#2 How green is digital marketing? With Russell Vaughan

James Gill chats to Russell Vaughan about hidden impact digital marketing has on the environment, and what we can do about it.

Hi there. Welcome to another episode of the EcoSend podcast. I'm James Gill, and I'm the host of the show, and every week I'm joined by another person who's looking to grow in the world of sustainability and building a better business that has a more of a sustainable focus.

We’re GoSquared and we're building a product called EcoSend, and we are on this journey as a team and every day, every week we're learning a lot more, partly by doing this podcast itself. So our goal with this podcast each week is to step forward and build our knowledge in the world of building a better business.

And each week we're hopefully gonna learn something and hopefully share that with you dear listener. So, thank you for tuning in. We always try and keep these shows to be about 30 minutes, not too long. So hopefully you can listen to it on your commute or whatever other things you're doing in your busy life.

And hopefully you'll come away with learning one or two things if we've done our job right. So this week I'm very excited to welcome my very special guest Russell, who has been on the team with us for some years and we go way back and I'm looking forward to having a very good chat with Russell, who’s been critical in driving this journey forward with us.

Russell, welcome to the show.

Hello. Thanks for having me, James. Good to be here.

Awesome to have you, Russell, I dunno if you want to just, uh, share a bit more about what you are up to at GoSquared and what's your focus right now? It'd be good to hear a little about, about what you're up to at the moment.

Yeah,that's a really good question to start off with. I'm not sure if I can fit that into the time we have!

Sorry I threw a hard ball at you!

But um, yeah, So, so my role is quite encompassing at GoSquared. Uh, my main focus really is generally around people, helping people understand the product, and helping them get a bit more technically integrated in the product.

And in doing that, I deal with hundreds, if not thousands of, of businesses over my time here at GoSquared. And part of that really has been just leading on the journey of understanding opportunities in the marketplace and opportunities around how we can be a bit better in sustainability.

And the best way I think we kind of learn those things is by getting in front of customers, being part of communities, and so that's what my kind of short term focus has been. With GoSqaured and EcoSend.

Awesome. I know you've been spending a lot of time with other digital marketers and a lot of them being our customers of course, and a lot of them not, uh, yet. But I know one of the things we really wanted to talk about on this show, and I think what's been on your mind a lot has been whether digital marketing is good or bad for the environment? Is digital marketing having some sort of impact on the environment? And is that something to be conscious of and worry about? Or is that something we need to do something about? And I guess that's kind of the idea of the show today to talk about this because I think it's often overlooked.

Uh, I know your background before the world of GoSquared was in the not so digital side of marketing. So I didn't know maybe sharing anything from your previous life has led you to this point of having some questions about how eco-friendly the digital world is.

Yeah, I think it's a fair point to mention that I've been around for a little, little while.

I realise how possibly offensive that could have been.

Oh it’s good experience. Uh, but I've been, you know, double digits in years working with marketers in different capacities. But that's my world I deal with now, It's my personal network and, uh, you know, it's my, my LinkedIn network is really about marketers and, and the great thing about that is you're always staying up to date on what people care about and current conversations in the space.

There's definitely been more of a narrative and awareness from internally, I think within companies and marketers about the importance of sustainability, not just in, in the products that people produce, but the way they go about marketing those products. So, I think that there's definitely been more awareness about the impact that marketers can have, but, I think it's probably been the last year or two that people have actually started to look into in the actual output of the work that they do, especially in the digital space where things are a lot more measurable, and understand that really, digital marketing allows you to achieve the volume of output that it allows you to, to achieve is, is something that can tie into the a negative impact on sustainability through the emissions that it can generate. So that's the real interesting, uh, thing for me in the space is I think because of digital marketing, as I say, is really measurable.

We can quite quickly and clearly see the impact that it has on sustainability. But I think, yeah, I think it's probably been looked at a little bit later than a lot of different industries and a lot of different products because it's not a physical thing, you know, it's not a physical thing made of plastic or it's not fuel, or it's not oil.

You don't instantly think about it as something that could have a negative impact on sustainability, but, But yeah, it really comes down to, any of the usage. Just like, you know, any of the usage that we use in our house, if we leave the lights on all day, it's gonna use more energy, right?

That's gonna cost us more. But using energy really means that energy companies have to regenerate more energy through maybe not always the most renewable sources. So that's really the big contributor to how digital marketing contributes to the negative emissions.

Yeah that really helps to understand it because, you know, I think, I think frankly, from my perspective for a long time, and I'm sure many people listening will find that when you're using your laptop, you know, you don't think of that as something, maybe you think about plugging it in and where that electricity is coming from, but from a sustainability perspective and from a climate impact perspective, I certainly think when I'm browsing the web, you know, everything just works.

You know, you're just looking at a screen and pixels are changing and you're reading things. It's a miracle that the web itself works. I'll say that, but from a, I certainly don't think naturally many people that I speak to think a tool about that having any kind of climate impact, whereas, you know, contrasting that to say, being a professional working in the internet, the tech world, like contrasting that to someone who maybe sits at the control desk for a coal power plant might have a different sense of their impact. And, so I guess you are saying then that maybe for everyone we should be a bit more conscious about the types of activities we're doing on our computers or, is it more for marketers, like different channels then that have bigger or smaller impact on the climate?

So speaking specifically about marketers, I think it's about focusing on the impact that you can make. And going back to the parallel of, you know, leaving the lights on your house all day, you know, if you just did that, that might affect your energy bills.

It might not be the biggest thing, but if your whole street did that, or if your whole, you know, neighborhood did that, if the whole city did that, then that small kind of problem becomes a much, much bigger one then I think that that’s the thing we have to be a bit more aware of in the digital market spaces is the volume of output that we do and, and the energy required to do the simplest task.

And so obviously that's something we've talked about a lot, internally is the energy required to send an email, Right? If you break that down to like its simplest form then, you know, you look at sending an email requires at least three computers involved, right? So the person that's gonna compose it and write it, the person that's gonna receive it and store it, and the one in the middle, that's the software company that's gonna process it and send it.

So, when you think of an email that's three computers being powered. But the reality in the scale of email, you know, we're talking about billions and billions of emails being sent every.

I do get more than one email a day, I'm a popular guy. Yeah, It's at least two. It's at least two a day!

So we're not, you know, we're not talking about an individual computer for every single email that's going out there, but definitely everyone who's receiving one and sending one will need a computer or a device that requires charging for that. And the companies that process them need thousands to send it. So, whether it is, you know, it's a small part of digital marketing. When you look at the scale of that, it is a big, big number.

And that's just one element of digital marketing. You know, you think of like ads as well, you know, require a similar formula. You think of things like seo, like SEO requires a lot of computer power, the searches to crawl the web and index or basically build a list of all the websites.

So all of this stuff because of the scale of it and the volume that it happens, and can contribute right. Does contribute to it. And uh, and I think that that's definitely where marketers are seeing an opportunity to be better. Right. And that, you know, being through small changes then what we do every day, trying to improve incrementally, being aware of the impact of it. They’re all elements I think that's gonna help address a problem. And I, I think it comes back to like the problems and the time that you can commit to doing these things. Though we obviously have internal CSR initiatives that we go out and do great things in the community and, and that's great, but you know, that might be an hour a week, or it might be kind of once a month.

But when you look at what you're spending 8, 9, 10 hours a day doing, and if you can apply that same type of attitude to that work, then, then there's an opportunity to make a much bigger impact there. And, and I think that that's definitely the opportunity of thinking about sustainability in everyone's job, because that’s where we're spending most of our time is definitely where we can have the most impact.

It's really, really interesting. I think I, I love your analogy though of the lights, you know, switching the lights off and one person doing that. Okay. But when you start thinking about every single house in the entirety of London having the right kind of approach, it starts to, all those incremental changes add up.

And I, I totally see that, you know, applying that to digital activities, as you say, like every single digital activity, it's not magic that these things are happening on your screen and just work. I think in some ways, in the same way that where your energy comes from is a far distant thing and you don't necessarily have that direct understanding of whether it's coal or a wind farm that's driving it. In exactly the same way, you don't really know the digital activity, where that is being processed and where that is being generated. Like is it a server in a shed somewhere that does have a windmill outside? Or is it a giant data center that's got smoke pouring out of a power station next to it?

And, I guess for individuals, maybe the idea of can I have an impact with one or two emails and stuff? It's probably negligible. But I guess your argument then is that as marketers and you know, anyone in a position where you're responsible for sending email out en masse, there's actually some bigger wins to have.

Yeah, absolutely. I think any element of someone's job where they can recognize that there's a potential impact. I think that there's the ability for, for massive, massive wins, to improve what they do there. I think there's two sides to how you can deal with it.

You can be aware of the climate impact that you're making, and you can, you know, consciously say you're gonna measure that and offset that. I think that's one approach to doing that. I think that's probably the easy approach of dealing with that. But I think the biggest opportunity, and I think this isn't just about kind of digital marketing, this is across the whole whole spectrum of opportunity around sustainability is, is reducing output.

Right? If we don't need to do that thing to, to send that email, to run that ad, then let’s not do that. But I think there's also kind of the balance of the reality of running a business. You know, you. We need customers and we need, for lack of a better expression, we, you know, need to be able to keep the lights on.

You need to be able to still deliver on these key business objectives that you have. And you know, I mean, marketing's gonna be a really big part of that cause that's how you go get customers. But, um, but I think being awar eof the small changes that you can make within each of those channels, I think is where their lives are a good opportunity to see kind of bigger outcomes.

And I think it is easy to see when you start to measure those things. That, you know, from sending out, say like an email blast or an email campaign, you look at the carbon emissions from that across the year and, and you're looking at the equivalent of someone flying around the world 10 times.

I think when people start to think of it a bit differently and not about these kind of small figures of grams of carbon emissions, but that's, you know, most companies who have some type of email marketing practice are sending out a weekly newsletter and that's a really easy parallel to draw that if you, you know, I think that there's a common question comes up is that, well, why would I want to send less emails here? I've worked hard to get all these subscribers. and you know, I would take my message out to all of them. But I think when, when you start to think about how you can do that better, I think it's just if you ask yourself that question of like, do I have to send an email to every one of these, these people, it leads into just how you can be implementing better marketing practices.

Like when was the last time that you went through and, you know, cleaned your list? When did you last look at their engagement to see who's opening, and in what timeframe have you been looking at those things? And I think if that trigger point of thinking about sustainability can help you start to think about implementing better marketing practices, then, then it's a win-win, you know, everyone wins.

Yeah, no, I think that's a really good point cuz I guess initially I was sort of thinking oof, as a marketer or as anyone trying to build a business you can care about the environment a lot. You can care about the climate a lot but you still, out of the things that are gonna affect you today, I think maybe this is a more existential challenge with doing more for the environment where there's, people care about the things that are urgent more than the sometimes the things that are truly most important in life. And, uh, climate change is not one of those things that hits you in the face daily as a challenge, at least not in many of the experiences I have.

And so, when you're trying to sort of affect change in this area, I guess it's quite difficult to sort of persuade someone to fundamentally change their behavior in that professional capacity as a marketer, as someone trying to grow a business to try to have some positive change on the environment side, but what you are saying is that it's not an either or.

It's like actually there's better practices we can be employing in terms of how we do marketing online, how we do digital marketing that also have knock on positive impacts on the environment. So it's not a sacrifice for your company growth to make the planet better.


Actually, no they are more aligned than most people might think.

Yeah a hundred percent. And I think, you know, being out there and talking to people, I think. As far as part is, there is an awareness, an awareness thing. That's the first job of the whole conversation we're having here. I don't think most people even in the marketing space have been made aware of this stuff, are thinking about this stuff.

I think once you kind of present it, it's quite easy to understand and then that from what I'm getting from the people I'm speaking to the most feedback I'm getting is really, why wouldn't I do this and why wouldn't I think about these things? Because if I can have a, a more positive impact, but also reappraise and start reimplementing, best in marketing practice then the, you know, in the email scenario, you know, the environment wins, you know, the business wins, the bottom line. And actually, do you know what the end user's gonna win as well, because they're not gonna get emails and stuff that aren't relevant to them. So it’s win, win-win.

So in terms of practicality, what are the things people can actually be doing? If they care about the climate. I know you had some thoughts around the different sort of types of emissions and, how to think about that as a business and maybe for people that are very early on their climate journey, there's, there's different sort of categories, right?

Of, of emissions. So I guess as a business I wanna be doing more, Like, is that, is that something entirely on me? Is that me choosing who I work with? Is that changing my behavior? Are there things that I'm unaware of? Like, it would be good to hear a bit more about how this actually plays out in practice.

I'm gonna butcher it, probably one of the oldest lines in marketing, but is if you can't measure it, you can't, affect it. Um, is that right?

What gets measured gets improved, I think. Yeah. Or maybe, I don't know. They may have all been said by wise people once.

But that's obviously kinda like the starting point in being able to measure these things better. There's really common frameworks out there of how you go about measuring these things. And, one of the most kind of accepted one is the different scopes of emissions and how you can look at those.

And that's laid out in a way that tries to introduce how, how you can affect things. the vast really. So you've got scope one emissions, which are associated with the word burn, right? Those are emissions you actually burn yourself. So if you've got a fleet of cars or if you're actually doing anything in your businesses that actually, you know, burning, just leading to emissions.

Those are things within your real direct control. It's like, okay, I can make changes there as a business and get, you know, electric cars, or, make the, the direct changes that you're in. You're in complete control of those things. And so from a business perspective, those are the things that's easier to address.

Then you've got scope two emissions, and that's associated with the emissions that you buy, and so these are a little less direct, you're a little less able to directly impact these. And these will be things like the electricity that you buy, right? And some things can kind of fall into slightly different categories.

Some people put in your data storage, in scope two, because effectively you're, you know, if you had that server in house, you'd be buying that electricity to power that, but you're kind of outsourcing that. So scope two is things that you can indirectly effect, right? So you're not burning those emissions directly, but you're paying a company that is doing those, those things.


Scope three is the one that's hard to measure and effect, but there's companies out there, there's good companies that can help you measure those things. and aware that they associate this with, this one is beyond, right. So these are things that are kind of beyond your control, but these are things that are the most important to be aware of.

So, this is things like the use of your product. So if you put a product out in the world and as a result of that, the emissions are brand from that. We can still claim, you know, responsibility for that and look for a way addressing that. And you know, if, going back to the email thing, you know, if we provide a tool that helps people send email, as soon as that email kind of goes out and lands on someone else, device and that's on a server we don't know about or where that is.

These are things that are kind of beyond our control. But as they say, there's good companies out there that can, you can work with that can help you measure your impact and categorize these in each of those, different areas so that you can prioritize how you address those things.

I see. So as a business, sort of a starting point is understanding those different elements of your impact. So whether it's this scope one, scope two, scope three, and then I guess the more impact you wanna have and the more positive change you wanna affect is, done to your business and what you might be capable of doing, how far you want to go to try and address those and obviously increasing challenges of categorically measuring each each of those.

Yeah so you can work with consulting teams or companies that can help you measure these things. What makes things easier definitely is if you're gonna work with providers that have, have kind of done this analysis on themself for you. So they've already kind of measured the emissions or how they're gonna address the emissions that their work is generating.

There's people that do this in the ad space. It's really interesting, companies coming out that if you run digital ads, they'll help you measure the effectiveness of them, offset those for you, and then give you good reports so you can look back and say, right, we ran more video, that generates more emissions so in our next campaign, we'll scale that back and look at maybe a different but equally effective ad. And that doesn't put all of the reliance on you to try and get all of the data in the world and apply that to your business. You can partner and work with company that, that help you do that.

I see. So there's like, so the dream really is that every company that anyone ever deals with or buys from has this clearly articulated so that it's really transparent, you know, the entire chain of those emissions,

Yeah, I think a hundred percent and, in companies that tends to come top down, it seems, tends to be driven from the top, that you want to kind of go through that process and establish the metrics around your own emissions. But I think the general theme I get from having conversations with people in sustainability places, you know, it's a journey that everyone wants to benefit from. So, you know, even from us, like if our competitors decided to do this, then great. Like that's amazing. Like more people putting more solutions out there in the world that contribute to a better climate, better sustainability, is a good thing.

So, the more people doing it, the better is, is the, short answer.

Got it. I think it's fantastic. So I feel like I've really learned a lot in this, in this episode already, Russell uh, thank you so much for explaining that. What would you say, for someone, for someone who's been listening to this and remains quite skeptical, you know, they're very happy with their digital marketing setup at the moment and everything's going fine, and they're, they're a little bit skeptical that the digital side actually has too much of an impact compared to other things we could be focusing on. Do you have any thoughts for someone who maybe is still a bit of a skeptic after hearing some of this discussion?

I guess there's two parts, right? Like you want to prioritize on the things that you can have the most impact on. And you know if this isn't a part of your world and there's other things that you're spending most of your day doing that you think can have more of an impact, like totally I understand that. I think especially in the digital marketing space. I think it's harder to be skeptical because how much data that we have. and there's like, I think there's an element of common sense to it as well is like, you know, going back to the beginning of a conversation like we're all aware that to use computers generate energy and you need thousands of computers to be in this world that we're in right now where everything's powered by the cloud. So I think around the actual metrics, associated with it, I think, that's one of the beautiful things around digital is that you have the data around it to try and address that skepticism.

And there's, there's kind of a lot of conversation in the space around, not being afraid to associate change with small, incremental changes. I think that's, that's the stuff that is actually gonna make a difference and where you can start to see the impact over, not the longest period of time.

So, yeah,

No, no, that's, that's good. I think it could be, it can be tough to convince a skeptic, so, uh, yeah. Just, uh, thought I'd, I'd see if you had any thoughts there. So for those who, who've been listening along and think, Yeah, I mean this sounds like a no-brainer. and I want to go start implementing some changes. I want to go make a difference right now. Like, do you have any advice for those people? Anywhere you would suggest they go take a look and, head to after they've, listened and liked and rated this show.

I think the best place to start is communities. There's obviously a ton of online communities that you can go and explore for this. LinkedIn for me, I’m identifying is where a lot of the good conversation happens when you're looking at some of the different social networks, but people might find better success with different channels, but even just, you know, quick search and community things like green marketing, things like sustainability.

Obviously it's quite a business focused network or special network. And obviously you can find some good channels there. Uh, I got recommended a couple, Work With Climate is an interesting one, it's for people who want to go and basically find jobs in climate focused companies.

But there's a lot of kind of broader conversation that happens alongside it and, Business of Purpose, both of these are Slack channels that you can apply to join, and there's just really good conversations that happen in it. The reason I say communities is cuz those places are really conducive for asking questions.

And if you're at the beginning of the journey, I think sometimes it can be really intimidating to ask questions. It’s a real like passion area for people and you know, you don't wanna come across as completely ignorant about such a important subject. But, these communities tend to be a really good place, an encouraging place to facilitate good conversations and, and questions around that. So I definitely point people to, to start there and, uh, but there's definitely good books and I'm sure we can share some of those, uh, as well. But that's where I've found the best success in, in having conversations.

Sure, Sure. No, that's, that's really handy cuz yeah, it can be pretty daunting to know where to start and, you know, just typing some things into Google returns 10 million results and it's sometimes hard to know what to trust and where to click. So, um, or, or I should say actually typing into Ecosia because I believe that's a slightly more, climate conscious search engine.

I think that's one of the things I'd definitely like to kind of get across is, it can be quite an intimidating subject to try and start exploring. And I think the biggest problem with that is that you think someone's gonna maybe, uh, if someone's gonna shut you down or say what you think of doing isn't good enough.

And I think the biggest problem with that is it prevents someone from starting or trying to do anything, trying to make any difference and doing something, because it’s always gonna be better than doing nothing because it's a real, tangible problem that we know we all have.

But the one thing that I would say is that I've definitely gone out there and been, at the start as open and honestly naive around everything as possible, and I've only received really, really helpful information and encouraging, uh, information from people. So I definitely feel free to just put yourself out there and have those conversations.

That's, that's awesome to hear. I agree, I know we were talking before the show, Russell, like, I think for all of us here, we've been still very early days in this journey and, and I think we've already learned an absolutely phenomenal amount in the space of a couple of months.

And, uh, on our side, I guess, like we know there's a lot we can be doing, but one of the things we've already done is plant over a thousand trees, which, you know, whatever we wanna say about the impact of that and the, the influence that's having, that wasn't happening already. So, you know, we've, I think we feel incredibly proud of that.

And that's something that is us just getting started. But, now we're doing that, like we are learning so much more about other ways we can have so much more impact and influence. So, yeah, it's, it's just exciting to be on this journey and, you know, it feels like every day we're learning more and more research is coming out, more, more information is coming out to, to help us make better decisions about the best ways to have, have a positive impact.

Yeah, I think I'd agree with that as well. And like taking it from the approach of being on a journey, I think is, is received really well. Because you definitely wouldn't, approach this or I wouldn't approach this, that we, we've figured everything out because I don't think anyone has.

But it's almost like building software, is that you are always looking for ways to iterate and improve it. Right. Like continuous improvement. And I think if we already have that approach as a business, I think we can take that approach to how we view sustainability and how we consistently improve our approach to being better there, I think we can only win.

Absolutely. Well, what a note to finish on. Thank you so much, Russell. It's been a pleasure chatting with you as always. Really, really appreciate it, for anyone who wants to follow more of our journey, and I know Russell's sharing a lot more of this on the GoSquares blog, www.gosquared.com/blog - we have a new sustainability section, so we are putting a lot of our journey up there and, and sharing as much as we can as we learn more. And you'll find a lot of Russell's written word if you've enjoyed his spoken word, you'll find a lot more on the blog and hopefully more to come.

So, thank you very much Russell for spending time talking on the podcast today. Thank you very much for listening. If you have enjoyed the show, please let us know, we are on all the major podcast networks and places, so every single rating or review that's left is another way for us to get a bit of feedback and spread the word about about the podcast cuz we really wanna try and maximize the number of people joining us on this kind of journey together.

So thank you, in advance if you do have a chance to let us know. And also if you have any suggestions for future guests to join us, we're always keen to speak to other people to broaden our knowledge and horizons on this topic.

So if you have anyone or if you yourself feel like you'd like to join us on the show, please, please get in touch, and we will speak to you next time. Thank you for joining us.

Thanks James.

Creators and Guests

Russell Vaughan
Russell Vaughan
Russell oversees growth and sales engineering at EcoSend.
#2 How green is digital marketing? With Russell Vaughan
Broadcast by