How can marketers fight against digital pollution?

What are the impacts of quantity over quality marketing, and how do we resolve the true cost of communication? We explore why more efficient and effective content is better for your brand, and for the environment, by reducing digital pollution.

The environmental cost of digital pollution

There are real-world environmental costs from digital activities and marketing, from opening an email to watching a video. Data processing, servers, email lists, websites and more generate greenhouse gases.

Just like chopping down a tree to create a paper document, digital marketing creates a carbon footprint. ESG criteria and investor scrutiny is therefore likely to extend to this area in the future.

The total energy consumption of digital ‘pollution’ is hard to track, but each activity has measurable environmental impacts. For example, streaming video for one hour is estimated as 36g of CO2,1 while internet searches represent 7g of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2E). Sending or receiving an email is 4g CO2E and unopened emails are 0.3g each.2

Approximately 306.4 billion daily emails were sent and received in 2020, and this is predicted to rise to 376.4 billion by 2025.3 If emails are already amassing 12,256,000,000kg in CO2E every single day, and one full grown tree can offset 160kg4 of CO2 – we need to plant billions.

Sustainable marketing is effective marketing

Considering the content ecosystem as a natural environment, it’s clear to see the clogging role of inefficient digital journeys adding on grams of CO2. Without a time and place for every message, it can feel like an endless smog for the reader.

An example of consumer irritation is the increasing use of ad blockers to reduce digital pollution for the audience. A HubSpot study found that 64% of people using blockers reported it was because ads were annoying/intrusive.5

Cluttered inboxes and feeds can add to irritation. And the ‘tell them everything’ approach in digital marketing across social channels, websites and emails can impact all businesses. What feels like important information to broadcast can have little to no relevancy for the larger audience in that moment.

This undoubtedly presents a challenge for the modern marketer, especially where communication strategies are under pressure to include departmental messaging across the business.

A sustainable content strategy means effectively prioritising the rate of information flowing from an organisation, including digital activity generated through marketing tactics.


How do you reduce digital pollution and increase sustainable content?

There are some broader choices that businesses can make when it comes to digital data, such as working with greener third parties for data handling, storage and processing and lowering emissions in other areas of the business.

There is also a lot to be said for reducing digital pollution in the form of outgoing communications.

When businesses focus on gaming algorithms with quantity in top-of-funnel awareness content instead of serving the end consumers’ needs, it’s a lose-lose situation.

Marketing content needs relevancy, creativity, and engaging attributes, and most of all – an intent.


1. Focus on quality over quantity

  • Think: what is the priority of your message? How does it fit with your proposed content strategy?
  • Does each content asset serve a business objective, meet an audience need, and can be effectively measured through an aligned metric? How useful is the message and what makes it memorable? Is there a narrative or a story? One impactful piece of content can be worth 5 articles.
  • Consider going deeper on keyword research to inform your content marketing choices. Review frequent search terms that brought people to your site, and those used to search within your site.

2. Create an efficient customer journey

  • How easy is your website to navigate? How can you shorten the audience’s digital journey and help them spend less time finding content and information relevant to their needs?
  • Audit your digital channels to remove older, ineffective and past-its-purpose content.

3. Slimmed audiences

  • Do you regularly audit and update your email database to reduce bounce-backs, or segment into smaller, tailored groups for efficiency of messaging?
  • Make it easy as possible to unsubscribe or pause communications for set periods – smaller email lists and a reduction in unopened emails contributes to a sustainable content methodology.

4. Optimise your content

  • Subject lines should intrigue the audience and convey the point and value of the email. A great example is a loyalty card email title: ‘Your vouchers are inside’ – it tells the audience everything they need to know in just four words, promises a personal reward, and makes the benefit of opening clear. 

  • Consider how much ‘extra’ material is in the email. Each image adds scrolling time and micrograms of carbon, and many email services do not automatically load imagery to save data.

  • Avoid the use of ‘high friction’ verbs and phrases that can imply a time-consuming or unnecessary activity. This includes ‘read/watch more/here’ and similar, which do not incentivise or frame interaction as a rewarding activity. Make CTAs positive, action-oriented and explanatory. 

5. Mitigate digital activities

  • Consider a carbon offset internet browser, such as Ecosia, which plants trees for each search.

  • Review your digital files for duplicates or unnecessary archive material. Every little helps in digital sustainability.

Alex Burden

Alex Burden

Alex is an experienced content specialist and qualified journalist, who is also trained in research and marketing. She’s worked as a specialist editor and marketer throughout her career, and now applies the range of her multi-discipline experience to crafting content strategy. Her favourite question is ‘why?’, and uses it to dig deep on briefs and explore new directions for clients and audiences.