AOP Awards ESG Image

Advertisers and agencies share five ways they want publishers to deliver against ESG goals

Published: 28 Mar 2023

Publishers are increasingly looking to the broader responsibilities they have outside of their own organisation. In our recent survey, we found that 67% of publishers agreed that they are being motivated to meet ESG goals both because it is important to their employees and because it is central to their values. However, more than half [58%] also agreed that they were being influenced by the expectations of advertisers and agencies.

“ESG is becoming increasingly relevant for all businesses,” explained Sayantika Mukherjee, Head of Performance at, “and as advertisers, it’s important to us that we work with aware, ethical, and socially responsible publishers.”

Making a real impact in the digital media landscape needs more than just the input of publishers – everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction. So, what is it that agencies and advertisers are asking of publishers? We asked our buy-side representatives on the AOP Digital Publishing Awards jury what they are looking for from publishers regarding how they’re delivering an effective ESG strategy? And what can publishers do to help advertisers and agencies deliver against their own values?

Diverse, equitable, and inclusive

    Ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace came out as the top organisational priority for publishers in our 2023 research study. Publishers are looking to create environments where everyone can thrive, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or personal circumstances – and it’s also a hallmark that the buy-side use to identify publishers who are living by their values.

    “Typically this will reflect in the way they recruit and remunerate employees to drive equity and inclusion at all levels of their organisation,” suggested Deborah Gbadamosi, CEO – UK / Europe at Brand Advance. However, Deborah also highlighted that she looks for publishers whose fair practices extend beyond their walls. “A strong ESG strategy should be looking at how business can contribute funds to under-represented business partners,” Deborah continued, “be that through rev-share, fair pricing, or payment terms.”’s Sayantika Mukherjee shared a similar focus on employee wellbeing, stating that looking after customers begins with creating a positive workplace. “We strongly believe that people who love what they do, will do it better,” Sayantika continued. “It’s important that our employees and the people we are working with are happy, but we also think it’s important that there is access to support for positive mental wellbeing for staff of every publisher or partner we work with.”

    Environmentally sustainable

      In many ways, businesses are at the forefront of the challenge to reduce our carbon impact. For digital publishing and advertising, this challenge is even more acute. “The carbon footprint of the Digital Advertising ecosystem is significant, with the internet’s carbon emissions rivalling those of the aviation industry” highlighted Erfan Djazmi, Chief Digital Officer at MediaHub. “With data transfer accounting for 30% of the internet’s CO2 emissions, digital publishers have the potential to make significant impact of emission reduction by measuring the carbon footprint of their ads.”

      According to our research, 75% of publishers agree that they are focussed on reducing the carbon footprint of their organisation as whole. And slightly over half [56%] agreed that they are working towards reducing the carbon footprint of their entire supply chain. So there’s good news in this area, but – as ever – there is more yet that can be done.

      “Our attention platform shows that – on average – approximately 12% of digital investment is wasted on inventory not seen by the human eye long enough to drive impact.” Erfan continued. “By addressing this issue and reducing the number of ads that are not seen, publishers can play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions in the digital advertising industry.”

      Engaging consumers in key issues

        Publishers have a unique opportunity as well to engage their audience in key issues and to promote greater awareness. Helen Jeremiah, VP Marketing Director at Boots, highlighted that she looks for publishers who are working to make their own impact, such as “helping to translate more complex ESG topics into manageable bitesize chunks to engage consumers on topics that really matter.”

        For advertisers and agencies, this presents a unique opportunity to engage with a community that shares the same values as their brand. “Supporting our customers on their sustainable journeys and being with them for life is a way that Boots hope to effect change for the better,” Helen continued, “and working with partners who can tap into the hearts and minds of our customers is a critical enabler.”

        Transparency and openness

          Of course, across all of these areas, transparency and credibility are of the utmost importance. Asher Gordon, Global Digital Partner at Dentsu X, shared that he is “looking for publishers to provide transparency and measurable metrics to highlight their effectiveness, like a carbon calculator, that can be easily compared across their peer set.” It’s easy to say that you’re embedding DE&I or environmental sustainability at the heart of your business, but at the end of the day, you need to have the ability to back up these comments.

          Beyond attracting business, it also helps to create meaningful benchmarks and timelines for progress if we are all using the same measuring stick. This is why the AOP is working on two pioneering pieces of work with Right Thing Media – a framework that creates a unified approach to ESG for members, and a charter that will enable AOP members to work with both clients and agencies on an agreed pathway for improvements across all areas of ESG.

          Meaningful privacy compliance

            Another of our judges also stressed the importance of transparency, although the focus this time was on the end-consumers. “One of the key areas we’re currently looking at is how publishers can provide meaningful privacy choices to users,” outlined Katie Eyton, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer at OMG UK, referencing the need to reduce the complexity of the current supply chain. “No consumer can give meaningful consent to data processing by 750+ vendors.”

            We need to work towards a better supported consented data ecosystem in order to rebuild the lost trust with users. As Katie flagged, taking the time to audit your tech stack and ensure that you’re working with a smaller number of responsible vendors is key to delivering this ambition.

            Building a better digital ecosystem

            As a final statistic from our 2023 research, we were glad to see that 35% of respondents had a published plan of intent and are currently working towards their ESG targets, with a further 45% in the process of considering how best to respond and expecting to implement a plan imminently. “Right now, the ongoing pressures of climate change, DE&I, and supply chains are front and centre of how consumers perceive brands,” explained Ali Maynard James, Managing Partner at Manifest. “Any brand worth its salt will understand the positive impact it can have with a strong focus on ESG and will be here doing impactful work for years to come.”

            We believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to be working towards building a better, more sustainable, and more inclusive future. Which is why we’re working to create a more responsible Awards, both through our own actions and the suppliers that we work with. You can find out more about our commitments here.

            The AOP Awards are still open for entry! Complete your entry by 30th March for your chance to recognise the effort, creativity, and ingenuity of your team. Find out more about how to enter here.


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