How do you determine the carbon footprint of a Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) product, like an Eyetease iTaxitop for example?
There is only one way…with an incredibly lengthy, ridiculously complex analysis of each and every component that is used to create it. You would need to start your data harvesting at the point the raw materials were mined from the earth, look at how they were transported, consider how they were being processed, count how many lights were on in the factory when that particular component was being produced…oh, and record if Dave the engineer cycled to work that morning or took the bus.
The granularity required to give any intelligent comment or statistic is so mind bogglingly huge that I dare say this information will never, ever, be available.
We can however take some readily available statistics and try to build a story in order to better understand the environmental impact of digital advertising versus, for example, print based billboard advertising.
So firstly, let’s take a look at what we know about the Eyetease iTaxitop…
It sits on the roof of a vehicle that will be used almost daily whether or not it was there at all (our trusted cabbie needs to earn a crust!) therefore we couldn’t suggest that it was encouraging more vehicles onto our already crowded and polluted streets but rather utilising ones already there. (Green credentials +1)
It weighs a little less than your average small child, so has a minute effect on fuel consumption. The iTaxitop is aerodynamic – designed by aerospace engineers to reduce drag, don’t you know! Plus, it utilises excess power from the vehicles battery, and it even has solar panels. (Green credentials +2)
The power consumption of an Eyetease iTaxitop is less than a consumer grade TV screen. Its brightness is dynamically controlled dependent upon sunlight conditions, its high definition LED backlit screens run at 10% brightness during the night, drastically reducing overall power consumption. (Green credentials +3)
For the purpose of this comparison why don’t we make things a little easier: let’s pretend the Eyetease iTaxitop is as power hungry as your TV at home and runs from a mains electricity supply.
Of course, your mains power supply has its own separate carbon footprint whereas the Eyetease iTaxitop host (the taxi) is already contributing to our local / global carbon footprint with or without the iTaxitop fitted. Consequently, making a comparison in this way means the chips are stacked against us…but we are brave, let’s roll with it.
According to research the average 37” LCD TV produces approximately 215Kg of carbon a year if left on for 6.5 hours a day [*1].
This means for every hour that the TV is on, it is responsible for 0.090Kg of CO² emissions.
For the purpose of this story why don’t we ramp it up?
Let’s pretend said TV (our iTaxitop substitute in this instance) is on for 10 hours a day in order to simulate a dedicated London cabbie pulling a typically long shift behind the wheel, and let’s also make him work 6 days a week, every week of the year, with no holiday. Cruel, I know!
At 0.090kg per hour this would mean 3,120 hours of continuous TV use, creating 280.8Kg of CO² emissions per year.
So, if an Eyetease iTaxitop was plugged into the mains power supply, and was as ‘hungry’ as your TV, it would produce nearly 300Kg of carbon per annum. Of course it’s not plugged into the mains so this number is a gross exaggeration of its real carbon footprint – but for argument’s sake, let’s just leave that number there for now.
We shall also ignore the carbon footprint required to manufacture the iTaxitop or the TV, as we shall ignore the carbon footprint created by building and installing a billboard advertising structure. Let’s call it even Stevens!
According to a study by the European Commission, the total European billboard advertising industry disposes of 3 million square metres of poster paper every week [*2]. That’s 156 million square metres a year. To create a picture in your mind, this amount of paper would cover 21,848 football pitches. In fact, this mind-boggling amount of paper would completely cover Staten Island, New York at 60 square miles.
The majority of that paper is probably produced and imported from China, the World’s largest exporter of paper pulp. China’s paper production creates 2478Kg of CO² per finished metric ton [*3].
For now we shall forget about the environmental conditions surrounding the actual printing of the adverts and we shall ignore the fuel required to deliver the paper to the printers.
Based on ONLY the paper production the European advertising billboard industry creates over 572,000Kg of CO² every year.
This means we could leave our single TV (iTaxitop substitute) on for 6.3 million hours nonstop (264 thousand days, or 725 years) before we even came close to creating the same CO² production as the billboard industry does in paper consumption alone each year.
Just for fun, why don’t we look at some other facts and figures involved in servicing the network of advertising billboards and see how the numbers stack up?
A petrol vehicle produces 8,887g of CO² per gallon [*4]. A brand new 1.0 litre Ford Transit Connect offers a performance of 50.4MPG [*5]. Therefore every mile driven in this efficient EURO6 rated vehicle produces 176.32g of CO².
Now let’s presume that every billboard advertising company in Europe uses only this super-efficient vehicle, and that they drive a round trip of only 2 miles per advert change, and only do it once a month. When we multiply this by 2M active billboards (the lowest amount of billboards displayed at any one time according to EU Commission) then we can see an additional CO² impact of 8.4 Million Kg per annum (8,463,809.52Kg to be exact).
Add to that the measly half a million kilograms produced from paper processing (still not including printing or structural installation, remember!) and we have over 9 Million Kg of CO² produced by the paper based billboard advertising industry every 12 months (again, to be exact 9,036,007.47Kg).
For comparison, we could run our single power hungry TV continuously for over 100 million hours (11.4K years) or we could run 10,000 TV’s (substitute iTaxitops) continuously for over 10,000 hours before we matched the 9M Kg CO² produced by the European billboard industry.
So, in summary, one could potentially install and run 10,000 iTaxitops across Europe for the next 3 years and still not exceed the carbon footprint created by the whole of the European paper based advertising billboard industry in a single year.
I don’t know how you feel after looking at the numbers but I’d say DOOH is definitely GREEN. I’d go so far as to say it’s in no way mean, if anything its GREEN and its LEAN!
[*1]The Telegraph, Eco-technology, Amy Willis, 22.10.2010
[*2]European Commission – Community Research & Development Information Service, 02/04/14
[*3]Center for sustainable Cities, A Comparative Analysis of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in Coated Paper Production, Robert O. Vos & Josh Newell June 2009)
[*4]United states environmental protection agency, office of transportation and air quality EPA-420-F-14-040a, May 2014