Is Green Signage just another new marketing term, or is there something really going on? In this article, you'll learn what we all can do to make digital signage as eco-sustainable as possible, beyond the lip service and so-called greenwashing.
What is Green Signage?
Basically, green signage in the Anglo-Saxon language is about ecologically sustainable analog signs. However, since we are in the age of digital transformation, there are efforts by some companies to adapt the term to digital signage as well.
Theoretically, I think this is an excellent idea. However, we are only at the beginning of the journey.
What can Customers do?
In my opinion, the customer is the most powerful factor. Of course, we can make it easy for ourselves and demand that politicians introduce laws that force companies to comply with ecological requirements. As a rule, this takes ages and is often weakened by lobbying in the end. Voluntary measures do not achieve much either, as experience has shown. After all, what company voluntarily imposes competitive disadvantages on itself?
It pays off more to bring new devices onto the market for a hardware manufacturer than to support, repair or even recycle old devices. Unfortunately, the latter doesn't come for free. Reward companies that take on these efforts.
Furthermore, continuous software support comes at a price. As a customer, you should be willing to pay it. Cheap digital signage hardware has, as you can read in the linked article, tangible disadvantages.
Our CMS runs several dozen IAdea devices, installed in late 2011. Of course, they were more expensive than comparable devices from low-cost vendors, but do the math on what it costs you and the environment to regularly replace broken devices.
Consider whether it really has to be an LED device. For some locations, such as bus stops or traffic signs, so-called e-paper makes sense. You're probably familiar with this technology from e-book readers. These screens hardly need any power and work excellently even in bright sunlight. Bus stops and traffic signs in particular can be operated carbon-neutrally via solar cells using this technology.
Meanwhile, more and more devices are coming on the market, which also display colors. The weak point of this screen category, however, are videos.
Green Data Centers
At the latest, when it comes to digital signage cloud, you require a data center. Green data centers exist that draw their energy exclusively from green electricity.
Hetzner, for example, obtains 100% of its electricity from hydropower and, in its Finnish data center, also from wind power.
Tip: Real Eco-Electricity
Make sure that the provider names the electricity supplier. Some boast of green electricity, but use providers who only purchase so-called guarantees of origin. These only guarantee that a certain amount of green electricity was produced at an unknown location. The electricity actually supplied may therefore still come from a coal-fired power plant.
A smart further step might be for data centers to make their waste heat available as district heating. This is still in its infancy. Finland started gathering practical experience with this a few years ago. In fact, the Finns used district heating for a long time.
Switch off the Devices
One of the easiest solutions to save energy is to turn off the monitors, or at least manually set them to standby when they are not needed.
Darker content saves power
White content consumes more power because the LEDs are simply not active in black. Although this may sound ridiculous at first glance, keep this in mind when designing your content.
If you use the so-called Dark Mode on smartphones with their OLED screens, the battery will last twice as long at maximum screen brightness. Source How to Geek. To what degree this is transferable to your individual digital signage is something you'll have to decide for yourself. For those who run many screens in bright locations and pay the power bill themselves, darker content noticeably reduces power costs.
What can Legislators do?
Legislators define the framework within which the economy must operate. Countries compete in this respect. If these framework conditions deteriorate, industry and business will look for other locations. This means that the state loses tax revenue. In addition, still legions of lobbyists come, which make some of it receptive politicians gladly times their view of the things palatable.
The possibilities of the policy of individual countries are limited therefore to promotions, careful sanctions and in co-operation with other countries. However, we can see how difficult it is to reach cross-national consensus at the climate conferences that are held regularly. At the end of each meeting, the participants sell minimal targets that are far below scientific requirements as a great success.
A Note about Feasibility
I am aware that some of the following points are difficult to implement practically for an individual country. However, we are also talking about theoretical possibilities here.
School and Inform
In my view, the most important measure a government can take is to promote the transfer of knowledge. This raises an awareness of sustainability and ecology. The process takes over a generation and also includes lengthy discussions to bring as many people as possible along by convincing them without scaremongering, blaming and stigmatizing.
Call for Transparency
A buyer should be able to transparently view raw material extraction, manufacturing process, transport routes, materials used and recycling measures. Restaurants in the EU have to label ingredients and possible allergens. Why not have such a procedure for technology as well? Let's imagine: Everyone easily learns that the raw materials of this monitor come from a slave holding state with child labor without environmental regulations. Perhaps companies will then ask themselves whether the supposedly more expensive alternative is preferable to a media shit storm.
Pricing damage to the Environment
The manufacture and disposal of advertising monitors and media players, cause environmental damage. It should be mandatory to price all of this transparently. More environmentally friendly products will then not be at a competitive disadvantage. We have the same problem here as with cheap flights. No one pays for the environmental damage caused by carbon emissions in the stratosphere.
Right to Repair
Repairs extend runtimes. Longer runtimes have less impact on the environment because no resources are needed for new production. Companies that actively hinder repairs through glued components, soldered components, exclusive gag contracts and other measures should be sanctioned.
Polemically phrased: If even hipsters don't experience a significant loss in quality of life due to 2 to 3 mm thicker notebooks or smartphones, this should be all the more irrelevant for a monitor installed in a digital totem.
Nowadays, anyone who builds on sustainability is disadvantaged in competition. A government creates incentives with state labels and validations. Of course, these should be formulated transparently and be affordable for all companies. Please not in the same way as certain certifications, which sometimes give the impression that they are intended to exclude smaller market participants, only.
What can Enterprises do?
Enterprises are subject to the constraint of economic efficiency. Sustainable measures in green signage often increase costs. If the marketing fails to communicate the benefits, it reduces profit and sales. Complete transparency, as mentioned in the legislator section, helps with the external presentation.
Businesses can also be customers of suppliers themselves, by the way. In this respect, there are also overlaps with the Customers section.
Sustainable companies minimize their carbon footprint. The following options exist for this.
There is a hierarchy in waste prevention called “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Although this cannot be applied 100% to display production, reuse and recycling may become more important in the future. This study by the Fraunhofer Institute (in German) identifies screens as sources of raw materials for rare trace elements.
Electronic components in electronics require rare earths. Their mining consumes vast amounts of water and leaves behind a devastated natural environment. If manufacturers simply recycle and reuse these materials, this reduces the environmental destruction caused by mining.
Modularization and easy Repair
The possibility of simple repair or even reconditioning of returned or end-of-life products extends their service life. Modularization of components, as in the case of the Fairphone, additionally supports this and reduces costs for customers and manufacturers.
Reduce Energy Consumption.
There are technologies such as the Commons cathode method. These control the voltage separately for the three basic LED colors. This results in potential savings of up to 75%.
A unified interface for real standby would be another way to save power. We often can't turn off devices correctly on the software side. The problem lies in the concept because the player software still needs control in the background. After all, a user could send the command to wake up in the CMS, and the device would not receive it.
For the current solution, many dim the brightness to zero, if that is possible. While this is better than nothing, it still consumes too much power. Some kind of special wake-on-LAN for digital signage to access the network despite stand-by and that as a standardized interface would be a dream.
Code of Conducts
Responsible companies draft and publish codes of conduct. They state that their suppliers are obligated to pay their employees fairly and to respect human rights and safe workplaces. Furthermore, they must refrain from using child and forced labor.
What can the Press do?
Just like the legislator, the press has the opportunity to raise a sustainable awareness. Of course, this should not be done in a patronizing manner, as has increasingly been the case recently, but in a neutral manner, with the possibility of dialogue. Unfortunately, professional journals are also subject to economic constraints and do not want to confuse advertising customers.
Negative practical example: Fairphone
The Dutch company Fairphone offers sustainable, modular and repairable devices with materials that are as conflict-free as possible for years. For this, the trade press dutifully praises, but in the same breath rips off the poor price-performance ratio and the outmoded clunky design.
In the end, the usual tech giants, such as Samsung, Apple, Huawei, etc., are once again at the top of the test rankings, while a Fairphone gets the booby prize at best. Thus, they remain only a niche provider – not only financially, but also in the minds of the readers.
This is a missed opportunity to communicate and establish sustainable ecological awareness. Sustainability is once again degenerating into a nerd topic for outsiders. It feels good to praise it like the obligatory commitment to world peace at beauty contests. However, the lifestyle smartphone that is once again 1 mm thinner with X high-resolution cameras and the even faster processor with the even bigger memory is presented as the really “hot stuff”.
Positive in Germany: Invidis
There are also positive examples in Germany. It is great to see that Invidis (in German) has created a category called Green Signage and regularly creates publicity for it with articles.
Sustainability begins in the mind of the buyer. As long as a significant majority is not willing to pay an adequate price, nothing will change. Companies can influence this with high transparency, politicians with subsidies and, together with the press, through education.
As long as it is not clear to all of us that costs for energy, waste disposal, recycling and ecological damage over the lifetime of the devices must be included in the calculation for digital signage projects, green signage will remain just another lip service with an advertising character.
Most disappointing for me: When researching this article, I found very little concrete information from the manufacturers. Many companies that use the usual buzzwords such as sustainable, ecological and green merely use them as advertising slogans for their products and services. There are positive approaches, such as at Ströer and Sharp/NEC, but there are still too few of them.