Sustainable Sign Products

Manufacturers contribute eco-friendly equipment and supplies to this growing market.
Coastal Enterprises Precision Board

Sustainability and profitability go hand in hand, at least when it comes to saving materials used or the power required to make signs. So even this simple aspect of sustainability – reducing resource use – continually drives manufacturers. 

Yet, the market for sustainable sign products is currently small and most decisions made by signage customers (therefore, by sign companies) are to use the least expensive, but otherwise quality machinery and substrates to construct signs. Even sign companies with a commitment to sustainability goals face a difficult choice to use sustainable materials in regular practice. Kermit the Frog was right: “It isn’t easy being green.”

Still, some sign customers do desire sustainable products, whether to meet LEED certification requirements or simply to satisfy personal beliefs. So, what’s available to them? First, developments in LED technology have made them ubiquitous for new and some retrofitted signs. The energy savings can be as much as 80%, and LEDs last considerably longer than other lighting elements. We can all agree that the savings to customers make for an excellent selling point, even though LEDs cost more upfront. Still, old lighting components must be disposed of through the proper channels, even when that often involves more than one refuse, repository or recycling company.

DIGITAL PRINTING AND INKS

Roland Eco-Sol MAX
Roland Eco-Sol MAX

In addition, digital printing inks have come a long way over the past few decades. Once among the more toxic products, ink offerings have become more eco- (and people!) friendly. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) evaluates and GREENGUARD certifies low-VOC (volatile organic compound) products used in construction. Greenguard-certified inks and films include products from 3M, Canon, Durst, EFI, HP, Mimaki, OKI Data, Ricoh, Roland and Sun Chemical. Moreover, Canon, HP and Roland (among others) offer ink cartridge recycling. Additionally, Mutoh and other companies’ aqueous inks don’t emit VOCs, making them more user-friendly, and Nazdar’s website also makes special mention of its products’ low-VOC compounds.

Printers themselves have also become kinder to the environment. For example, Epson’s aqueous-based printers (the 44-in. SureColor P10000 and 64-in. SureColor P20000) featuring Epson UltraChrome Pro ink, are designed to complement Epson’s SureColor S-Series solvent-based signage printers. Printing with aqueous inks involves prints that can be handled soon after printing, as aqueous ink penetrates rapidly into the media and dries quickly, unlike solvent inks (worse for the environment) which often require a dryer, or UV inks (which require a UV light to dry).

However, Mimaki’s UV LED printers feature instant-on/instant-off technology to reduce start times and generate less heat and light contamination during the print process. In many cases, according to Mimaki, this equates to thousands of dollars saved in running cost (vs. using bulbs) each year. Remember, there often is more than one way to save energy or resources.

SUBSTRATES

DreamScape’s wallcovering, Terralon, is constructed from recycled water bottles (9 million and counting to date) and contains 31% post-consumer recycled content – the highest in the market, according to the company. Terralon incorporates no PVCs, lead, plasticizers or heavy metals, allowing it to contribute toward several LEED credits, and it can be printed with UV-curable, solvent, eco-solvent or latex inks. Terralon is also highly “breathable,” meaning water vapor can transfer freely through the material, aiding in mold prevention and extending the life of the product.

Ultraflex offers BIOflex FL, a 15-oz. matte finish, indoor/outdoor, front-lit, biodegradable banner/billboard material for UV, solvent or screenprinting. Bioflex contains no toxic materials and is tear, fade and fungus resistant. No substrate lasts forever, of course, but in landfill conditions (darkness, high heat, moisture and low oxygen), Bioflex attracts microbes that break down the PVC within three to five years.

Hop Industries Corp. markets its Hop-Syn as an environmentally friendly synthetic paper substrate fashioned from a combination of polypropylene resin and calcium carbonate. Hop-Syn is stearate-free and contains no heavy metals or harsh chemicals detrimental to the environment. Its manufacture uses very little water, and all grades of Hop-Syn are recognized by several governing bodies as an environmentally friendly plastic that is 100% recyclable.

Palram’s PALBOARD, a printable, multi-layer sheet, includes a core made from recycled PVC, sandwiched between tough, surface-quality PVC, forwarding the company’s “overarching goal to improve sustainability and reduce plastic waste,” according to their website.

DreamScape Terralon
DreamScape Terralon

But there are more than just printing substrates, of course. Precision Board HDU, manufactured by Coastal Enterprises, comprises special eco-friendly components, including state-of-the-art “green urethane” formulations, according to the company. Precision Board HDU also assists in meeting LEED requirements for obtaining US Green Building Council (USGBC) and ICC 700-2008 building credits.

3A Composites’ AirexBaltekBanova brand provides sustainable, lightweight and resource-friendly core materials for the production of lighter and thus more energy efficient end products. And all colored-plotter vinyls offered by ORAFOL Europe GmbH have been REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) certified and are lead-chromate free.

RECLAIMING AND RECYCLING

Many signshops reclaim waste materials from one job to use on another. Again, that’s good business in addition to being sustainable. Some manufacturers do the same, on an industrial level, of course. Piedmont Plastics reclaims and regrinds plastic waste to return it to the production process. Recently, they were a silver-level recipient of the Intl. Assn. of Plastics Distribution’s Environmental Excellence Award for their conservation policies, selection of eco-friendly products and comprehensive recycling programs. Gemini also reclaims and reuses its production waste.

In addition, Vista System’s Modular Curved Frame Technology comprises elements that allow signs to be more easily changed and broken down into their component parts, thereby offering an efficient and simplified recycling process. Vista System has been inspected and certified by the Green Business Partnership.

There’s even a sustainable choice when it comes to installing signs via bucket or crane trucks. All manufacturers have developed computerized systems to control (and limit) fuel consumption, especially when a truck is idling, such as Altec’s JEMS 4 Series updated system, which significantly reduces the carbon footprint, enhances engine life and reduces engine maintenance by automatically eliminating unnecessary idle time. And Altec has gone a step further with its Green Fleet product line. Altec’s JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System) is an integrated plug-in system that uses stored electrical energy to power the aerial device, hydraulic tools and exportable power sources. The energy storage system is recharged by plugging into shore power or by the truck’s internal combustion engine. 

CORPORATE GOALS AND ASSOCIATIONS

Many companies, such as 3M and OKI Data, have published their corporate sustainability goals and initiatives. HP set ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals across its operations, products and supply chain. Since 2015, the company has decreased two targets of its GHG emissions from global operations by 35% compared to 2015, exceeding its 2025 goal of a 25% reduction. In 2017, HP reached its goal to use 40% renewable electricity in its global operations.

In 2008, Epson established its Environmental Vision 2050 – a long-term plan for environmental action. The company is focused on reducing CO2 emissions by 90% across their entire product life cycle. And Avery Dennison offers a YouTube video explaining its 2025 Sustainability Goals, which include continuous reduction of PVC content in their products.

The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership’s (SGP) homepage (sgppartnership.org) states, “Sustainability goes far beyond inks.” SGP, the leading non-profit accreditation organization that promotes sustainability in printing practices and manufacturing operations, offers steps to certify sign companies as sustainable – an important distinction to some sign clients who demand that sustainable products be used in their construction (and signage) programs. The partnership boasts about 60 members, according to our Editor-in-Chief, Robin Donovan, who attended an SGP Community Day last November. Robin reported that “many of the SGP-certified companies are already working together to subcontract, and retailers in particular have expressed interest in working with sustainable printers, it seems.”

And the Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn. (SGIA) sponsors a Sustainable Business Recognition award, for companies whose projects reduce environmental impact, improve business efficiency, employee safety and health. Get to know Marci Kinter, VP, government & business information with SGIA, if you can. She recently led a seminar at the WFX: Wide-Format Exchange conference and there made the vital point that sustainable products are not just for the Earth itself, but for the people who inhabit and will inherit it. Finally, she said that sustainable practices reduce employee accidents, sick days and, ultimately, healthcare costs.

Sustainable sign equipment and products are out there. A growing market, they play an important role in your and your employees’ health – as well as that of the planet – and your bottom line.

Signs of the Times December 2018

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