Keywest Technology recently released a white paper entitled "The Greening of Communications," which takes a critical look at the "green" aspects of digital signage. Sign Builder Illustrated is reprinting this white paper in two parts. The first part looked at why digital signage is green and the benefits of choosing this signage. The second half of the white paper is below, and it looks at ways to further reduce the impacts digital signage does have on the environment.
MINIMIZING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF DIGITAL SIGNAGE
While digital signage offers certain advantages over printed signs from the standpoint of environmental protection, that’s not to say the digital medium isn’t without its own set of environmental concerns.
Among the most serious are power consumption and the associated environmental impact of producing the electricity needed to drive the displays and computers that feed them; the use of hazardous materials in the production of digital signage displays and computers; and the impact of display and computer disposal as well as that of the packing materials needed to ship the devices to their locations safely.
DISPLAY POWER CONSUMPTION:
On the display side of the equation, the growth of LED technology for backlights presents an alternative to fluorescents and has made it possible for display manufacturers to employ new power savings strategies, unavailable with fluorescent backlights, in an increasing number of panels.
One such strategy is the use of Pulse Width Modulation, which can be used to vary LED power consumption and brightness. A simple way to evaluate energy efficiency is to get familiar with the government’s ENERGY STAR program as relates to monitors. It’s also wise in many applications to turn off individual digital signs or all the signs on a network after hours to save energy.
DIGITAL SIGNAGE PLAYER POWER CONSUMPTION:
The other power draw in a digital signage system is the player —typically a computer running dedicated software. Here, a few alternatives are possible to minimize power consumption, depending upon the application. Embedding the computer in the actual digital signage display can produce power savings —simply by eliminating an entire computer monitor and other redundant pieces of hardware, such as a second video card. Even if using an embedded computer is not possible, certain things can be done to minimize power consumption of a standalone system, such as replacing spinning disks with solid-state disks. SSDs also require less cooling, which can translate into power savings.
In July 2008, an article in New Scientist magazine based on research by a University of California-Irvine professor set off alarm bells in the press about NF3, a gas used in the production of LCD panels, solar panels and integrated circuits. According to the article, the gas has thousands of times the affect on the atmosphere as a comparable amount of carbon dioxide.
But as a Columbia Journalism Review article said in August 2008, the media hyped the findings and distorted the impact of NF3 on the environment —mostly because of the small quantity of the gas being released into the atmosphere. The article quoted Michael Prather, the professor responsible for the study, as saying: “It’s not a big deal by itself,” Prather said in an interview. “We’re looking at less than half a percent [the impact] of CO2. Is it the most important thing? No. But it should be in the market basket. And it should be monitored.”
Regardless, hazardous substances used in digital signage players (computers) and fluorescent backlights are legitimate concerns with the former using components with lead and cadmium content and the latter containing mercury. On the positive side, however, the European Union has established its RoHS (Restrictions of Hazardous Substances) directive restricting the use of six hazardous materials, including lead and cadmium. Further, California has enacted its own restrictions on the use of certain hazardous materials in electronics manufacturing. Such efforts have and will continue to make digital signage greener.
DISPOSAL AND WASTE:
One way to minimize the impact of disposing digital signage components is to extend their lives. Doing things like choosing longer-life backlighting options, such as LED technology, and limiting monitor use to the time of day when, for example, a store is open or an air terminal is actually in use, can lengthen life. Additionally, donating old displays to charity not only can benefit worthy organizations but also keep panels in use and out of landfills. In fact, many communities will not accept monitors and computers as waste.
Finally, the fragility of monitors and computers makes proper packing material essential for safe transport. Asking about the use of recycled packing material and recycling that material after delivery of panels and players is also important for those wishing to make their digital signage installation as environmentally friendly as possible.
STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE
The Screen Forum, an independent working group focused on sharing best practices in the digital signage industry, has released a list of one dozen steps aimed at ensuring digital signage networks deliver the maximum impact with the minimum affect on the environment.
The steps, available on a popular news portal, are a well-reasoned list of prescriptions for minimizing the impact of digital signage networks on the environment. While the list is publicly available on the Web and self explanatory, one aspect of the Screen Forum’s 12 steps is particularly fascinating and worthy of consideration.
Achieving balance underpins much of the list —the balance between environmental impact and performance; the balance between achieving communications goals and doing so in a way that does not diminish, or is sympathetic to, nearby landmarks; and the balance between fulfilling its main purpose as digital signage and giving back to the community by promoting environmental awareness.
Balancing performance and environmental impact touches many phases of digital signage network rollout and operations. The concept laid out in the steps seems to focus on drawing a distinction between saturation and sufficiency. Many of the steps advocate doing no more than is necessary to accomplish the desired mission of communications. Limiting the number of computer components, the size of the network and number of displays therein as well as the power requirements of the network seeks to balance the task at hand with the environmental cost of accomplishing it.
Achieving equilibrium in terms of digital signage performance and placement vis-à-vis nearby landmarks gets at the most basic of environmental concerns, namely impacting the locale in which the sign hangs. The concept is akin to the stark contrast between states that have outlawed or restricted placement of billboards along highways and driving down the Las Vegas Strip. The Screen Forum’s admonition balances the legitimate desire to communicate important messages via digital signs with the need to appreciate the surroundings of the signs and minimize whenever and however possible the likelihood of the sign’s detracting from their local environment.
Acknowledging the opportunity to use the network —if even only on a periodic basis— to raise the awareness of the public about environmental concerns is particularly fascinating because it recognizes there’s far more to a digital signage network than hardware and software. In fact, the reason for being of any digital signage network is to communicate messages —often finely defined, narrowcast communications. Balancing that mission with the unrelated goal of communicating to the public about environmental concerns recognizes that there’s more to communicating successfully than a well-defined message. It’s almost as if the Screen Forum transplanted the concept of public service announcements from the television medium to the arena of digital signage, except digital signage networks have no government-mandated public service obligation to fulfill.
DIGITAL SIGNAGE: A GREEN MACHINE
Without question, few people would commit to digital signage as a communications medium solely on the basis of its environmental impact. Digital signs must fulfill their primary function, namely effective communications, or they are of little use to marketers, advertisers and other professional communicators. That being said, there is no reason why their environmental friendly status shouldn’t be considered as another strong reason to consider replacing traditional printed signs where appropriate.
The green nature of digital signs offer communicators an opportunity to shrink the amount of plastic, ink and chemical coatings introduced into the environment, a way to reduce the number of trees cut for paper products, and eliminate the transportation emissions associated with the entire workflow chain from producing to displaying and ultimately replacing printed signs.
Beyond these benefits to the environment, going green via digital signage also positions communicators to realize cost savings, enhance productivity, improve responsiveness to changing communications requirements and make more efficient use of display space. This synergy between the environmental and business benefits of digital signs contributes to a healthier world and a more profitable bottom line.
However, simply replacing printed signs with their digital equivalents isn’t enough to reap these benefits. Digital signs have their own set of environmental concerns, such as power consumption and the use of certain toxic or greenhouse gas producing chemicals in the production of displays and electronic components. However, with proper planning electrical consumption can be diminished, and industry efforts to remove elements like arsenic and cadmium from computer components are reducing the release of these chemicals in landfills.
Often businesses and their employees seek ways to be greener as they pursue their objectives but find it difficult to identify concrete steps they can take. For professional communicators, however, there is a greener way to disseminate vital information. That means is digital signage —a powerful medium that’s also environmentally friendly.