This bulletin was published on 15 January 2020

Media companies join forces to create pioneering carbon measurement tool

Carnstone and nine leading media companies, with technical support from Bristol University’s Department of Computer Science, have together launched DIMPACT – a new collaboration to map the carbon impacts of digital value chains.

The 12-month collaboration will see computer science researchers from the University of Bristol working with sustainability and technology teams at the BBC, Dentsu Aegis Network, Informa, ITV, Pearson, RELX, Schibsted, Sky and TalkTalk to map the carbon hotspots of digital media content and services. The aim is to create an online carbon calculator, DIMPACT, available to any company offering digital products and services.

“The RELX story is one of successful digital transformation. In 2006, nearly half of our revenue came from print products. Today print accounts for less than 10% of revenue. It was easier to understand the environmental impacts of traditional print (including the sourcing and processing of papers, chemicals and energy used in production, and fuels for distribution). The impact of digital media has proven more challenging to understand and quantify, but it’s something we need to do if we are going to manage this important aspect of our environmental impact,” says Dr Márcia Balisciano, Director of Corporate Responsibility, RELX.

Mapping the carbon footprint of digital services like advertising, publishing and broadcasting is difficult because the underlying technological systems are hugely complex and constantly shifting. Media content passes through content delivery networks, data centres, web infrastructure and user devices, to name just a few, with each element of the delivery chain having different owners.

With climate change high on the agenda, DIMPACT will allow participating companies to understand their ‘downstream’ carbon impacts, right through to the end user. This, in turn, will enable more informed decision-making to reduce the overall carbon footprint of digital services.

This is the first serious collaborative attempt to create a tool that takes the complexity out of calculating digital carbon emissions, backed by some of the world’s most innovative media companies and the world-class researchers at the University of Bristol. The eventual tool will help the industry overall understand and manage the carbon impact of digital media.

“We know that more and more of our interactions happen online, and screens play an ever more important role in our lives. We can say with absolute certainty that the digital economy will continue to grow. What we don’t know is how those modes of digital consumption translate into carbon impacts and where the ‘hotspots’ reside. DIMPACT will change that,” says Christian Toennesen, DIMPACT’s initiator and product manager.

“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,” adds Dr Dan Schien from Bristol’s Department of Computer Science. “We are excited to leverage our existing research strengths to help create a ground-breaking tool with real world applications.”

“Being a responsible and sustainable media group, Schibsted is on a mission to fully understand and manage our environmental impacts. To this effect, we consider it imperative to develop a robust and accurate understanding of the carbon footprint of our digital products and services. We’re delighted to contribute to the success of this exciting and important project. We hope that DIMPACT will result in an easy-to-use tool, acting as a standard calculation method for all relevant companies to use. Ultimately, we aim to use this understanding to reduce our carbon footprint by changing the design of our future products and services,” concludes Britt Nilsen, Head of Sustainability at Schibsted.

Following a successful kick-off meeting in 2019, the DIMPACT project partners have started developing the underlying model and initiated user experience research. The collaboration is open to other big media companies with significant digital operations.