The Environmental Impact of Signage
It’s easy to lose sight of the environmental impacts which can occur from poor signage decisions. From store fronts to POS displays, any replacement or upgrading of signage will require a large amount of raw materials. That’s particularly true for national brands, where the total amount of signs required in each store can be multiplied by the number of outlets nationwide. This can be exacerbated if you are performing a simultaneous national rollout where everything needs to be manufactured and installed within a relatively short timescale. In such circumstances, environmental concerns may be overlooked in favour of rapid mass-production and low per-unit pricing.

However with careful planning at the early stages of any signage project, it’s possible to ensure that environmental issues can be fully addressed without incurring extra expense or delays. That’s not just good news for the planet and its limited resources – choosing greener options can also create positive brand connotations and even simplify the eventual disposal of obsolete signage. These are some of the key decisions that can improve a signage project’s environmental credentials, from inception to disposal:

1. Before commissioning new signage. It’s important to make effective decisions at this stage, since the choices made here will affect everything from the signage’s lifespan to what can be done with it once it’s been decommissioned.

How can the signage be deployed most efficiently?

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The principles of wayfinding can be applied to all retail outlets, helping to minimise the amount of visual clutter presented to customers. Wayfinding is essentially the science of calculating everything visitors to a particular location will need to be shown or told about. Efficient wayfinding can significantly reduce the quantity of signage required, through techniques like lowering shelving heights to make ceiling displays more easily visible, or selecting smaller graphical signs instead of larger textual ones. It’s useful to analyse in detail what information customers will need (and what they won’t) to pare down visual intrusion, not least because signage overload may cause customers to simply tune out.

Are the raw materials recyclable?

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Environmentally conscious signage manufacturers will be happy to advise customers about sustainable raw materials for each project. They can recommend poly vinyl films that don’t contain PVC, while encouraging customers to specify recycled paper for leaflets and POS materials whenever possible. Local councils have raised public awareness that paper and plastics can be recycled, but so can glass and metals. If timber isn’t already recycled, sustainable wood should be selected.

2. During its lifespan. Businesses often overlook the day-to-day practicalities required of new signage. It’s easy to focus on aesthetics and ignore practical aspects like these:

What will the power consumption be like?

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Don’t be tempted to commission a display unit that requires ten halogen bulbs, or a pointlessly rotating stand with a power-hungry adaptor. Always pay close attention to the electrical requirements of any signage, and specifically whether low-energy LED lighting can be used. Also consider how light sources can be minimised without harming visibility (e.g. internal illumination rather than wasteful uplighters), and whether electrical circuits can be turned off when not needed. Since powered components are often hidden inside signage, design units where anybody can replace a dead bulb or change a fuse. Conversely, a sealed light box will require the specialist attentions of an electrician.

Can the signage be updated easily?

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Many companies view rebranding as a key component in the marketing mix, making regular adjustments to signage and visual merchandising. It’s always advisable to ensure signage can be modified without needing to be completely discarded; one example of this involves the green Christmas hats that adorn Tesco signage in December. This relatively simple addition requires no structural alterations to the roof-level mastheads. Companies with slogans displayed on their signage should pay particular attention to this issue, since slogans change more frequently than corporate colour schemes or logos.

3. Afterwards. All good things must come to an end, and no piece of signage lasts forever. It’s always advisable to consider the following issues before placing that order:

Can the signage be recycled in due course?

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In the same way that recycled materials should be specified at the outset, consider to what degree signage can be recyclable at the end of its life. Non-recyclable parts may incur significant disposal costs, which is often unnecessary given the availability of products like biodegradable inks and laminating films. Bear in mind that environmental legislation is tightened regularly, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution in terms of choosing materials today that may require disposal in a decade’s time.

Can the signage be easily taken down and broken up?

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This follows on from the previous point, but with reference to the physical mechanics of dismantling larger items. Could proposed aluminium frames be easily disassembled, or would the proposed design incur specialist dismantling/transport costs? Are branded display units going to be secured together with screws, nails or glue? Always try to commission items that can be handled by one person, and avoid specialist fastenings in favour of crosshead screws and non-toxic adhesives.