In supermarkets and convenience stores, one of the biggest draws on electrical power are refrigerated cases. Not only does it take valuable energy to keep them cold, but every time a customer opens one, valuable cold air is lost and the refrigerator has to work harder to keep cool.

Recently, Microsoft and others invested in a company called Cooler Screens, which makes digital displays that are integrated into those refrigerator doors, displaying the contents in vivid detail; they can also be used for marketing and advertising. Walgreens is reportedly putting the technology into 2,500 stores in the U.S.

By some accounts, such digital signage technology can double sales in the refrigerated aisle. But there’s a possible side benefit, according to Florian Rotberg, Managing Director of Invidis Consulting: when customers can see clearly what’s inside the refrigerated cases, doors stay closed longer, thereby saving electricity and making the cooler aisle a little more sustainable. Rotberg made the point at the Digital Signage Summit, held during Integrated Systems Europe 2020 in Amsterdam.

According to Rotberg: “This is the most important topic of today and tomorrow. Interest in sustainable digital signage has picked up massively in the past months… especially in Europe where electricity is four times more expensive than it is in the United States.”

The industry is at a pivotal point, Rotberg explains. The issue of sustainability has never been more prevalent (Microsoft pledged to be carbon negative in a decade), and demand for more sustainable technology solutions is coming from all corners — customers, employees, retailers, technology providers, etc. “We’ve been asked by so many companies how they can be more green,” Rotberg says. “And it’s not about greenwashing; it’s about doing things right… having the facts, raising awareness, identifying potential practices and educating the market.”

To that end, invidis has launched its Green Signage Initiative, with the first reports scheduled for launch at Digital Signage Summit Europe, 29-30 July.

Rotberg says designing for greener digital signage can include many different measures, some easier to implement than others, but there are steps companies can take right away based on technology and features that already exist. These include:

1. Don’t run signage at full brightness when it’s not necessary. “When you think of high-brightness screens in store windows, they all have brightness sensors, but the majority are turned off because brands don’t like when colours change a little bit,” Rotberg explains, adding that this thinking is starting to change. His advice: use existing brightness sensors to help moderate energy consumption. By some estimates, going from 100% to 70% brightness can reduce energy consumption by 20% without affecting visual impact.

2. Turn devices (all the way) off. It’s time to start turning off certain digital signage when no one’s looking at it; this can be done using existing timers or control system technology. While this could have design implications for store windows or other places where companies might find a dark screen odd, it can be overcome or accepted. “Do you really need to run screens at 3 am?” Rotberg asks. “Many companies thought they did because they had an online presence and needed to be seen as open 24/7. That’s changing.”

3. Create more sustainable digital signage content. This one takes some planning, too, but brighter, whiter content requires more power to illuminate, so consider darker shades. When content is transitioning, use dimmer colours as background. Plus, when it comes to motion content, less is more. Fast-moving video content is less energy efficient than slower animation, for example.

4. Use more energy-efficient digital signage components. Think in terms of fan-less media players, OPS (open pluggable specification) devices for driving content that don’t need a separate power supply, or even just more efficient network infrastructures for delivering content and monitoring signage status and performance. These are technologies that have been around a while, and many digital signage designers already know to specify them. But in the real world, Rotberg says, solutions often aren’t designed to be as energy efficient as they could be, especially for outdoor installation.

5. Pay attention to pixel pitch. It’s physics – the finer the pixel pitch, the more energy an LED display will require. Naturally, many end users like the denser, premium solutions, but certain installations, such as media facades, often don’t need them. This is a situation where AV designers can really have a positive impact by taking into account content, viewing distances and more to help determine the optimal, most sustainable LED technology.

All of this just scratches the surface of green digital signage. Recycling signage displays and components, using Energy Star and similarly rated products, exploring carbon offsets for signage networks — these are all other ways in which companies can create greener digital signage. Many companies active in creating digital signage solutions have signed up to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, so awareness is at an all-time high. Down the line, Rotberg says, the industry will need to develop standards everyone can follow, but first thing’s first

“At this point, it’s more evolution than revolution,” he says. “How can we take what’s bad and make it good?”

Digital signage is a valuable technology tool for helping companies, organisations and individuals create better outcomes. Digital signage also consumes precious energy and leaves a footprint. Starting with common sense measures, everyone involved can insist on digital signage designs that help preserve natural resources.