on the immediate changes that can be implemented to reduce our carbon footprint.

How AdTech impacts the climate

AdTech plays a significant role in climate change, and it will take a concentrated effort to reverse that. When it comes to carbon emissions, global internet usage plays a part, producing twice as much pollution as air transportation. AdTech spending is predicted to increase by over $250 billion over the next four years, with carbon emissions rising simultaneously. That means the entire AdTech industry has the responsibility to change and optimize certain aspects of the business in order to reverse climate change.


Additionally, AdTech’s contributions to climate change go beyond just the internet’s carbon emissions. As a primarily digital industry, it’s heavily reliant on equipment such as laptops, terminals, and servers that all require mining for metals. That uses water, pollutes the environment, and – again – emits carbon.


Even the content that AdTech helps promote plays its part, as each AdTech solution runs risks of promoting heavily polluting companies, products, or services as part of its business practice.


With those complications in mind, Tanya Priyank, Director of International Growth, and Araceli Almada, Global Marketing Manager and Lead for company-wide ESG initiatives, of ShowHeroes sat down with Ricardo Honing, Client Director, and Jody Veerman, Client Partner, of dentsu, one of the largest agency groups in the world.


We discussed sustainability in AdTech and how our companies can not only offset carbon emissions but use the power of advertising to promote green initiatives.

Awareness and action in AdTech

Jody Veerman stressed the importance of awareness as a catalyst for change within the industry. “Everyone thinks that carbon output is all about flying, and if I take less flights, then everything will be okay,” says Veerman, echoing a sentiment that many can resonate with.


Believing that AdTech doesn’t significantly contribute to climate change and instead focusing on other areas makes it easier to simply get on with the job, ignoring the impact it’s having. “We spend our days putting together these complex data strategies, thinking about meeting the client’s needs and objectives. But then on the flip side [when] you’re actually looking at the carbon output of all of that, it’s actually quite alarming.”


So how can the AdTech industry be more aware of its own impact? Veerman explains their approach:

“Dentsu has a media plan tool which estimates the carbon output of your campaign, which feels like a good place to start.”

It’s human nature to better comprehend a problem when it can be put into numbers – if advertising campaigns were quantified in such a way across the industry, it would be easier to make tangible changes to AdTech’s effects.

Co-operating with clients

AdTech is in the unique position of being able to extend awareness and action far beyond its own industry’s borders. Araceli Almada highlighted that for ShowHeroes it’s a priority to be aware of the impact your support, or lack of support, for a company can have.

“When we’re choosing clients and we’re choosing partners to work with, I think it’s always important to see what they’re doing, what their impact is.”

Araceli Almada, ShowHeroes Global Marketing Manager

For dentsu’s part, a client’s impact is something the company also takes into account. When discussing working with clients who aren’t actively combatting climate change but are also significant sources of revenue, Veerman highlighted how valuable dialogue and receptiveness can be in the Dentsu team. “As an individual, I wouldn’t be very happy working with a brand like that,” he explained. “In Dentsu when you get asked to work with a certain client, people are asked how they feel about that brand. There is consideration towards that.”


Is that something that should be implemented in company policies throughout AdTech, rather than being the responsibility of individuals? “There’s always an option to say, ‘no’”, says ShowHeroes’ Tanya Priyank, “[but] it needs to be a company-wide policy, or there should be some sort of guidelines.” If protecting the environment is to consistently take precedence over profit motives, only company policy can provide sufficient protection and promote change on a wider scale.


Dentsu’s Ricardo Honing suggested that “in the future, it could be the case that X amount of [denstu’s] budget needs to be spent with partners that are ESG compliant.” Considering their clients more broadly, Honing reflected on the agency’s power to persuade:

“I think that being on the agency side, and in direct contact with clients, we are in a position to push publishers and media owners or partners to think about climate change.”

Ricardo Honing, Client Director – dentsu

Uniting for a common cause

United we stand, divided we’re ineffective according to dentsu’s Veerman. Instead of focusing solely on what individual companies and the individuals within them are doing of their own accord, the industry needs guidelines – whether they’re set out collaboratively or by law. “It’s all well and good to have individual ideas and then go off in different directions – but to make real change, we need to come together as an industry.”


“Any single company won’t be able to do everything, it’s not possible” says Almada. “All of us have different skills at different levels.” Partnering up for measurement, ad distribution, and collaboration with clients to achieve a common goal is the way forward – “putting everyone working together, and bearing in mind it’s for the best of our future.”

But it’s imperative, says Veerman, that talk is translated into meaningful action around the industry.

“Brands have that responsibility to take action. It’s important to not just talk about it and actually commit to it.”
As the public consciousness about climate change continues to improve, greenwashing is liable to be caught and called out: “Consumers are wising up to this concept of greenwashing, where you hear a lot of talk about sustainability but the reality is quite different.”

Positive action gets positive responses

There’s something in it for companies willing to commit to genuine sustainability, too (beyond saving the climate, of course) says Veerman. “I think the campaigns with an underlying sustainability drive often see high engagement rates and strong campaign outcomes.  Consumers are conscious of authentic brands with good ideals trying to do the right thing.”


With a common goal and a collaborative effort to reach it, AdTech has the potential to move from contributing to climate change to being a major player in the effort to offset it. It has to be acknowledged by everyone in the space that saving the climate does often clash with profit – however, over the long-term, more and more people worldwide will be looking for genuinely sustainable tech, meaning a genuine effort now is likely to pay off later. With the added bonus of helping the earth, to boot.