Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle for EGD

Green All Over Again

EGD firms are finding new and innovative ways to reduce, re-use, and recycle.

Aside from climate change, recycling is one of the most prevalent topics surrounding environmental consciousness in both our personal and professional lives. But while recycling has an enormous positive impact on the environment, it falls short of addressing the many problems associated with the materials and products we consume. Two other important Rs come before recycling in the three “green” Rs: reducing and re-using. All three Rs dramatically impact the sustainability of the projects we create.

Environmental graphic design touches on many aspects of the built environment. Understanding how to relate environmental sustainability concepts specifically to EGD is a key step in facilitating change and creating a positive impact with the projects we create.

Reducing the amount of materials and waste produced during a project is one of the most effective ways we can minimize its impact on the environment. Reduction is best tackled in the initial design of a project, impacting the entire life cycle in a positive way. Effective communication among the designers, fabricators, and materials manufacturers is critical in this stage so that all parties understand the project goals. This allows for projects to be built in the most efficient way possible, reducing unnecessary waste.

Collaboration among the team members brings the philosophy of environmental consciousness into play by allowing the sharing of ideas and resources. The truth is that not all materials are created equal, and neither are all projects. Knowing the standard sizes and dimensions of the materials you use can help you design for maximum material yield and elimination of waste during fabrication. Often, a minor size adjustment can reduce the waste factor of a substrate by up to 25%.

“A positive trend we’re seeing is that we’re having a lot more conversations with designers about maximizing material yields,” says Teresa Cox, president of APCO Sign Systems. “They seem more willing now than ever to talking about trimming their design an eighth or quarter-inch if it means being more efficient with material use.”

Reducing the waste stream of materials heading to the landfill is another key in designing and building environmentally conscious projects. The development of modular signage and display systems is another positive trend. Modularity is building a project or system in a way that allows components to be disassembled and re-used in other projects, reducing landfill contribution. The concept behind modularity is to create interchangeable components that are not permanently bonded together. This practice can reduce the amount of components needed to build a project and allow disassembly at the end of life for re-use or recycling.

Re-using materials and components is a topic that does not get enough coverage. While reduction is the first step and recycling is better than heading to the landfill, the concept of re-using or re-purposing components and materials at the end of their life cycle can have an enormous environmental impact. Material reclamation is a growing trend in the building industry and is a major area of focus for LEED-certified projects.

ASI (Dallas) was recently involved in a project that provided the opportunity to meet a client’s needs, reduce landfill contribution, and re-use an existing sign system. According to Kelly David, ASI’s director of marketing and product management, “a client was moving to a new location and they were cutting budgets due to the recession.

They asked us to remove the old signs from the building and reinstall them at the new location. This reduced waste, saved money, and created comfort and familiarity for the employees in the new facility.”

A growing number of companies, such as 3form (Salt Lake City), manufacturer of architectural resin panels that contain post-industrial recycled content, have developed programs that allow their material to be re-sold and re-used at the end of its initial life. Through 3form’s Reclaim program, the company resells the panels via a special section on their websiteand donates 10% of profits to DesignBuildBluff (

“We purchase panels from 3form’s Reclaim to make all our NovAcryl-ECR samples,” says Dave Miller, business director for Nova Polymer. “Not only is this a responsible thing to do, it also makes for
a great story to share with our clients; you never know where that material has been!”

While recycling has been considered the baseline of sustainability efforts, many businesses still do not make it a part of their processes even though there are many more resources available today than ever before.

Recycling has definitely become much easier in recent years as new companies and industries have emerged to meet specialized recycling needs and markets. Many materials manufacturers actively source recycled scrap and waste to incorporate in their products. Asthe saying goes, one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.

Businesses are also getting more creative about recycling their own manufacturing waste. Gary Anzalone, president of Precision Signs (Long Island, N.Y.) has long been an advocate for the environment and is a founding member of the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the SEGD Sustainability Forum. To reduce the environmental impacts of the waste stream from his water jet cutting processes, for example, he has found a contractor who can use the waste sand, keeping it out of the landfill. The contractor gets the material free, and Anzalone gets rid of waste he doesn’t want. “It’s a win-win,” says Anzalone. ”The ideal situation is to look at the byproducts from your main processes and get creative about reclaiming or recycling them.”

Jeff Grantz, senior project manager with Sensory Interactive (Towson, Md.), stresses the importance of having a recycling plan in place at the front end of the project. “Let’s say you decide it’s important to use recycled content in your signs. Well, who will recycle it? When? What can it be recycled into? Who will be responsible for reclaiming it and making sure it gets to the appropriate recycling location? If that type of information is not specified in your documentation, then how do you know the product will actually be recycled? It’s not enough to just hope for the best.”

Some manufacturers are taking matters into their own hands. Evo Exhibits offers a line of environmentally preferable trade show displays called Evo Elements. Recognizing the phenomenal amount of waste associated with tradeshow exhibits, the company recently introduced the Evo Element Reincarnation Exhibit Recycling Program, which is designed to reduce the volume of retired exhibit materials reaching landfills. Evo allows you to send them your old exhibit and they will recycle virtually all of the components.

The reality is that many businesses find it difficult to find outlets for recycling the many components used in signage and EGD projects. Discussing your recycling needs with your material suppliers is a great place to start the conversation, as there are growing needs for manufacturers to find recycled scrap. There are also many state and local recycling facilities that accept scrap material. Regardless of what you’re trying to recycle, there is most likely someone out there willing to help.

Where we’re heading
As life-cycle analysis and waste reduction become more common in environmental graphics, new technology tools are helping architects and designers manage building systems more effectively and minimize materials and energy associated with them. Building information modeling (BIM) is the future of building design, and has recently been a hot topic of discussion. One of its key elements is the ability to reduce the amount of material and energy waste associated with a building project.

While BIM is still a relatively new term in the EGD community, its fundamental concepts help us look at buildings—and the systems they contain—in new ways, ways in which all parties involved share in the responsibility to create and design more environmentally conscious products. By collaborating with our peers and incorporating the “3 Rs” into our business practices, we’re making strides in the right direction.

[Sidebar:] Recycling, Naturally

Ellwood Thompson’s is devoted to offering its customers the best in local, organic, natural, and sustainable food and products, and as an extension of that philosophy, to sustainable practices in every aspect of its business. Owner Rick Hood is an architect with a passion for green building practices and for raising awareness about sustainable living. Partnered with Acorn Sign Graphics (Richmond, Va.), Hood has made his store a showcase of sustainable building and signage solutions.

Using reclaimed and recycled materials is just one of many sustainable strategies the team has integrated into the stores. For example, Acorn used reclaimed highway signs for conversation-making tabletops in the store’s coffee shop. Hanging signs in the health and beauty products areas are made of sustainable, FSC-certified wood finished with low-VOC stain and fastened with custom aluminum corner pieces that
Acorn designed and fabricated from scrap metal remnants left over from larger projects produced in their shop.

Acorn also used recycled steel rebar to create a custom frame system for the store’s point-of-purchase signage. “Almost all steel is made of recycled material, but this steel rebar is reclaimed from a large construction site, so it’s in its third life, if you will,” says Beth Gillispie, Acorn’s president.

Gillispie believes sustainable thinking often leads to creative inspiration. “It’s always exciting to work with a like-minded client. We found innovative ways to reclaim and then repurpose materials such as the rusted rebar and the road signs that no longer met code. Materials that would otherwise have been discarded were reinvented and given new life.”

--By Mike Santos, segdDESIGN No. 28, 2010

Editor's note: Mike Santos is the director, sales and product development for Nova Polymers. He is a member of the SEGD Sustainability Forum and the ISA Environmental Subcommittee, and is founder and author of the
Green Resource Guide blog (

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