Sustainable Signs Boost Awareness of Endangered Species

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Despite seeing it everywhere and using it on a daily basis, most of us give little thought to signage. These details on the landscape of our lives — the signs that glow above storefronts, or guide us to our train platform, or let us know we’re at the door of Conference Room II — have such ubiquitous influence that we notice them as markers of a destination rather than standalone objects.

One of the most common materials used in sign production is acrylic. It’s versatile and affordable — but, like most plastics, it’s not great for the environment. Acrylic is difficult to recycle due to its need to be depolymerized, which means that countless signs can end up in harmful landfills each year when removed or replaced for anything from rebranding efforts to business closures. 

That’s not to say all signs are created equal, however. Modulex, a visual communications company specializing in modular, architectural, and wayfinding signage, strives to do better for the planet. Founded in 1963 by LEGO (yes, that LEGO), efficiency has always been important to Modulex — and sustainability isn’t just a trend for the Danish multinational. 

“Our aim at Modulex is to lead and accelerate the green transition in our industry through innovation, circular economy, and new materials,” says environmental and partnership manager, Erik Sørensen Ruiz. He acknowledges that the sign industry isn’t exactly a leading sector when it comes to environmental awareness, which is why adding sustainability to customer agendas is a key objective at Modulex. 

The most logical way to do this? Through sustainable signage, of course.

Etronit and GreenBond were developed to serve as an alternative to acrylic and aluminum composite materials (ACM), which are also commonly used in signmaking. Modulex’s greenest signage solutions are made from sawdust and wood fiber collected from sawmills serving the Finnish logging industry. The logging forests are FSC and PEFC certified, but because Etronit and GreenBond are made from waste products, no trees are harvested for the making of these materials. This effectively closes the materials loop and enables cleaner production right from the start.

To differentiate their products with further confidence, Modulex commissioned Denmark’s FORCE Technology to conduct two Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) screenings, comparing Etronit and GreenBond to the materials they’re meant to replace. The consultancy determined that GreenBond yields a 40% lower carbon footprint than ACM, while Etronit clocks in with a 53% lower carbon footprint than acrylic — both without sacrificing the versatility that leads sign buyers to ACM and acrylics in the first place. 

“A sign’s carbon footprint, design, modularity, VOC emissions, recyclability, and durability all count when developing and talking about eco-friendly signage,” says Sørensen Ruiz. 

Implementation counts, too — after all, green materials mean little if no one is putting them to use. To spread the word about Etronit and GreenBond, Modulex does what lots of companies do when there’s a need to demonstrate a product: they create samples. Instead of cutting simple squares of material to ship out to signmaking partners around the world, Modulex’s global accounts team came up with an idea to take the company’s commitment to conservation even further — they’re using samples as an opportunity to raise awareness about endangered animals.

Each sample features a different animal, such as a puffin or a tiger, and shares a quick fact about the creature’s endangered status. The first round of animal samples proved to be such a hit — recipients were charmed by the clever deployment and impressed with the innovative material — that Modulex has launched a second phase of samples. The new batch includes additional wildlife with more information about each animal, as well as a mini Danish language lesson.

The samples themselves are produced from Etronit and GreenBond scraps. Excess material from signmaking that would otherwise be disposed of is instead turned into a marketing piece for Modulex and an opportunity — however small — to help educate on an endangered species. These materials won’t change the world overnight, but they’re an important step forward in an industry that tends to fly under the radar. 

“Etronit and GeenBond represent the beginning of our journey to find greener materials for the signage industry,” says Sørensen Ruiz, who, together with Modulex senior designer Michael Handberg, is working on the latest round of animal samples — enlisting endangered pandas, turtles, and elephants to help tell the story.

Summer Rylander is a freelance travel journalist writing on food, culture, and conservation. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Lonely Planet, Adventure.com, and more. She’s based in Nuremberg, Germany and you can find her at summerrylander.com

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Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander is a freelance travel journalist writing on food, culture, and conservation. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Lonely Planet, Adventure.com, and more. She’s based in Nuremberg, Germany and you can find her at summerrylander.com.

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