Half-measures won’t cut it

How practical is it to go down the Green route? With more companies wanting to go that extra environmental mile, is it easy to design and implement sustainable display solutions?

Design groups need to think about Green materials, so we invited Graham Clark to recommend some practical changes


How practical is it to go down the Green route? With more companies wanting to go that extra environmental mile, is it easy to design and implement sustainable display solutions?

Whatever your market, it is inevitable that sustainability will be essential to your business. In retail, your clients are already making claims and promises to their customers regarding carbon neutrality and the use of sustainable materials. If you work with the Government you may fail pre-tender qualification without a plausible environmental policy.

The main areas to consider are the workplace, materials and disposal.

To reduce energy use in the workplace, evaporative cooling uses 10 per cent of the electricity required by air-conditioning and emits no greenhouse gases. Installation costs are identical, but the eco-credentials attract a grant from The Carbon Trust. Energy-saving features such as sensors and a centralised switching system turn off all appliances when not in use. LED display lightboxes run ‘cold’, so your cooling system doesn’t need to be turned up to compensate for the heat emitted by conventional lightboxes and offer longer life with reduced consumption.

In large-format graphic production many materials are PVC-based, one of the most hotly debated plastic materials regarding hazards to the environment. It is estimated that it takes 1700 years before PVC breaks down in a landfill situation, the material releases hazardous gases and chemicals into the soil. PVC substrates have a high content of plasticisers. Plasticisers contain chemicals, including lead and cadmium, so the material is not pure enough to recycle. Incineration isn’t an answer as this generates an equal amount of ash residues, which then need to be landfilled. Environmentally friendly alternatives must be found, and some retailers are already banning PVC substrates.

There is an increasing choice of Green substrates coming on to the market, but be warned that materials that appear to tick the box may not do so. A new generation of wood-based boards are available. Made from a sustainable source, they have a high recycled content and are 100 per cent recyclable, repulpable and biodegradable.

Other PVC alternatives include polyester, polyethylene and polystyrene. It is not cost-effective to recycle these at present, but they can be incinerated without hazardous emissions and the energy thus created is sold back to the National Grid.

This raises the key issue of disposal. It is possible to source environmentally friendly substrates for use in large-format display, but the advantages are minimised if responsible disposal is not adopted. Materials such as paper will decompose in landfill. The UK dumps more than 27 million tonnes of waste annually and landfill could run out by 2016. Ensuring that your display material is disposed of responsibly is critical to sustainable working and a plan for structured collection, recycling or incineration must be drawn up at the outset. This process will incur extra cost and clients need to be informed.

At the recent World Retail Congress in Barcelona, McKenzie Clark was asked to produce a central display on the theme of sustainability. Designed by Gensler, it challenged environmental issues within the retail sector. Constructed out of 3000 cardboard boxes, a part of the display focused on production techniques and the amount of carbon used to create, transport and recycle the display. A UK supplier manufactured the corrugated card and the wood came from a sustainable source accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. Made from 69 per cent recycled content (some ‘new’ materials are required to give strength) and 100 per cent recyclable it looked ideal. However, the energy consumed in the raw material transformation was high – 48.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  About 43 trees would have to be planted to offset this level of carbon consumption. Use of recycled or recyclable substrates alone does not mean that you are working sustainably.


Educating your clients about the need to use sustainable materials is vital. Don’t be caught out by Greenwash and focus on making improvements. Green working is a gradual progression. So why not embrace it now as part of your skills base and seek support from experienced suppliers?


Graham Clark is managing director of artwork production house McKenzie Clark


Green strategies

• Aim to reduce energy use in the workplace

• Consider the materials you use – in particular, try to find alternatives to PVC

• Ensure that all your display materials are disposed of responsibly

• Look carefully at the environmental implications – the Greenest solution isn’t always the obvious one

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