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Environmentally-friendly Signs

Having ‘green’ signage solutions appears to be more important today, however, is genuine environmental concern leading the way or will cost forever overrule? Jo Golding investigates

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Neon Plus from The Sign Group uses opal acrylic and 24V LEDs to mimic the effect of traditional neon with reduced power consumption for the same light output

A convenient truth

With the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference (COP21) dominating headlines at the end of last year, the topic of environmental concern has been high on people’s list of priorities recently. Attendees from around the world, from government officials to company founders, got involved to try to find a solution to the problem of global warming.

The result? A deal was agreed by 195 nations ‘to attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise well below 2°C (3.6 °F) compared to pre-industrial levels’, according to the BBC. The fact that every single country agreed to the deal shows an enormous amount of concern for the world we live in.

Time for change

Apply these concerns to the sign-making industry and there are also worries about the impact on-environmentally friendly signage solutions are having on the world.
“More can definitely be done; at the moment PVC films and solvent printers still dominate,” urges Chris Bradley, marketing manager at William Smith. PVC can be harmful as its lifecycle involves toxic discharges, whether it is the additives such as colouring agents and softeners to make it usable, or the raw material used to make the PVC itself. Solvent printers, which we will all recognise from the sheer smell of chemicals in the air when stepping into a print production space or a busy exhibition hall, can produce fumes that can lead to health concerns.

However, Bradley recognises that the industry is slowly changing: “The industry is already changing, as more companies make and customers ask for sustainable signage that is built to last. A lot of investment is going into looking at greener solutions, such as LEDs that use less power to light signs, and HP Latex inks that are water based and use fewer solvents.”

He notes the way printer manufacturers are building technology that uses less ink and increased levels of recycling for companies who strive to reduce their carbon footprint and work towards environmental management accreditation.

Adrian Dennis, managing director of Zeta Specialist Lighting, believes the choice now available in environmentally-friendly solutions is wide: “As with all industries, the sign industry has evolved with the times. There is a wide choice now in environmentally-friendly materials and these have been widely adopted by many sign-makers.

There is a wide choice now in environmentally-friendly materials and these have been widely adopted by many sign-makers

“Forward thinking sign-makers are embracing eco-friendly solutions, recognising the value that lies in the ability to improve their and their clients’ environmental performance and I predict that this will gain even more traction as new solutions are introduced.”

‘Green’ solutions

With this need in mind, UK sign-making material supplier, William Smith, recently added 3M Envision 480 Print Wrap Film and Envision Print Film 48 to its portfolio as alternative options for environmentally-friendly sign-makers to use. Both of the films do not contain PVC and are manufactured using 60 percent less solvent than standard cast films, without chlorines and other halogens.

William Smith has added 3M Envision Print Film 48 to its portfolio—a non-PVC film ideal for indoor and outdoor signage

“3M Envision 480 Print Wrap Film, which comes with twelve years’ durability, is suitable for a wide range of applications, and can be used to wrap everything from vehicles, trailers, boats, buses and motorcycles, to textured walls, as well as for indoor and outdoor signage,” explains Bradley.

The film is compatible with SV480Cv3 for solvent, eco-solvent, and UV inkjet printing, and LX480Cv3 for latex and UV inkjet printing, as well as UV and solvent screen-printing. A gloss wrap overlaminate 8548G gives a high shine finish, which also improves durability and resistance to moisture.

Bradley continues: “Envision Print Film 48 is a highly versatile intermediate film that is suitable for an extensive array of applications, including indoor and outdoor signage; wall, glass, door and floor graphics; windows and internal dividers; partial vehicle graphics on flat or simple curved areas; POP displays – and much more.”

Zeta Specialist Lighting also offers a range of solutions for green-conscious sign-makers. Dennis says: “LEDs offer sign-makers an eco-friendly solution to illuminate signage and are fast becoming the lighting of choice across many signage applications. When used on-grid, Zeta’s LED signage solutions such as the Embedded LED Panel and Light Guide Panel, consume up to 80 percent less power than traditional lighting systems, which positively impacts on both the bottom and the green line.

“LEDs are flexible, energy-efficient and longer lasting (Zeta’s Embedded LED Panels for example, last for 40,000 hours, average rated life, almost three times longer than a traditional fluorescent). But without a doubt, the biggest advantage is that they can also be used in conjunction with our solar powered lighting systems, which is when the real economies kick in.”

Zeta Specialist Lighting manufactures its solutions in-house such as the Ecolux Solar, an LED trough lighting system, Zeta Bespoke Solar Signage Kit, for illuminating billboards, and the Solar Poster Case Kit, for the retail and leisure sectors as well as for use on bus shelters.

Zeta Specialist Lighting illuminated bus shelters and advertising units by solar power at Waterloo Bridge in London

Dennis reveals that Zeta is also working on an exciting project currently, and highlights other important developments in the pipeline: “We are working with one of the major supermarkets at the moment. This nationwide chain is installing new solar powered totems utilising the Zeta Bespoke Solar Signage Kit, at the entrance of all its car parks across the UK.

“Transport for London has also installed the Zeta Solar Shelter Lighting Kit to increase passenger comfort and safety and combined it with the Solar Poster Case Kit. And there are further installations being planned across a number of the UK’s largest cities which will be in place before this summer.”

Another very important trend when it comes to green signage solutions is that Neschen was in the headlines recently revealing its new PVC-free wallpaper range, Green Wall. “It is the next logical environmentally-friendly step forward. It is not only available in smooth but also in textures up to 160cm wide,” explains Anna Prohaszka, marketing manager at Neschen AG.

At any cost

Due to the development of technology over the years, environmentally-friendly alternatives have become more affordable. In some cases, it is simply cheaper for a company to ‘go green’, without even taking into account the environmental benefits that will come as a result.

Prohaszka of Neschen gives evidence to this, explaining that although sustainable media used to be more expensive than non-green products, this is not the case anymore. She says: “Neschen Greenwall wallpaper will be available at a similar price level as quality PVC based alternatives, making the choice for sustainable materials a no-brainer. Therefore, we expect a further increase in demand for sustainable products in the near future.”

Neschen’s directly printable PVC-free wallpaper has a smooth matt surface and is easy to both apply and remove

Therefore, the question is raised of whether companies truly care about the impact harmful aspects of signage such as PVC or printer fumes has on the world, or whether cost will always be the deciding factor.

Dennis from Zeta believes that whilst meeting corporate social responsibility goals is ‘high on the agenda’ for most companies, ‘so too is achieving best value for money’.
He continues: “The decision to choose an LED solar powered lighting solution is mainly driven by practical issues—namely the cost and time associated with cabling, both of which are often prohibitive.

“For example, we worked with the IS Group at The Pier Head in Liverpool where the bill to install a new mains powered wayfinding system would have run into a six figure sum. With solar power, the ongoing running costs are zero, making the lifetime costs significantly lower than conventional solutions and again, this is often a key factor in the decision making process. But that said, whilst the economic gains are perhaps the key deciding factor, the green advantages are also really very good.”

However, Bradley of William Smith believes environmental concern is on the rise and has the statistics to back it up. He says: “There is an increasing global consciousness that we need to take more care of our environment, which touches all levels of society from members of the public through to large corporates. That is equally reflected in the sign industry, and sign-makers are certainly being driven by customer demand for ‘greener’ options.

“For example, market research undertaken by 3M in 2014 showed that over 46 percent of graphics manufacturers said that they were ‘very interested’ or ‘extremely interested’ in an environmentally-friendly intermediate film, and that their interest was being driven by growing demand from customers for sustainable film solutions.”

O Factoid: Market research carried out by materials manufacturer, 3M, revealed that over 46 percent of graphics manufacturers said they were ‘very interested’ or ‘extremely interested’ in an environmentally-friendly intermediate film. O

Bradley notes that price is important but people have their limitations: “Whilst price is always a key consideration in purchasing signage, at the same time customers generally don’t want to compromise on quality as a result of making an environmentally-friendly choice. So I would say that cost is not always the prime driver in purchasing decision.”

Opportunity to grow

Having analysed stories around this sector from across the last five years, it is clear that many more signage companies today are offering customers an environmentally-friendly option. A good example is City and County Graphics from this month’s Ahead of the Curve section; the company now offers solar powered signage and has revealed it is a sector they are keen to focus on.

Having installed solar-powered monolith signs at two and a half metres high already, Paul Edwards, works director at City and County Graphics, says: “We know the potential for it and are really trying to push it. It makes sense, there’s so many reasons why you should go solar powered.”

SignFab is also seeing the benefits of LEDs, a signage solution that has several environmental benefits attached to it such as better durability and less energy consumption. Indeed, the firm developed a new company and LED lighting product, Lumaire, in reaction to demand for LED light sheet products that are more affordable.

Another key player in the LED arena is The Sign Group, which has not only fully embraced this low-energy usage technology, but also developed a solution as an alternative to conventional neon signage, which uses mercury in its manufacture and consumes more power than LEDs if not manufactured with the very latest technology.
Graeme Hoole, director of The Sign Group explains: “NeonPlus is an incredibly versatile technology that removes at a single stroke many of the limitations imposed on design, technical and artistic, by traditional neon. We now build letters safe in the knowledge they will reach our trade customers in one piece and will work immediately once they’re plugged in.

“The lower voltages involved make for easier installation and we’ve not sacrificed brilliance in return. Neon Plus has really changed the way we approach sign fabrication. It’s a better way to make illuminated signs.”

NeonPlus is constructed using opal acrylic that can cope with a 25 to 30mm return and is then specially machined to take dense arrays 24V LEDs before being capped with a letter face. As such there is no constraint on the fonts than can be used for NeonPlus and without losing any light output when compared to its traditional peer, it also can boast a greater colour gamut.
So, on the whole, it looks like 2015 was a good year for environmentally-friendly signage but 2016 could be even more significant with more customer demand for ‘green’ solutions and more companies developing the necessary services to meet this demand.

Although cost does seem to be a key factor when choosing signage, experts in the industry are noticing a rise in genuine environmental consciousness that could mean a more sustainable future is closer than we think.

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