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Environmentally Sensitive Signage

The greening of America’s real estate projects encompasses every segment of the industry and significantly influences decisions concerning new construction or renovations. Interior and exterior signage can play a key role in emphasizing and improving the green initiatives of a property while enhancing branding (or re-branding) and increasing the user's ease. Understanding a signage program on both a micro and macro level helps owners decide the best type and use of signage when considering LEED Certification and reductions on environmental impact.

The extensive array of sign material options begins to define a particular sign's impact on a micro level. Coupled with design, sign materials determine the sign's sustainability, recycle and reuse potential, and its individual life-cycle cost. Weighing the pros and cons of any given material requires extensive research or knowledge.

As an example, wood, aluminum and stone all have many “green” attributes that make them ideal choices for signage. Wood is one of the most natural, renewable, “green” materials in existence. SouthWood has specialized in manufacturing wood signage for 40 years and is extremely knowledgeable on its benefits and attributes. Aluminum is a completely recyclable material and SouthWood not only recycles all aluminum scraps, we also recycle the old aluminum signs we replace in the field. Stone, as a natural and durable resource, is also highly sustainable. It also requires less finishing with paints and chemicals adding to its environmental friendliness. However, each of these sustainable products also has a downside to consider. Exterior wood signs are produced from western red cedar or redwood, which are sometimes harvested with clear cutting. They also may require glues and exterior paints that leach chemicals. Aluminum requires high energy production beginning with mining and then smelting. Stone requires quarrying, and its weight may require high energy transportation costs.

The three options detailed above show how complex material assessment can be when a project is approached at the micro level. Bamboo laminate boards, a relatively new highly sustainable product used for interior signs, utilize off-gassing glues that join the thin bamboo laminates into more rigid materials. Like any laminate, it requires high energy production methods, and much of the raw material is harvested in the Pacific Rim, involving long-distance transportation to the Western market. A new type of HDU (high density urethane) touts rapid decomposition in a landfill once the sign has been dumped, but it is still a petroleum-based product with its associated "non-Green" problems. Again, however, these options still have advantages as signage materials.

There are scores of additional material choices: ceramics, metals, glass, composites, plastics, laminates, and concrete-type products. The sign design defines the amount and exact use of the various materials and is bound first by function. For example, the requirements of tactile and Braille signs are produced in a limited number of materials and must be certain sizes. This function guides the design, which is then restricted only by budget. Likewise, directional signage must be large enough to be visible, so this function dictates the size and, therefore, the amount of the material, regardless of the material’s greater or lesser environmental impact.

When it comes to LEED certification, understanding a sign program from the macro level often helps clarify all of the issues influencing its environmental impact. Because signage represents a lower percentage of a project’s budget than structural and interior costs, LEED certification points based on signage add up slowly. Creating an environmentally conscious program by assessing the entire sign project, rather than focusing solely on materials and design, most effectively supports green initiatives.

Typical sign projects include all forms of signage: identification, directional, regulatory, and informational. Efficient programs produced and installed correctly the first time eliminate the potential for costly changes and waste. In addition, a well thought-out program reduces the number of signs necessary and eliminates the later need for changes to copy or location. Exceptional sign design based on the property’s location and use lends itself to improved material choices, value engineering, and longevity. Signs with a longer life have a lower life-cycle cost, improving the environmental impact.

Ultimately, an effective sign program makes the facility more pleasant and gives users subtle constant branding reminders. The wayfinding component is critical to getting people from one part of a property to another. Information signs tell visitors what they need to know, and regulatory signs tell them what they should or should not do. All of these parts have to work together and the more efficient the planning and design, the more efficient and effective the sign program will be.

Equally weighing the combination of the macro and micro levels when producing a sign program helps determine the effect of each on the individual sign’s life cycle cost, and the overall program’s lifecycle cost, reducing the environmental impact. With so many factors to consider and products to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming to understand all of the options when it comes to environmentally sensitive signage. SouthWood has a 40-year history of providing sustainable and durable products with an understanding of each project’s needs and nuances. We’ll be glad to help you determine what solutions work best for your project.