Printing Industry Group Arguing Digital Signage Not Eco-Friendly

The graphic printing industry is making the argument that printed signage has a more positive impact than the digital versions – suggesting that while print has a one-time carbon footprint, digital has a running footprint because of energy consumption.

The industry financially supports a blog called Verdigris, part of an initiative “intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact.” That initiative is funded by many of the main suppliers in graphics printing, including Agfa, Fujifilm, Ricoh and HP.

“Proponents of pretty much all forms of digital communications sincerely believe that they are kinder to the planet than the printed equivalents,” argues writer Laurel Brunner. “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. Its 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.”

There are reasonable arguments in here, and silly ones. Unquestionably, things you plug in, that then draw power, are not as “green” as printed material that just hangs on a wall or in a display case.

However, the idea that good design overcomes the need to replace it over time is going to ring hollow for any marketer faced with products, pricing and promotions that change … sometimes often.

That said, I have seen digital signage vendors make the argument that what they sell is a green solution, and I have generally found that to be an empty assertion. There’s no end of plastics, metals and packaging associated with electronics, and while there are recycling channels, you wonder how much ends up as waste. While screens and players are nowhere near the energy hogs they used to be, the only real energy misers are e-paper displays, which have limited application.

It’s somehow both understandable and odd that what is, in some respects, a printing industry lobbying effort is arguing against digital signage. It’s not an industry that’s going to disappear on them by making these kinds of arguments.

The industries and outputs can, I think, happily co-exist. There are many, many, many cases where print makes the most sense, but as many where digital makes more sense because of the need for regular changes, or motion, or something else not suited to print.

The smart folks in the printing industry are developing capabilities in digital so that they can service client needs in whatever format they want or need.