Digital advertising. Image by Tim Sandle.
Digital signage has long been considered the future of advertising. The idea and the technology open the doors to new and inventive ways of selling products. This can be seen with the increasing number of electronic advertisements appearing in cities around the world.
In the UK, for example, new forms of advertising are appearing at bus stops, in town centers and in shopping complexes. These places host electronic advertisements.
While this approach to advertising is powerful, the environmental cost has yet to be fully realized.
In France, a forthcoming decree will prohibit all luminous advertising between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. in order to reduce the significant carbon footprint of devices. It has been suggested that similar legislative measures could be used across Europe.
With this thought in mind, Solopress brand and print operators explained to Digital diary about the true cost of digital advertising and the potential long-term implications of using them.
For example, according to AdBlock Bristol, a digital advertising screen in Bristol city center used the same amount of electricity as four households in a year. Taking another environmental statistic, an article on digital signage and its power consumption revealed that a 14′ x 48′ LED billboard has between 900 and 10,000 diodes, requiring more power than traditional light bulbs used to illuminate posters and printed signage.
Other areas of concern include global light pollution, which is increasing at a rate of 6% per year in Europe and the United States. For example, 88% of Europe experiences “perpetual twilight” due to light pollution obscuring the night sky. Researchers believe that light pollution not only darkens the night sky, but also affects human health and animal behaviors.
With the increasing onset of digital signage, concerns are also growing about the electricity needed to power the signs. AdBlock Bristol found that a double-sided digital advertising screen in central Bristol required more electricity to power for a full year than the equivalent electricity consumption of four homes. The digital ads in question run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for a total of 16,819 kWh.
Often, proponents of digital signage cite the green characteristics of the LED bulbs used, especially compared to the inefficient traditional lamps used to illuminate static signage at night. However, a 14′ x 48′ LED panel can have between 900 and 10,000 diodes, which may require dedicated air conditioning to ensure consistent performance.
That said, there are steps digital signage users can take to reduce their power consumption. For example, screens with Energy Star are 18% more efficient than those without. Despite this, the fact remains that traditional posters and print advertising are much more carbon-friendly than their digital counterparts.
One of the biggest arguments for moving away from traditional print ads is the cost of production. While many companies are advocating for a paperless future, some are concerned about the environmental cost of producing the paper required.
However, if the raw materials used to make the paper come from sustainable sources, then the paper can be considered a renewable resource; in 2020, 56 million tonnes of paper were recycled in Europe, a rate of 74%. Additionally, recent innovations have drastically reduced the amount of water used in the production process, ensuring that 93% of the water used can be returned to the environment.
The environmental impact of producing a digital advertising screen continues long after the life of the screen has ended. According to 75Media, the displays face recyclability issues that are unlikely to be resolved soon, given that the ads are produced using components that turn into electronic waste once the unit is no longer working.
According to environmental non-profit organization Two Sides, “the raw materials for digital equipment, servers and power generators” are finite, precious and non-renewable, and in 2019, electronic waste worldwide totaled 53, 6 million metric tons, a figure equivalent to the weight of 350 cruise ships. Thus, traditional print ads offer much more sustainable production and reproduction processes than digital signage.
Glen Eckett, Head of Marketing at Solopress, says Digital diary“Given the environmental implications, it is disappointing to see so many planners choosing to replace traditional print posters and advertisements with electronic alternatives. In today’s climate of environmental responsibility, everyone should be aware of the excessive electricity used by digital signage and factor this into their decision when choosing between digital and print advertising.
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