“Green” has been a big buzzword in many industries, not just out of home, for a while. It’s probably even more popular here in California, where environmental consciousness took hold before the rest of the country.
For billboards, green applies to traditional as well as digital — because, perhaps surprisingly, there are a lot of things you can do to a billboard to make it sustainable that don’t involve energy efficiency.
How are vendors addressing calls for environmentally sound practices, and why should advertisers want to be associated with sustainability?
Both questions can be summed up with “long-term plans.” To thrive and survive, vendors and advertisers will need to adopt eco-advertising. Here’s a look at what that means, how it’s evolved, and whether we’ve moved beyond mere buzzwords to actual difference-making. (We have. Somewhat. But don’t trust everything you hear.)
What Is a Sustainable Billboard?
Sustainable billboards have some element of environmental consciousness, whether it’s a digital billboard that practices energy efficiency or a traditional billboard that combats climate change.
With the wildfires raging across the West, this element of environmental consciousness seems particularly timely. It helps both sides, which is kind of rare in advertising.
Vendors get to show off their innovation. Advertisers can appeal to consumers through their forward thinking. There’s really no downside, except maybe the cost of creating sustainable measures — though even that can be passed down the line (from vendor to advertiser to consumer) or written off on taxes.
A warning: Some vendors do try to pull people in with buzzwords, though, so ask for documentation and proof of how a billboard is sustainable. Just saying “it’s energy efficient! and green!” isn’t enough. Request data or case studies.
The Evolution of Sustainable Billboards
The green movement doesn’t date very far back when it comes to billboards. While you may be able to trace the roots of environmentalism for decades, out of home has a much shorter history of environmental awareness.
This may be because for so long, the industry was unfairly tagged as anti-environmental. But honestly, there’s nothing to support that view. While billboards may not have provided environmental benefits, they certainly weren’t hurting the environment, either: no emissions, modest energy output for lights at night, no endangered species wiped out to make way for billboard scaffolding.
With education and facts, the industry has fought this anti-environment misperception, clearing the way for more informed views.
And with the growing popularity of digital billboards, vendors began to implement more green choices to conserve energy.
Digital Billboards: Reducing Energy Usage
Energy efficiency is, of course, the difference-maker for digital billboards, though actually, the boards may not be as power-hungry as you’d expect. A 14×48 digital sign with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs uses twice the power of a U.S. household—and only twice as much as a static billboard, too. This can vary slightly depending on factors such as:
- The board’s color capabilities, i.e., full-color vs. tri-color
- The image being projected
(And fun fact: It actually takes more power to illuminate a digital billboard during the day than at night, because the lights are fighting the sun’s brightness.)
Using LED vs. incandescent bulbs improves energy efficiency, with LED using about 75% less energy. But that isn’t the only way to reduce energy use. Other ideas include:
- Dimming the lights at certain times of day
- Powering the billboard with solar panels, which can turn the board carbon neutral
- Using different colors or images
Employing less power also has another upside for vendors, requiring less money to run.
Five Cool Sustainable Billboard Ideas
Advertisers who use green billboards get a win because they can showcase these efforts for consumers, who think they’re pretty cool and may sample their product because of it. But they also benefit from simply using ads in new ways. It’s fun to be part of something new and different. And you might be able to secure greater social media or traditional media exposure, too, from passersby or reporters who think your idea is cool.
Here are five unforgettable ways billboards have been greened for 2020.
- A Mural That ‘Eats’ Smog
Murals are huge billboards that draw attention, which can also encompass wallscapes. These gigantic displays got even better in Poland, where two artists created a piece of public art that also aids the environment by “eating” smog.
It’s essentially the same cleaning effect you get from a tree. The photocatalytic paint is catalyzed by light to reduce surrounding pollutants in the air to nitrates. Using the air-purifying paint more widely could benefit many more cityscapes.
- Living Billboards
The best way to make something sustainable is arguably to bring it to life, as plants and trees have natural environmental assets. The Wildstone agency in London, for instance, created an urban garden billboard, which is crafted from sustainable oak and includes planters with shrubs and vegetable plants. (The new West Hollywood project has some cool living billboard ideas, too, though it won’t launch until at least next year.)
- Living Billboards Part II: With Bees
Living billboards don’t just encompass vegetation. General Mills, which makes Honey Nut Cheerios, commissioned a billboard with 100,000 bees inside. The Cheerios brand has long been known for its distinctive bee mascot, Buzz.
The 10 hives generated 25 gallons of honey, and the honeycombs spelled out “made with real honey,” the cereal’s tagline. That type of product-green advertising integration of message and product is rare and definitely helped make the campaign more memorable.
- Edible Billboards
What if a billboard wasn’t only biodegradable but also edible? Barracuda Restaurant erected a billboard made entirely from fish, including the glue and painted used on the image. Seagulls enjoyed lunching on the fish daily, and the billboard got across the point that fresh fish was available daily at the restaurant, too, without ever creating any waste.
- Billboard As Air Purifier
Toyota engaged in eco-advertising for Mirai, its hydrogen cell car, with a billboard that cleans the surrounding air through titanium dioxide-coated vinyl. The ads were placed throughout California, and the auto manufacturer claimed to have eliminated the equivalent of more than 5,000 cars’ emissions from the state.
Green billboard practices will become more creative moving forward, but the best ones will tie together messaging and medium in a way people will remember. It’s not enough to just go green. You need a story with it, or your advertisement won’t resonate. If you want help figuring out what story will work for your brand, get in touch with DASH TWO to discuss.