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The Advertising Industry, Sustainability and the Bottom Line

Once upon a time, “sustainability” was looked on as merely a buzzword.  No longer.  Now, businesses are earning tangible benefits for adopting more environmentally friendly practices.

Green measures are improving efficiency, enhancing the bottom line, fueling product innovation and providing a reputation boost for companies that incorporate sustainability throughout their operations.  As consumers and governments demand more environmentally and socially responsible products, services and practices, businesses that move quicker on sustainability than their competitors create a concrete competitive advantage for themselves.

While there are more polluting industries out there, advertising’s paper and PVC reliance, combined with a high product turnover, translates into a significant amount of landfill waste.

Neither the traditional PVC vinyl banners nor the paper billboard materials are practical to recycle or reuse, forcing companies to consign hundreds of thousands of kilos in waste to landfills each year at the companies’ expense. PVC, a petroleum product, is also widely considered toxic to water and soils.  Other areas where greener thinking can impact the bottom line are in electricity sourcing and consumption and fleet fuel efficiency.

Recognizing the potential benefits, the advertising industry has recently made significant strides in creating a greener industry footprint. Media owners have developed new systems for securing their ads, as well as creating innovative base materials and printing techniques for posters.

To start, a Colorado-based company called Circle Graphics developed a fully recyclable material to replace the PVC vinyl, called Eco-Flexx. It is made from a core of woven polyethylene (PE), which also has the benefits of weighing only a third as much as PVC billboards, costing the same to produce and printing better quality media. The PE banners are secured using a system of hooks, eliminating the need to purchase adhesives.  Additionally, companies adopting the PE banners expect that the lighter weight will translate into a quicker installation turnaround time and reduced use of heavy machinery to transport and install billboards.  Several other companies now produce PE banners as well.

In fact, PE banners have proven so successful that the Outdoor Advertising Association of America recently announced that as of March 2009 it would no longer accept paper posters.  On the heels of this announcement, Lamar Advertising Company in the U.S. announced it had completely switched to 100% recyclable PE banners from paper.  In the UK, JCDecaux has announced it is switching all of its billboards to PE as well.

In addition to switching to PE banners and clipsheets, companies have also developed a glue-free system for securing posters called “dryposting.”  Developed through a partnership between CBS Outdoors and 3M, dryposting involves applying a poster to a large piece of sticky paper secured by a frame.  This allows for quick installation, recycling of the paper posters, and a reduced worker exposure to adhesive fumes.  CBS, which has the media contract for the London Underground, has now set a target to recycle 90% of the London Underground posters in the next two years.

Advancements also allow for companies to reduce the amount of electricity used in advertisements.  In addition to using solar panels or wind turbines to provide green power, companies can install the AdVue lighting system, which uses computer-controlled reflectors and prism designs to provide the same lighting using only two 400W luminaries instead of 4, reducing energy consumption by 50%.  LED floodlighting systems are also available to provide a lower energy light source. Out of Home Media in Australia recently announced a switch to LED floodlighting.

While all these innovations by the advertising industry mean good news for the environment, they also mean good news for the bottom line.  Companies that adopt these sustainability measures can expect to see reduced costs from increased efficiency and reduced waste, as well as improved competitiveness. As Dave McEvoy, group marketing director for JCDecaux, puts it: “If we win the contract for bus shelters, our environmental systems will be part of the judgement.”

Diana Verde Nieto is Founder and CEO of Clownfish www.clownfish.co.uk a communications and brand agency dedicated to making sustainability tangible for business.

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