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Is Digital Signage Green? 

A head-to-head comparison of print versus digital signs tips the environmental impact scale in favor of the digital medium.

For more than two months when I've gone home from work, I'd flip on the evening news hoping to see the volcano of oil erupting from one mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico miraculously stilled, plugged somehow, staunching the incredible flow of oil and natural gas that is killing wildlife, devastating habitat and shutting down whole segments of Gulf-related businesses.

But rather than breathing a sigh of relief, night after night I'd sit mesmerized -a little queasy and apprehensive- watching the oil continuing to flow, creating what seems to be the greatest environmental calamity of my life -at least in this part of the world.

Like everyone else at home marveling at this spectacle revealed by BP's underwater camera, I am powerless to do anything to "just plug the damn hole," as our president reportedly said at a recent White House meeting. Fortunately, BP's latest attempt to cap the wellhead appears to be working, and there may be some end to this phase of the environmental disaster in sight.

But regardless of what happens a mile below the sea, it's important to recognize that I'm not powerless in my personal and professional life when it comes to helping to protect the environment. That's why along with my decision to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, recycle paper, glass and plastic and teach my children respect the environment in their daily lives, I've decided to dedicate a couple of columns to digital signage as a "green" technology.

Often, when the environmental impact of digital signage is raised, some valid, but rather well-worn, assertions are made. First, when compared to printed signs, digital signage appears far greener. Digital signage messaging, which can be updated or changed entirely with a few strokes of the keyboard and some mouse clicks, eliminates the need to print new signs as messaging needs change. The fewer the signs that get printed, the fewer the trees that need to be cut, transported to mills, processed and made into paper, the logic goes. The need for the inks used to print the signs and the various chemical coatings applied to make them attractive is eliminated.

Another dimension, commonly cited, is waste disposal. Cutting out the need to replace printed signs eliminates the energy needed to dispose of or recycle the signs and -to the degree printed signs aren't recycled- the impact of adding tons more paper, ink, chemical coatings and paints to landfills.

A third often cited benefit is that the convenience of updating digital signage messaging over a computer network eliminates travel to the location of each sign, which is necessary to replace printed old signs with new printed versions. Eliminating the transportation component reduces carbon emissions and thus the impact of signage on the environment.

While each of these assertions argues in favor of the environmental benefit of using digital signage over traditional printed signs, that's not to say digital signs don't impact the environment and that a variety of actions can and should be taken when possible to reduce the effect of this digital medium on our planet.

In the second part of this column, I'll look at some of the leading environmental considerations regarding the use of digital signs and steps that can be taken to minimize their impact. 

David Little is a charter member of the Digital Screenmedia Association with 20 years of experience helping professionals use technology to effectively communicate. For further digital signage insight from Keywest Technology, visit our website for many helpful tips and examples. For more in-depth research from Keywest Technology, download our free digital signage white papers and case studies.

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