Compared to other marketing disciplines, the outdoor sector has taken a real lead on environmental issues and produced some remarkable innovations. This is probably because it is the one medium that is actually part of the environment and, therefore, has had to take the initiative on an area that is becoming increasingly important to the public.
Many of the larger outdoor and ambient companies work with local government through either public transport or roadside sites, so the issue of sustainability has long been on the agenda. It is only recently, however, that these outdoor companies have seen the benefit of marketing their green credentials to commercial clients who, in turn, want to show their own consumers that they care about the environment.
JCDecaux is one of the leading outdoor advertising companies and is one of many that has made real strides in improving its green credentials. Last September, the company announced it would be replacing all paper and paste billboards with one-piece posters made from recyclable vinyl. This means replacing 10,000 paper and paste billboards in the UK. At the same time is also announced it would be launching a roadside digital billboard network using LED technology.
David McEvoy, marketing director UK for JCDecaux, says this transformation of paper and paste billboards represents the first major change to billboards since they were introduced in the 1830s. “Previously, after scraping off the poster you were left with a mixture of paper and glue that was not good. Now, no glue will be used, the poster will be clipped into the frame and 40% of the poster goes back to making a new one and the rest is recyclable into products like traffic cones and buckets,” he says.
McEvoy adds that because outdoor companies work within the environment, “our attitude to the environment tends to be different”. The company has also invested in products that use less energy to light bus shelters with solar-powered bus shelters already installed around the country.
Jumping on the band-bicycle
Last year, JCDecaux famously launched an advertising-funded bicycle loan scheme and is now providing municipalities across the world with this environmentally friendly form of public transport. Velib, the scheme in Paris, has an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 rentals a day. The bike loans may soon come to London following a visit by London Mayor Ken Livingstone to Paris to view the project.
In a deal with Coca-Cola, the drinks company has become the first to sign a UK-wide deal with JCDecaux that will include the first entirely recyclable network of posters. The partnership encompasses the design of future sites and the agreement covers Coca-Cola’s full range of brands.
Cathryn Sleight, marketing director of Coca-Cola GB, comments: “The strategic outdoor network for CCGB will be a powerful communications vehicle that will deliver a consistent brand presence using large format, excellent quality sheets at premium locations. The development of the first reusable and recyclable posters is a significant step in the environmental progress of outdoor advertising and we’re delighted to be a part of that.”
And although this is impressive stuff, in fact most of the major outdoor advertisers are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of what they do. Marketing director at Clear Channel, Pip Hainsworth, says the operations department at Clear Channel put the environment at the top of its agenda almost ten years ago. “It has been part of our corporate responsibility for years. It is seen as a priority globally,” she says.
Clear Channel manages its environmental impacts through an environmental management system and is working with The Carbon Trust on audits and data recording as part of its pledge to further reduce energy use.
The London Underground is another outdoor venue where posters and billboards are used. CBS Outdoor is responsible for the poster sites on the underground and this year sees the roll-out of a £72m-investment programme to update and overhaul formats on the tube network. Part of the improvement includes the introduction of a pioneering Post-It note-style dry posting technology to replace the glue-based posters. This style of poster took three years to develop in partnership with 3M and will involve posters being applied to double-sided adhesive tape without the need for wet glue.
Speed and cleanliness
Posters are no longer stuck directly onto walls and the absence of wet glue also means that the bill posting process is much quicker and cleaner. It also removes the problem of dust sticking to the glue, ensuring the posters are clean throughout the campaign. More than 20 prime central stations feature dry posting technology.
According to CBS Outdoor, the innovation will prevent 186 tons of paper going into the landfill each year and also claims that the advanced technology will attract marketers who have historically shied away from Underground poster advertising.
CBS Outdoor marketing director Carol Wolrich comments: “We are the only outdoor media company to achieve ISO:14001 – the international standard for Environmental Management Systems. We also lead an environmental steering committee for the OAA which has developed an environmental policy for implementation by all OAA members this year. In terms of product development and maintenance, we have made a 90% increase in paper recycling from dry post technology. We are also starting to switch a number of our formats from vinyl, which is difficult to recycle, to 100% recyclable cardboard.”
Public green push
Part of the motivation for CBS Outdoor to rethink the posters on the Underground was when it had to repitch for the contract in 2005. Ken Livingstone’s public push for all things green had been fed down the line and Transport for London was keen to have a proposal that included a cleaner, greener environment both in the Underground and on the buses.
It seems that the tradition of outdoor and ambient companies working with the public sector has, in large measure, driven the desire to be more eco-friendly – something other marketing disciplines have not really experienced.
Streetbroadcast specialises in placing six-sheet poster on lamppost three metres above the ground; it also works with 25 local authorities, including four London boroughs. The company has launched solar-powered and wind-assisted six sheets, available for commercial clients. The sites are called “@carbon footprint” and 100 panels were installed at the roadside and shopping parks across the UK last year, with more panels due to be converted this year.
At Streetbroadcast’s innovation centre in Manchester, it is testing LED-lit paper poster displays. The LEDs, which will replace fluorescent bulbs, last five times longer and require less maintenance.
It does seem unusual for one particular sector to be making so much effort in terms of sustainability, but according to Dragon consultant, Luke Vincent, sustainable media may not yet be a big issue for consumers, but it is something that all marketers and their suppliers should be thinking about. “It’s important to look at environmental impacts across the business. Not just for ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ brands, but any brand that wants to be relevant and trusted in a modern world,” he says. “In the same way, the sustainability of media should be addressed, especially as it is very visible to the consumer. One only has to look at the newspapers strewn across a Tube station at the end of rush hour to be aware that the media we consume has an impact on the environment. For outdoor specifically, we should be assessing the energy and carbon costs, material waste generated and the sustainability of papers and inks.”
The one drawback of all this green progress, however, will be the disappearance of poster pasters, whose skill in being able to balance on top of a ladder while pasting massive posters quickly and efficiently provides its own roadside entertainment