Best Practices for Sustainability in the Programmatic Supply Chain Featuring IAB Tech Lab

Lori Goode, Chief marketing officer
Tony Katsur, CEO, IAB Tech Lab
The programmatic industry has a significant opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint. As media owners, buyers, and platforms all increasingly make sustainability a key focus area, the IAB Tech Lab is working with partners across the industry to establish a sustainable programmatic marketplace. Tony Katsur, CEO of the IAB Tech Lab, joins Lori Goode, CMO at Index Exchange, to share best practices for a more efficient and sustainable programmatic supply chain.

Read the IAB Tech Lab's Sustainability Playbook for best practices that you can begin implementing today, or learn more about joining the Sustainability Working Group to get involved.

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Video transcript 

Lori Goode: Achieving a sustainable programmatic marketplace requires collaboration across the entire advertising industry. One of the organisations working to guide the industry toward that goal is the IAB Tech Lab. Hi, I’m Lori Goode, chief marketing officer at Index Exchange, and today I’m joined by Tony Katsur, the CEO of the IAB Tech Lab. We’re here to talk about what it takes to drive towards a more sustainable programmatic ecosystem. 

Tony, welcome. So complex supply chains and cookie settings are the primary drivers of programmatic emissions. What’s the IAB Tech Lab’s role in driving sustainable action

Tony Katsur: So we have partnered with Ad Net Zero, GARM, and the industry at large to facilitate both a best practices guide, which we published on June 7, as well as start to establish some form of foundational telemetry around carbon emissions in the digital advertising supply chain. 

We’ve published the best practices guide. Next up is establishing baseline telemetry for the industry, which the Tech Lab will host in partnership with Ad Net Zero, the IAB, and GARM. 

LG: Great. So, IAB Tech Lab is one of the primary industry bodies that are driving standardisation across a number of technical aspects, and sustainability seems to be one of the newest ones that most companies are seeking guidance on. What are those best practices—you just mentioned the guide coming out—that improve sustainability and programmatic?  

TK: So on June 7, when we had our Tech Lab Summit here in New York, we published the Sustainability Best Practices Guide, and there really are three or four highlights. There are several best practices that can be followed, but there really are three or four highlights that we can talk about now.  

One is really about finding efficiencies in your supply chain. We have found in working with other partners, whether it be IMPACT+, Scope3, or other SSPs and DSPs, that impressions can be processed multiple times in the supply chain and every time that impression is touched by a partner, you are using bandwidth, you’re using CPU, you’re using power and electricity, you are generating carbon.  

Finding efficiencies in the supply path is a key area that we’re focused on, and the areas that we’ve manifested in the sustainability guide are things like the Global Placement ID, or the GPID for short. That’s something that is not an incredibly heavy lift from a product or engineering perspective to actually uniquely identify placements on a page, because often ad impressions don’t necessarily have a unique label. This gives the placement a unique label that can then be tracked through the digital advertising supply chain to ensure that you’re not processing those impressions in a redundant capacity and therefore burning carbon that’s not necessary. 

So that’s one area that people can start with today, is publishers, in partnership with their SSP, can start using the global placement ID and DSPs can start to inspect the bid stream for the GPID. It’s not incredibly well adopted yet—it was initially created for anti-fraud reasons—but it can be used elegantly to help solve for carbon emissions in the supply chain. So that’s one area that we highlighted in the Sustainability Best Practices Guide. 

Another was in the area of lazy load, so the ability for web pages to load the elements only on screen versus fully load the page itself. Anything below the fold that the consumer or the audience doesn’t see, again, you are burning carbon needlessly—CPU power, bandwidth, everything that is required to serve a web page. If you enable lazy load in your content management systems and in your ad server, you will only show the ads in the content that are actually above the fold. That will also save energy and therefore carbon. Lazy loads are literally a check-the-box in your CMS and your ad server, very easy to implement for publishers. 

Then the other, going back to the supply chain, is really leveraging and inspecting ads.txt and sellers.json, heightened use of the SupplyChain object, which has also been thinly adopted by the ecosystem. The SupplyChain object also tracks an impression through the supply chain and effectively counts the hops it goes through. So this is another means by which we can manifest this telemetry for the ecosystem to better manage a more efficient supply chain to cut down on carbon using the SupplyChain object. A lot of the things that we created in partnership with the industry around anti-fraud apply to green as well. 

So those are three quick hits in the Sustainability Best Practices Guide. 

LG: It does seem that sustainability benefits are almost an incremental benefit across the board, where a lot of the things that were built as standards that did other things, like lazy load seems that it would also benefit tags firing off early from a measurement perspective and things like that, then can apply to also being more sustainable. It’s just much more efficient overall. 

TK: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean it’s a win-win from a fraud, efficiency, and green perspective. 

LG: From a technical perspective, we already talked about some of the standards that have been implemented. But what is required from a technical perspective to deliver more sustainable solutions? 

TK: Well, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So one of the things that we’re working on for the second half of our work in 2023 is establishing some form of baseline telemetry or data feed for the industry to actually start to measure carbon in the digital ad supply chain. So creating baseline metrics in partnership with Ad Net Zero, GARM, and the IAB—they are three key partners to establish this baseline of metrics. We are not at Tech Lab building a carbon calculator as of yet. We’re looking to Ad Net Zero, we’re looking to GARM, we’re looking to the IAB to actually put together the requirements for that. Could Tech Lab then engineer and build it and host it for the industry? We are very much open to that, but we’re not building a carbon calculator. What we are doing is working on creating a set of baseline metrics that we can then start to host for the industry that could inform our carbon calculator. So that’s really the second half of the year where Tech Lab is focused.  

We’re also going to iterate on the Sustainability Best Practices Guide. That is a living, breathing document. We know our work isn’t done there yet. We’ve already had feedback from the industry on other areas that we can focus on within the programmatic and even direct sold areas to deliver a more green or more carbon-neutral digital ad supply chain.  

So those are the two things we’re focused on for the rest of the year. Technically, these may come with new technical standards. They they may not. I really think it depends on the metrics that we’re going to try and capture in the digital ad supply chain. So it may lead to maybe new RTB extensions, it may lead to modifications of the VAST template. So those could be some of the technical implications. I think it’s too early to say until the working group starts to establish those baseline metrics for the industry. 

LG: You gave examples of how some of those digital emissions can be measured. How do you expect that they will be adopted universally and then shared through the supply chain? Do you feel good about having some universal way of measuring carbon emissions that people will adopt and then apply standards? 

TK: I don’t think we’re there yet. And that’s the work that we have to do with GARM, and Ad Net Zero, and others—IMPACT+, Good-Loop, Scope3. So there are very much private institutions that are focused on this, as well as trade organisations. 

So I don’t think we’re quite there yet. My hope would be by Q1 of next year, we do have some baseline set of measurements that the industry can start to leverage to measure how carbon-friendly or how green their supply chains are. 

LG: So final question, Tony. If there were one to two things that companies could do today to start and initiate sustainability measures in the programmatic ecosystem, what would they be? 

TK: I would say leverage the GPID and the SupplyChain object to actually understand how many hops, how often the same impression is being processed. And that doesn’t mean that you necessarily eliminate everyone in your supply chain, like preferred supply paths are also a best practice that we talk about. But I think it’s really a balance of publisher yield and advertiser performance against those supply paths.  

There are there are legitimate business reasons to have multiple supply paths for either different types of inventory or even the same inventory. But I think it’s really about finding the optimal yield from a performance and from a revenue perspective, the yield to supply path ratio. We’ve seen an impression go through north of 15 hops. That’s not efficient. If you’re working with four or five partners for various reasons to maximise yield or performance, that probably makes a lot of sense. I think the GPID, the global placement ID, and the SupplyChain object are really good first steps to start to provide the kind of data that both sellers and buyers can analyse to find efficient supply paths for their inventory while maximising performance.  

LG: Right. Well, mostly an audit, so a baseline. 

TK: Yeah, it just gives them a baseline set of data for them to audit their own supply chains. You know how these are adopted, Tech Lab standards are adopted based on their merit and based on their value to the industry. The good news is that the industry seems to be wholly behind this. This definitely seems to be something that the entire industry is rowing to in unison. So that’s promising. 

But at Tech Lab, our challenge has always been standards adoption. We’re constantly chasing the industry, whether they’re our members, our board members, saying, “Hey, are you going to adopt the latest version of RTB or are you going to adopt the latest version of VAST, etcetera, etcetera?” So we’re always chasing our membership to adopt the latest standards.  

These I feel good about just because everyone seems to be reading from the same playbook in terms of how important this is to not just the industry, but the world. So I feel confident that we’ll see adoption of some of these standards that while maybe not initially developed for sustainability, developed for fraud, I think we’ll see them adopted for sustainability purposes. 

LG: That’s great. Well, I think that’s all the time that we have for today. So thank you so much, Tony, for joining us. We really appreciate it.  

TK: Thank you so much.  

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