Environmental campaigners have stressed advertising billboards across the city do not need to remain lit up on the deserted streets, as that creates unnecessary energy consumption, while also encouraging consumerism.
Local organisation AdBlock Leeds has found out that the electricity usage for the over 4000 digital ads across Leeds is the yearly equivalent of 8,000 people’s consumption. The electricity consumed by the city’s digital ads alone accounts for enough energy to supply 1% of the entire Leeds population.
This value could be much higher, as advertising companies are not fully transparent with the data they disclose, according to AdBlock Leeds researcher Loup Suja. He warns that their findings are still inconclusive, but concerning nonetheless. Mr Suja says this is the reason why the full picture of the infrastructure costs, the energy usage as a result of the effectiveness of these ads, can be hard to pin down.
AdBlock Leeds’s research stems from the current cultural shift in climate change politics over the past few years as more emphasis is placed on finding sustainable solutions to manmade problems.
Studies have shown that over the past 100 years, the global average temperature has risen by about 0.74 degrees Celsius. Many major cities across the globe are predicted to be flooded by 2100 and more recent events include the melting of a glacier in India causing dams to burst, a valley to flood, and the lives of 150 people put at risk.
The organisation is planning to ask Leeds City Council for a solution to decrease the unnecessary energy consumption of digital ads, backing up their claim through their research. When approached to share their take on AdBlock Leeds’s campaign, advertising company Bubble Outdoor refused to comment.
Benefits of digital outdoor ads
There are some benefits to advertisement infrastructure, as many of these act as WiFi hotspots for the public. They also enable people to take calls, and even contain defibrillators for the public to use. Mr Suja recognises that: “some ads or ad infrastructure will bring benefits to, to the residents of any city, but what we have to do is assess the whole thing.”
The real problem is the lack of debate nowadays on whether being surrounded by so many ads is needed in the digital age. Loup Suja explains: “there’s not really any talk about all the negative sides of advertisements. So if once we’ve considered all these things, and it turns out that we do want the ads, that’s absolutely fine.”
Leeds University researcher Diana Ivanova believes the environmental impact of digital ad billboards goes way further than just consuming too much energy: “advertising does not centre on the functional use of products. It sells a different idea of what it means to be happy, successful. So basically, in that whole process, overconsumption is created.”
AdBlock Leeds continue their campaign work to minimise the environmental impact of energy overconsumptions and will take their actions further to Leeds City Council next year.