Environmental impact of digital signs and displays

Laurel-2018.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Proponents of pretty much all forms of digital communications sincerely believe that they are kinder to the planet than the printed equivalents. They believe it is more efficient and that it does a better job of communicating brand identity. They forget that print’s only carbon footprint is when it is produced. Instead they try to persuade the market that digital media are eco-friendly because they involve no tree felling or transportation emissions. Digital media fans also forget that paper can be recycled up to seven times. Thanks to the internet, print production can take place very close to its point of use and once installed printed signage has no environmental impact at all. It’s carbon footprint in use is zero.

Updating the information on signage does however require a new version of the print. This imperative encourages good design, to create compelling and effective messages. What matters more is to ensure that redundant prints find their way efficiently into recycling systems. Recycling redundant digital signage technology is a lot more complicated and involves emissions as well as complex sorting. Too much electronic waste is still improperly handled and even dumped. Recycling supply chains for printing plates, chemicals, blankets and substrates have been in place for many years and are as effective as they are sophisticated yet further improving print’s sustainability credentials.

It’s important to understand that the carbon footprint of print media occurs only once, when the media is produced and delivered. But for an electronic poster or indeed any form of digital signage, there is a continual and perpetual footprint for as long as the sign is in place. Even for signs that use low energy LEDs this means constant emissions. Add touch screen options to the digital screen and the footprint balloons.

For brand owners the investment cost into digital signage is substantial and ongoing. There is also the consideration that whilst these signs are bright and attention grabbing, they are not necessarily as effective or memorable as a high resolution, flicker free printed equivalent. Printed posters can be works of art, desirable and even collectible. Hanging a digital sign on the wall doesn’t have quite the same appeal, but if it were to happen, the carbon footprint would keep on growing for years and years and years, endlessly.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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