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Carbon calculator: If we’re serious about being more sustainable, are they enough?

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Carbon calculator: If we’re serious about being more sustainable, are they enough?


Tallying up the carbon impact of the ads we serve addresses only a portion of the total environmental impact of our industry. There are several other areas we also need to focus on. From Hatched, Belinda Porter and Kate Gurran explain.

Carbon calculators for advertising are getting an awful lot of attention lately. And while we love going green – and attention for that matter – we are conscious that focusing only on the decarbonisation of media buys is a big (and often expensive) task. 

This can understandably scare a business, preventing them from starting their sustainability journey, which is exactly what we want to prevent. 

What is a carbon calculator?

While carbon calculators definitely have a place in the mix, it’s not a be-all and end-all. 

We’ve got some work to do as an industry to shore up our environmental creds before sustainability becomes the norm.  

Our carbon footprint does not just come from ads. It comes from our movements, what we buy, our energy source and even the way we drink coffee. 

How can we ask clients and publishers to be carbon neutral when we ourselves are not? 

Carbon is not the only factor negatively impacting our environment either. There’s also single use plastics (SUPs), waste caused by lack of recycling and consumerism and water wastage. All are interconnected and have an impact on carbon emissions.

As an industry, we have the power to address and improve on these areas as well as people’s mindsets.

We recognise it’s overwhelming to even begin the process of addressing environmental impact, but there are a host of resources to help you on the journey. 

Ad Net Zero

Ad Net Zero is one great place to start. Launched in the UK, the movement is being championed as advertising’s response to the climate crisis and more than 100 agencies, publishers and clients are on board vowing to roll the program out globally. Ad Net Zero provides a five-point action plan to guide efforts to do better for the planet starting with ‘getting your house in order’. 

At Hatched, we’re doing exactly that with the Hatched Green Initiative. The initiative is shaped around three pillars: carbon off-setting and reduction, plastic reduction and recycling. We channel efforts across the office, media, education and events and have started the journey with the low-hanging fruit: firstly coffee – tackling single-use coffee cups with Simply Cups, sourcing keep cups and making our in-office coffee offering sustainable using Sprout Coffee

We’re also streamlining recycling, minimising SUPs by using Zero Co, and getting the team involved with activities such as ocean clean-ups. 

A key to driving change is buy-in at the top. We’re fortunate to have a leadership team that is super passionate about this. 

The next steps in our journey are more complicated as we look to dive deeper into assessing our carbon footprint – and yes, probably using some form of calculator. 

Alongside this, we are considering our clients and media partners. We firmly believe in working with businesses that are also committed to doing better. With organisations such as Comms Declare calling out agencies that work with big polluters, and a rising tide against advertisers engaged in sports-washing, we cannot turn a blind eye to the business practices of our partners. 

But we live in the real world, a world where many companies are still ignorant to their environment impact, and/or are unwilling to explore alternative options. 

If one agency rejects the business of a client based on their lack of environmentally friendly credentials, they’ll simply move on to another one. A better solution is to bring them along on the journey, like we would with any growth pathway for a client.

How can we help our partners to do better? Let’s assist them by making recommendations, by explaining this is something we stand for and why it’s so important. We propose you do X, Y and Z and we’re here to help you with that. These are tough conversations, but we believe them necessary. By homing in on a couple of clients or partners, you can start creating a shift and then build on that momentum.

Although we could wait until clients and publishers decide if they want to work with us based on environmental merit, we’d prefer not to and instead act now. With changing legislation and consumer awareness in this space, this makes long-term commercial sense too. 

We don’t have expectations of getting it right straight away.  

While it is a long-term game, there’s a lack of focus and open conversation on the journey. 

We should be having more conversations and we’re hoping this piece will act as a catalyst for exactly that. For the health of our planet, we should be sharing how we’re making a difference. 

The day will come when sustainability is the norm, but before it does, we’ve got some work to do as an industry. 

So before you fixate on a carbon calculator as the only solution to environmental change, take a step back and look at your current operation objectively. Guaranteed, you’ll find some small quick wins. 

And let’s share ideas. As a collective, there’s plenty we can do to minimise our impact on the environment and now is the time to start.

Belinda Porter is a planning manager and Kate Gurran is a senior media manager – digital at media agency Hatched.


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