There has been a lack of transparency in the systems and policies companies are implementing to reach net zero, writes IAB UK’s Sophia Haynes.

At the start of last year, a coffee cup tax came into force at IAB UK. Any member of staff who brings a disposable cup into the office is now subject to a £5 fine, with any profits donated to our charity partner. I should caveat this by saying that you can’t move for keep cups at IAB HQ so there really is no excuse to go single-use. The fine was (some might say) an overzealous amount decided on by our internal climate group, to much initial chagrin among flat white devotees.

But you know what? It’s worked. Behaviour has changed rapidly and, while clamping down on single-use coffee cups is just one tiny step towards prioritising sustainability, it sticks in my head because it shows how we need to rethink ingrained habits in all parts of the workplace to meet ambitious sustainability goals.

Re-examining ‘business as usual’

Given the scale of the challenge we jointly face to make our businesses and the digital ad industry as a whole environmentally sustainable, small day-to-day changes can easily feel fruitless. In fact, anything other than big operational shifts feel inconsequential – but both are needed. Small steps add up and the drive to reach net zero requires all of us to re-examine ‘business as usual’ from all angles.

I lead IAB UK’s cross-industry environmental sustainability group, so I hear first-hand about a lot of the brilliant work that is helping to make the digital ad ecosystem more sustainable. Yet there still isn’t a huge amount of transparency when it comes to what systems and policies companies are implementing internally to reach net zero.

Effectively addressing the climate impact of our sector is a sizeable, shared challenge (understatement), but much of the work is reliant on individual action that is happening behind closed doors and there is often a reticence to share details because everyone is wondering ‘how do we compare?’

Sharing actually is caring

We’re starting to change that. IAB UK’s Environmental Sustainability FAQs have just launched – for the first time providing a centralised hub of information about what businesses across the digital advertising supply chain are doing to achieve their carbon-busting goals.

Participating companies complete a comprehensive online questionnaire, detailing things such as: whether it measures scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions; the percentage of energy that comes from renewable sources; relevant internal training that staff undergo; and procurement processes.

The answers are hosted via an interactive tool on the IAB’s site, allowing anyone to log on and see what’s being done across a broad range of businesses. It sounds incredibly simple, doesn’t it? That’s its strength. This initiative is all about making a cluttered and complex landscape more straightforward and more cohesive. Environmental sustainability is a vast, all-encompassing banner and there are lots of different standards, strategies and frameworks out there, making it all the more important that we dig into the details and share information in an accessible way.

Any IAB member can volunteer to share information and 35 companies have so far completed the FAQs, including OMG UK, Teads, News UK, The Guardian, PubMatic, Microsoft and dentsu. All now have a single point of information they can refer to allowing them to easily keep their partners and clients informed about their approach. In fact, one of the key reasons we created the initiative in the first place was because our members said they were spending so long filling out various forms relating to their environmental credentials. Now it couldn’t be simpler – just point to the FAQs.

Perhaps most importantly, though, pulling all this information together in one place makes it easier to get a bird’s-eye view of where progress is being made and where more attention is needed to raise standards. We can use it to shape our collective future action, because this initiative is not about listing out everything your business is currently doing to tackle climate change and then sitting back with a tea (keep cup at the ready).

It’s about enabling positive progress and continuing to build on what’s being done – because we need to go much further and, to keep moving forwards, we must keep track of where we are today. That starts with getting our FAQs straight.