Print beats digital signage on carbon footprint

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Printed signage is more eco-friendly than its digital equivalent, sustainability guru Laurel Brunner argues, despite digital often being promoted as environmentally sustainable.

Fujifilm billboards
Zero carbon while in use: printed billboards

Proponents of digital signage forget that the only carbon emissions from printed signage come when it is produced, according to Brunner.

“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. Its carbon footprint in use is zero,” she said.

While Brunner concedes that updating printed signage requires a new version of the print, as opposed to digital which can be quickly and easily altered, she says that this provides an incentive to create a compelling message in the first place, and that recycling printed material is a relatively simple proposition.

“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,” she said.

Digital signage creates a constant source of carbon emissions, even for signs using low-energy LEDs, and Brunner says that touch screen displays only add to this.

“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,” she said.

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